The odyssey of space which hides and reveals itself
Architecture that doesn’t “show”. How is it possible? Rem KoolHaas, an avant-garde contemporary architect who has been searching for the answers to this question, claims, “I am interested in how the architecture creates, strengthens, and makes flexible the flow of the event to create transparency.”
You can see the designs of Rem KoolHaas, who considers architecture a flow and a city, in The Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art’s master plan and Samsung Child Education & Culture Center.
The architect’s intention and influence are minimized in Rem KoolHaas’s design. When he was commissioned to build Samsung Child Education & Culture Center, he had suggested building a line that would connect each building organically. He says that all he has done is create a natural flow of the surfaces of the glass wall in the parking space and of the Samsung Child Education & Culture Center, along with the borderline of the ground.
However, in that quiet flow, a powerful future space is developing. A gigantic black box, visible through glasses, and a flexible space of 17 meters, which encompasses the black box, is an architectural exploit enabling audiences to experience different spaces, along different time lines, and different paths of action. Rem KoolHaas has actively participated in solving the fundamental problem of embracing and controlling the ground to place Leeum’s MUSEUM 1 and Museum2 and Samsung Child Education & Culture Center in overall harmony.
Rem KoolHaas intention for a subtle design has upgraded this building complex as an example of harmony and inner circulation within a city.
The Samsung Child Education & Culture Center is one of the plans which best exemplifies Rem Koolhaas’s quotation: “Architecture is a collision between an insight and an environmental reality.”
Architects - Rem Koolhaas
Ground area - 3,967㎡
Foor area - 12,893㎡
Scale - F2, B3
armony created by architects, building owners, and architectural engineers
Looking back on the progress of The Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art project, which was launched in 1995, it is obvious that discussions over the improvement of Seoul’s existing conditions were crucial to the overall allocation plan.
Ambitious plans and construction schedules had to be delayed due to the Asian economic crisis in 1997.
A fast-track method that “carries out plans and constructions while creating programs” was taken to minimize the loss of time during the delay before construction resumed in 2002.
This process required the active cooperation of all participants
The Korean architecture group Samwoo architects and engineers cooperated with Rem Koolhaas and the OMA to create a design that meets the need of the owner of the building, maintaining the consistency of the concept as the space usage program evolved.
An experience of space that impacts different senses
Rem Koolhaas has conceptualized the Samsung Child Education & Culture Center as one magnificent space which extends from the second floor in the basement to the second floor overground (approximately 17 meters) and encompasses three different levels.
Koolhaas’s plan was to create three spaces, which have three different lightings and characteristics, by using one space.
The center of every exhibition is a “black box” which is conceptually drifting through the space and signifies the possibility of future art. The black boxes divide the whole space into three; exhibition spaces, on the second floor in the basement, whose height is 6.1 meters; the media exhibition space (black box) whose height is 5.1 meters; and the top floor whose height is 3 meters. Two escalators that connect the black boxes and the second floor in the basement are also visual H61. Furthermore, these escalators are objects which intentionally penetrate two characteristically different exhibition spaces. In addition, they break with the typical concept that exhibition spaces should be closed, and offer interesting visual experiences while providing unique moments when you can feel the texture of black concrete.
Ramp and Pilotis
Traditional pilotis, humane ramps, mutually attracting paths of actions
Rem Koolhaas employed the concept of pilotis (a space made when the whole, or part, of a building is established on top of the posts or the bottom areas of the posts) for his buildings. This concept accounts for the main entrance of the cultural complex and connects three buildings organically.
Koolhaas’s suggestion was to make a ramp directly connected to the lobby in MUSEUM 1 to solve the problem of the main path of audiences.
This approach makes it easy for seniors, the handicapped, and children to access, and reminds us of traditional Korean architecture in which the main entrance appears under the pavilion.
From the field of architectural experiments to the space of contemplation
The deck over the parking lot is used as an outdoor sculpture garden.
Rem Koolhaas’s original plan was to create a flat “deck space”, such as a plateau, in front of the two permanent exhibition spaces (Museums 1 and 2).
His architectural experiment was an attempt to express itself by discarding its very existence.
Through numerous compromises, this concept eventually allowed a happy coexistence, which enables maximum use of the ground, securing a wide view of the two museums.
Currently, the deck space over the parking lot next to the Samsung Child Education & Culture Center is The Museum’s inner walking path – a place for meditation.
Audiences will have the advantage of resting, removed from the chaos of the city.
Rem Koolhaas & OMA – A New Paradigm to Approach Cities and Architecture
"Colorful meetings and encounters, which led to challenging inspirations, have created Leeum."
Rem Koolhaas, one of the world’s most influential authorities on urban architecture, was born in 1944 in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. He has lived in many countries since his early childhood, which included Indonesia and the United States, and also has worked as a journalist and playwright as well.
"I want to express architecture that is invisible."
After studying architecture at Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture in the U.K., Koolhaas established in 1974 his own architecture office, Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), to implement his theories on architecture into reality and re-create the context of urban landscapes. He has taught at Harvard since 1996, and drew attention from the architectural community with his experimental publications, such as “Delirious New York” and “S, M, L, XL.” In 2000, he received Pritzker Architecture Prize, the architectural community’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize.
Rem Koolhaas’s works include: Bordeaux House; the Los Angeles museum; the Kunsthal (a national museum in Rotterdam) and the national dance theater in Hague, both in the Netherlands; the Nexus World Housing, a multi-unit housing property, in Fukuoka, Japan; Congrexpo in Lille, in France; and the recently inaugurated public library in Seattle, U.S. He also has been commissioned recently to design the CCTV headquarters in Beijing, which once again drew attention from the world architecture community. Koolhaas has won a prize at the Incheon new town design competition, and is currently involved in the Seoul National University’s museum project.
Koolhaas contends for freedom from restraint, from structure, from typified models, from ideologies, from order, from programs, and from systems or pedigree. With these in mind, he doesn’t pursue a single direction when he designs. That explains why his works are sometimes conservative and subdued, and other times rather enigmatic.
His Avant-Garde spirit is confirmed by the fact that he has more projects in planning than those actually completed, despite his record of wining several design competitions.
Rem Koolhaas is at once an architect and a sociologist and urban planner; and as such, he analyzes social phenomena. He continuously seeks solutions to cities that are creating myriads of problems in contemporary society. He contends that we escape the illusion of cities that are controlled by modernistic order, and that we focus instead on freedom and humanism. On Koolhaas, another architect Frank Gehry once said:
"He is a hope for our cities and at the same time, an architect with the biggest ideas about architecture."
A new paradigm for city and architecture Rem Koolhaas
I understand you have led this project while working with two architects. What do you make of the Leeum project?
Well, I’m not sure if my “leading this project” is really appropriate or not.
But at any rate, we’ve come to the Leeum museum for this project, and we’ve been working on it based on discussion and agreement. Collaborative work, like the one we’re doing right now, is rather common in the architecture community of today. And the approach becomes more effective with smaller spaces to work with. And the design is better appreciated with greater diversity in opinions. When it comes to the Leeum project, you also need to see other things, such as realizing a larger-scale ideal, that is, making a big investment in culture. And I think that has been already realized by the sole fact that Samsung has invited various architects from around the world to build a cultural facility, because there has been no other project like this in the world before. Besides, Samsung has been actively participating in the design process, so as to work with us architects while producing ideas and designing together. All these interesting encounters that define the Leeum project have been both challenging and inspirational for us.
What was your first impression like when you saw the lot for the first time? I’d like your answer in relation to the urban characteristics of Seoul.
What impressed me the most when I saw Seoul for the first time was its complexity, and its sheer size, which was huge!
At the same time, I was impressed by how small and detailed its components are. Because of its natural topography with so many hills, or curves, it would be difficult for the city to expand, but that gives it the right amount of tension. If Seoul was a flat city, it wouldn’t be special; but its topography alone is a view, and it’s fascinating. The lot for the museum, too, is rather small and that it’s hilly. At first, I wanted to design the building by utilizing the slopes, which is different from what I have now. But then I thought, ‘Why change this amazing feature of the city?’, by trying to do something unnatural with this project. So I decided to use the first impression I’d got from the lot and to make the building more simple, so as to make it not stand out but create a seamless harmony with its surroundings. And I also wanted to highlight some of the unexpected elements about the lot, and that spontaneity has made the design more dynamic.
I think the black box ― to which the media has already shown quite a lot of interest ― is probably the most important feature of your project. What does it mean?
he black box is a completely independent structure within the whole building.
It literally means a place to which no light travels, where artificial manipulation and control are possible; a space that is cut out from the outside world. And the most interesting thing about this project is that there is a dialectic relationship between the black box, a 100% manmade entity, and the natural environment in which the box is nestled. In this space, you could display paints, and sculptures. The black box is made of concrete. (Of course, I’ve tried black rubber and black steel, too.) The dark concrete has sophistication that the other materials lacked, and beside I am fond of concrete. Concrete can create any space, just by being what it is. You can’t get that sort of weight and depth, or the power, from other materials.
The outer walls of the building are designed dynamically, by employing irregular contours. What were you trying to express?
Well, I don’t normally like changing a space a whole lot.
Besides, it would be a particularly interesting job to “leave it as it is” in, say, Asia, where everything seems to be changing very fast. So this project, too, has been pushed toward that direction; and with Mario Botta being the master of geometry, I thought my building would be better off if it had no particular shape. I wanted to express the “publicness” of the building by designing its contours to look like they’re open. And in Seoul, where everything is so condensed, I wanted that openness, whereas in Europe and the States, even public spaces are being designed with increasing closedness. But here, I’ve found the opportunity to create a true public place ― an open, inviting space. Furthermore, I was envisioning a space for the public: a space that is familiar to the visitors, like it’s hosting a community event.
Have you had any fun while working on the project?
The most fun is the project itself.
Do you know when this project started? In 1995, or eight years ago. Which shows you that the world is a more stable place than you may think, and that architecture requires a long time. The fast-moving world and the slowly-evolving architecture always seem to collide into each other, and each time they do, architects’ plans fall apart. Besides, the last 20 years is the era that was heavily influenced by the market economy, which has made it rather unproductive for an architect to hold onto a single philosophy. In such a fast changing society, philosophy could be an obstacle, if you will. Architecture is, at its core, a commission-based operation. I wanted to change that, so I put together a team called AMO inside my office, to study various topics that are related to architecture. Thanks to AMO, I’ve been able to expand the realm of my work, and I think it’s fortunate for me. As my team and I studied China, Africa, and the EU, we realized that all architecture has already had urban engineering-like elements in them. And for that, we’ve being working hard to create a design that comes naturally from its context, by accurately understanding the local situations and by incorporating the local history and legacy into our work. The same principle is in the working for this project. Leeum, too, is more than a simple building; it is an example of urban engineering incarnate. Interestingly enough, the global financial crisis has worked to its advantage this time.
What do you think is the most important characteristic of Leeum as an art museum? And what is your version of art museums in the future?
To me, this project is not so much a single museum project as a collection of buildings that make up a whole. Because each building has different conditions for handling space. I hope my building will be something friendly and familiar to artists and curators. Art museums in the future, I think, will be complicated ― something whose rate of mobility and topographical conditions are totally different from today’s conventions. Visual/video displays in particular will likely be more experimental, and I think Asia is deeply interested in that area. I want to continue to participate in such experimental projects.