Office, Residential and Exhibition Complex - BCHO Architects
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Office, Residential and Exhibition Complex

A Second Skin for a Dynamic Adaptive Reuse Project

BCHO Architects

Edited By Caterina Testa - 15 June 2020

The metropolitan area of Seoul is made up of a huge network of minor centers that sprung up, often in parallel, to create the South Korean capital we know today. Seongnam is one of the main cities of the Seoul Capital Area, and Bundang-gu - extending prevalently along the river and the north-south axis of the major infrastructure -
is one of its wealthiest districts, boasting quality houses and the offices of Korea’s main IT companies.

Branching off perpendicularly from this linear urban fabric are minor districts squeezed between narrow valleys that lead up to the region’s still unspoiled slopes. Geumgok-dong is one such district. Turning off from the busy arterial road running southward from Seoul into one of these valley formations, the streetscape is initially a series of two/three story buildings that then give way to detached houses in ample grounds, at the end of which lie the wooded hills.

At the end of one of these roads where the last houses peter out to give way to natural vegetation, BCHO Architects have designed the adaptive reuse of two buildings whose program was initially earmarked for offices but was subsequently changed to include a series of complementary spaces.

The two adjacent three-story residential buildings already existing on the site were the first topic discussed between the architects and the client, the latter in favor of demolition and a complete newbuild. However the designers convinced him to keep the two buildings and adopt a renovation project whose hallmark would be the successful juxtaposition of old and new.

Gradually as the proposal took shape, the underlying theme of juxtaposition took on broader meanings, inducing the client to rethink the initial program even further. Key to his rethink was the on-going dynamic of change of the whole neighborhood, with the rapid appearance of cafés, recreational spaces and the arrival of small independent professional firms, a factor that convinced the client to include exhibition spaces within the program and also keep some of the building’s former activities: residential spaces and a nursery.

Old and new have been successfully combined in an extremely innovative architectural program. A red perforated sheet steel screen was wrapped around the pre-existing buildings giving them a new outer aspect. As well as creating a single unitized frontage, the new façade lends a monumental quality to the modest buildings. It also serves as a brise soleil while not hampering natural ventilation. Despite its broad expanse, the metal sheeting has a series of openings giving views onto the buildings behind, setting up a dialogue between the existing structures and the additions. The space between the metal frontage and the original masonry perimeter has been turned into communication passages and secluded outdoor green areas.

Inside, the same juxtaposition between old and new continues. The new functional program required removing some of the existing structures to allow for flexible fluid spaces.

The initial challenge was to reach beyond the decidedly residential feel of the original buildings. Walls, lights and window sizes were too small and unsuited to the new program. This had to be weighed, however, against the decision to maintain a sense of the buildings’ recent past. The solution was to leave in place the unrendered concrete in the sections left intact, and where new spaces were created, the edges of the demolished walls were left as a testimony of the former spatial division. The new white plasterboard partitions stand in deliberately dramatic contrast to the ponderous cement structure. In addition, instead of finishing the restructured interiors with conventional contemporary elements, the architects have created a clear contrast between the raw quality of the existing building and the lightweight delicacy of the new metal shielding.

On the ground floor, the offices and exhibition area are where the program is at its most dramatically innovative. Where walls have been torn down, transparent colored screens have been erected to create a perfunctory separation of environments: temporary mobile solutions that orient circulation and functional distribution. On the upper floors, given over to residential use, the longitudinal plan has timber flooring and ceilings, while large balconies look out over the natural landscape.

The sharp eye of the architects who picked up the potential of an existing building and molded it to accommodate the client’s brief once again demonstrates how adaptive reuse and regeneration are fundamental aspects of contemporary architecture, essential to restore meaning and value especially to buildings dating from the fairly recent past.

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