By Robert Such. Published in Domus.
Life, energy and movement are some of the meanings for UnSangDong, the name chosen by Jang and Chang Hoon Shin for their studio in Seoul. Text Robert Such “We want to pursue arch itecture that is free from outdated thoughts, traditional or conservative rules,” says Unsangdong’s (Usd) Seoul-based founder and joint principal Yoon Gyoo Jang.
The name UnSangDong embraces several meanings – life, energy, movement and substance over surface. Headed by principals Jang and Chang Hoon Shin, the firm has spent the past few years designing buildings that have gained the architects international recognition and awards.
In a country where clients and construction companies regularly take over the execution and subsequent modification of buildings – much to the annoyance of the architects – USD has managed in most cases to complete work that closely resembles the original design.
Notable works include Kring (KumHo Culture Complex) in Seoul and the glass, wood and steel office building of publishers Life & Power Press in Paju Book City, a complex of publishing-related companies some 30 kilometres northwest of the capital.
Whereas the Life & Power Press building’s floor and ceiling topography is clearly expressed externally, both Kring’s design concept and its name are closely linked to promoting the client’s brand identity.
Completed in 2008, Kring still houses the show apartments – as well as the exhibition, meeting, performance and theatre spaces – built for the KumHo construction firm.
The building’s name combines K from KumHo and ring, hence Kring. Resembling Van Gogh’s silvery starry sky, the circular pattern on Kring’s facade recalls the pattern used on an earlier unbuilt company head office. “The circles on the facade of the Hyunjin Evervill building do not exist by themselves,” says Shin. “We believed that it was more than patterns. We coordinated inner space and outer surface to connect them closely. Our aim was to form a link between urban icon and brand identity of the company,” he says.
Buildings next up for completion are the Seongdong Culture & Art Centre and a new multifaceted envelope for an existing gallery in a residential neighbourhood. The gallery’s new skin exemplifies an interest in making “urban sculpture”, says Jang, “and exploring new structures, materials and the use of space”. On the outside, it brings to mind USD’s Gallery 303. The Seongdong centre, on the other hand, is just one of a number of green projects the firm has worked on over the years, such as the competitionwinning design for the Youngsan- House at Hansei University.
USD is, however, “more interested in ecoarchitecture, not just landscape”, says Shin. It’s clear that “modern architecture tended to consume lots of energy and destroy nature”, he says, adding that in his view “the analysis of environment and energy would appear to play a key role when it comes to design in the future”.
Along with their interest in eco-architecture, Jang and Shin also work to “translate and mirror the current trend of culture”, says Shin. Contemporary trends investigated include the use of public and private space in the city, explored through group studies and exhibitions carried out at Jang’s own Jung Mi So art gallery. Out of this and other research, USD continues to design structurally lightweight buildings, based on abstract geometry, to mesh landscaped
and multipurpose areas, and to design buildings that reflect social trends in a country undergoing rapid change.