Spaces get another look

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Spaces get another look

In a small country where every inch of land is precious, the aesthetics of space used to be limited to a privileged few who could afford to pay for the architecture. However, a growing number of Koreans who are interested in creative living are designing their own homes and work spaces with an eye toward aesthetics. Buildings for factories have lavish glass walls; old schools get turned into elaborate artist’s studios.
Here are some office buildings and homes that rethink ideas of practical architecture.


History comes full circle

Lee Seong-won insisted that a story about modern architecture wouldn’t be complete without a visit to his house. Mr. Lee lives in Dosan-myeon, past Bonghwa, on a path that circles Mount Cheong-ryang.
Experts in Korea have categorized land use into three types: seeing, playing and living. For living, experts say the best spots are Dosan and Andong, both in South Gyeongsang province. When it comes to Andong, most people refer to “Taekriji,” a book by Lee Jung-hwanthat praises the nature of Andong. Unfortunately, Andong has become a disorganized tourist district.
Dosan is known to most Koreans as the home of Lee Hwang, a renowned scholar from the Joseon Dynasty. But there’s more to Dosan than that. It’s also the residence of Lee Seong-won, the 17th male descendant of Lee Hyun-ho, better known by his pen name, Nong-am, a poet who contributed to the creation of adverbs in hangul.
Nong-am was 44 when he returned home from studying abroad. Mr. Lee was about that age when he found Nong-am’s home in Bungang village, where he settled 10 years ago after quitting teaching.
Mr. Lee moved into his ancestor’s house last year after he lost his home in a flood. He’s been enjoying the natural environment, the rocks, the mountain, the water and the breezes. He’s already looked up the names of rocks, pagodas and cliffs in the village in Lee Hwang’s original writings and has published a book about Bungang.
Most of the house, some parts of it 600 years old, has been restored. An ondol floor of a main room in the main house is where Nong-am was born in 1467. Mr. Lee has opened the historic residence of his ancestor to tourists. Anyone who is interested in staying a night at a traditional Korean home is welcome.


Villa gets better with age

Unlike many villa houses in Seoul, Munsuwon in Ui-dong has the feel of an old hanok that has been around for at least 100 years.
Except for some kitchen appliances, most items in the house are well past 40 years old. Almost nothing in the house is made out of glass or plastic. Amid all this lives the owner of Munsuwon, Lee Yeon-ja, who has spent the last 30 years studying tea and Korean customs.
Ms. Lee insists on bowing deeply to her guest, saying that’s traditional etiquette for people who have met for the first time.
Her interest in tea started when she was young. “I was born in Milyang,” she says. “The tradition there was that we drank bamboo tea whenever we got sick.”
Then she met her husband, who likes to drink, which caused her to research teas that were good for hangovers. She’s traveled with her husband in search of traditional teas in Thailand, China and Japan.
Now she’s a tea expert and writes about forgotten traditions in Korea. She also has a garden full of herbs, some for tea, some for cooking.
One thing she did to maintain the convenience of living in an apartment without losing the flavor of traditional living was to change every door ― even for her closets ― to sliding ones made out of mulberry paper.
There is no TV in her dining room. Instead, a wall is covered with bookshelves, an antique clock and a large vase.
“It’s a vase passed on from my mother-in-law,” she says. “I’ve been married to my husband for 33 years. But every year we fill the vase with seasonal grains. I guess in the old days, the crops were used for emergencies.”
It’s obvious she takes great pleasure in her home. “Even if there is an afterlife, this moment is most precious to me,” she says. “I don’t think heaven could offer a house like this one.”


Artist puts down roots

“When I die, I’ll have my body buried and have a gingko tree planted there,” says Park Tae-hoo, a traditional Korean artist who owns a house named Jukseolheon. “Gingko trees live long. They are refined and look great even when the leaves fall.”
The house, surrounded by pear trees, has a fence made out of hardy orange trees and tea trees. On the other side of the house, there is a stretch of bamboo forest and plum trees, and in the backyard are persimmons and gingko trees.
Most of the trees were planted when Mr. Park turned 20, after graduating from high school. Thirty years later, the saplings have grown into an impenetrable forest.
All his life, Mr. Park has lived with trees. His first job was a gardener at the Gwangju High Court. After his military service, he spent some 20 years at the government’s agricultural guidance division. During this time, he went to night schools, learning traditional methods of painting orchids and planting trees on his own.
He bred maples from Baekyangsa temple in South Jeolla province, pecans from Bulhwasa temple in Naju and camellia seeds from Daeheungsa temple in Haenam.
When he was old enough to apply for a government pension, he quit his job and started painting and renovating his home. Since then, he’s won awards at prestigious art fairs.
In his front yard, Mr. Park dug a pond and planted lotus flowers. He’s built a waterway that circulates around his house, so that the lotus flowers can ground their roots.
His wife, Kim Chun-ran, says they want to live like Helen and Scott Nearing, the American couple who became famous for championing a simple life. As one sits in the garden, listening to the water flowing and birds chirping while sipping tea and snacking on broiled taro, the influence of the Nearings is everywhere.


Refined space at factory

Simone is a manufacturing company that produces packaging and samples for exports. However, its building in Euiwang, Gyeonggi province, with a stairway over a pond, a bamboo forest and unique lighting design, is far from industrial. Only the cement walls and wooden panels hint that there’s a factory inside.
The building is divided into three parts: offices, the factory and a meeting room. Using bridges, atriums and gardens, the architect of Simone sought to smoothly separate the different spaces.
The meeting room’s high ceiling creates a dramatic effect, and the room is decorated with antique furniture and a grand piano.
There are small resting spots throughout the building that incorporate natural elements, with stone benches, tables and an outdoor terrace on each floor, which allows employees to get fresh air during coffee breaks.
“We tried to create a space that could serve as a landmark for Euiwang city,” says Ahn Gil-won, he director of Muyoung Architecture. “The city is already crowded with factories and apartments that look very much the same.”
Simone’s headquarters, which recently won a prestigious architectural award, demonstrates that it’s possible to create a refined working environment in a factory while fulfilling functional needs.


Library lights up campus

The main campus of Hanseong University, in Seoul’s Seongbuk district, is not as big as one would think. The university lends out parts of its campus to a middle school and high school under the college’s name.
Milaegwan, a library that was built last fall, changed the university’s image. The building, located near the campus entrance, became the school’s landmark. It created an odd visual effect of stretching out the campus space. The glass softens the rigid school building.
Milaegwan, a six-story building that houses an electronic library, audio-visual lab, library, cafeteria, auditorium and computer lab, became a popular students’ meeting place because it forms a small plaza between the student union and other buildings.
At night, the stairways are illuminated. As seen through a large glass window, the scene suggests a campus that never sleeps. But for weary students, there are colorful sofas in the atrium.
With its luxurious interior and sunken garden that extends to an outer terrace, the basement cafeteria resembles a posh cafe more than an institutional eatery.
Oh Seom-hun, the architect who designed Milaegwan, says his main priority was to make full use of the small campus, focusing on pathways and spaces between the buildings.


Home is also work of art

A growing number of people are working from home for various reasons, such as traffic congestion or children who need attention. As a result, architects are taking a new look at the home office.
An artist’s studio in Umyeon-dong is also used as a residence. The studio, located in a quiet residential district in Seoul, resembles a work of art based on neo-cubist principles.
The building’s design is simple, consisting of a dining room, a kitchen and three bedrooms.
There is a garden that separates the residence from the artist’s studio. A pathway connects the two buildings, which allows a person to enter a different mindset when moving from one building to the other.
Lim Jae-yong, the architect who was responsible for the space, says the real charm of this building is “between spaces.”
To protect the privacy of the residents, he controlled the location and size of the spaces between the buildings.
The walls are mostly painted white or gray, or have a natural finish. A dark band attached to the studio’s outer wall makes the house look as if it is floating in space when viewed from afar. This Umyeon-dong studio shows how small, accentuating features can sometimes lavishly dress up a building.

by Shin Hye-gyeong, Kim Seo-ryung
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