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Architect's message

Early in 1988 the decision was made to build the Whanki Museum in Seoul , Korea .

As the museum primarily housed the work of the artist Kim Whanki, the design attempts to correspond to aspects of nature, such as mountains, the moon, clouds, rocks and trees that were important to his art. The building connects with these using a modern sensibility. At the beginning of the design period, the site was limited to the around the main building. During the following three years of design the adjacent western property was acquired. this site was then used for the annex building.

Unlike fine arts such as painting and sculpture has its purpose of use. For building design this purpose of use is an essential condition of a structure. In the case of a museum this purpose is to provide an adequate environment for exhibition and preservation of artwork and to provide a space for education and assembly, as well as a place of rest for contemporary society. At the same time, the museum also presents architectural experiences. Often the conflict between this purpose of use and the character of the architectural experience becomes a matter of controversy. 

In the exhibition spaces, the architectural experience should be subordinate to the appreciation of the artwork. The design was based on the nature of Whanki's work and followed a cautious approach to provide flexibility in determining the character of the rooms, size of walls, lighting and materials, etc. The museum as collectively. This intense activity requires fragmentation and rest. Occasional connections with nature and the city enhance the experience of the artwork. This mutually escalating appreciation makes the museum experience more profound. In this respect, it is important to introduce natural light and to provide recognition of nature that is outside the museum. The experience of architecture and the appreciation of artwork are both necessary conditions of the museum which, rather than conflicting, complement each other to make the entire experience of the museum more profound.

The small scale of the Buam-dong Valley can not accommodate a bulky building. For the massing to accommodate many difficult conditions a significant portion of the program is located underground and the remaining building is fragmented into several pieces to form a small village. In this way each building has its own form, function and meaning. The museum buildings, grouped around a central courtyard within the walled compound, follow the axis of the valley. Within this general direction, higher northern buildings coincide with the northern slopes of the mountain and mediate between this direction and that of the southern buildings of the site. These small changes within the general direction reflect the small and large order within the valley.

Following the topography of the valley the buildings recreate the changing ground plane on which they sit. The permanent collection pavilion presents significant volume and meaning by being contained under the two barrel vaults and located at the highest point of audience circulation. The stepping building rises floor by floor on the edge to the east, corresponding to the scale of the surrounding small houses as well as indicating the adjoining steep hillside. The building is organized from a series of uniquely defined edges to a collective center marked by light. This produces an inwardly focused composition that is adjusted to receive light and acknowledge the external conditions of the site.

The building materials are used as in traditional Korean architecture; the building meeting the ground is treated with stone which has the meaning of masonry. Above, the stone expressed as a plane rises to the lead coated copper roof. the annex building's exterior is cement brick, the same as the compound walls to contrast with the special character of the main building and to express its ordinary nature.

The interior space of the museum is formed around an eight meter cubic underground space, located below the courtyard. This space provides exhibition and assembly function as wall as a general multipurpose area. Between the exhibition spaces and central space are connecting zones which reinforce the meaning of the major spaces and provides the necessary room in a museum for secondary movement, storage and mechanical areas. The movement systems are organized in a series of intersecting ribbons that give the visitor a choice of experience.

Most of the interior spaces are painted white. Walls and ceilings can be treated with the same material and color thus limiting the plastic character to size and form only. Artificial lighting is used in exhibition spaces for controlled illumination for the artwork. All the exhibition spaces, except the space for drawing, have daylight outside. As a museum located in a major city, the exterior space is designed to provide maximum area for rest and enrich the experience of the museum. All of the spaces within the compound walls, except the other areas for rest. Between the gate and the main building is a major outdoor space with two distinguished pine trees.

The Kim Whanki Museum was finished after 5 years of planning. Though people using museum spaces change through time, the artwork inside has to continue on and the museum too must remain. People coming today, people who will come from far away and people who will come in the distant future are all visitors of the museum. In this respect I tried to base the building design on lasting issues such as the properties of the land and the order of the buildings' spatial structure, feeling that it will inevitably be of our own time. I would like to have the vanity to think this building will become more familiar as time goes by and will become newer every time one visits.