An Art Gallery with a Chainmail Skin
May 22, 2012
Kukje Art Center by SO-IL; All photos: Iwan Baan
Architectural plasticity once meant–and still does, in some quarters–a cubist-like composition of stark, white-washed walls that communicated little aside from volumetric depth and sensuousness. This means of formmaking has fallen in and out of favor periodically for the better part of the century since its introduction, finding its highest application in Japanese and Korean contemporary building cultures, which seemingly cease to churn out an inventive array of new plastic iterations usually in the form of compact single family homes. SO-IL‘s recently opened Kukje Gallery adheres to this model of architectural production, a pure geometric box bulging at points with protruding platonic volumes seamlessly tethered to a taut, continuous surface.
Set in a low-rise neighborhood in Seoul where courtyard homes are prevalent, the gallery is the latest of several art outlets, boutique shops, and cafes which have begun to infiltrate the area. Designed as one module in a new master plan of a burgeoning ”art campus”, the single-story structure is comprised of a clear-span ground area devoted to installations and performances and two below-grade floors that accommodate several additional programs, including an auditorium, sales room, and storage.
According to the architects, the gallery’s context, framed by the dense configuration of homes and alleyways juxtaposed against the backdrop of traditional pagoda structures, demanded a more sensitive approach to surface treatment. Rather than present an austere white box, SO-IL cloaked the gallery in a custom chainmail veil that’s pliable and easily stretches to envelop both the projecting volumes and the angled staircase tucked just behind the facade. A series of in-between spaces created by this facade-wall condition mimics the narrow circulation paths threaded throughout the surrounding neighborhood. The architects describe the stainless steel skin as a “nebula” that softens the sharp-edged geometries while enmeshing the mass in an interplay of shadow and reflection.