I was shocked by recent proposal of REX’s Songdo project. Whether it will be built or not, it is a revolutionary design in Korean housing design.
In fact, some Korean architectural students even ask like this: “Is apartment an architecture?”
It has been a huge industry ((until 2009 and it’s getting worse)) and developed into unique market. Its uniqueness is derived from the code and the market. Two forces (which often conflict) makes equilibrium of this housing product’s design.
Housing market has been serious problem to Korean society. However, people usually couldn’t tell what is the problem. Sometimes real estate causes trouble, sometimes architectural detail was the reason. Sometimes its lack of urban consideration was to blame. But people didn’t differentiate those causes and symptoms and just blame APT ((APT: A PA TU, Korean pronunciation for apartment.)) Even some Korean architects still believe living in apartment is an architectural sin, the other architects (who design APT) blame them as childish idealist. Therefore Korean architectural design industry field seems to divided into two: A general architecture (or its architects) / An APT designer (even hard to be called architects)
The worse is actually, some people wants to across the border. To fuse its distorted history of categorization, they tried to design APT as an architecture, not a product. Whether they really concern about the city or just tried to be a part of big market. They’ve tried to find an answer from architectural design: They have tried to bring old traditional town’s sentiment back or tried to imply the nostalgia of community while blaming real estate developers and construction companies. From these trial and errors, I could see some achievement, but mostly I see them fail. Mostly their ‘proposal’ was ended up in an academic idea or interior design. Market didn’t want them. Professional architects were not professional in housing market, and professional APT designers laugh at them and their attempt, and tried to keep their own way. It wasn’t, in fact, not an issue of architecture, and design decision was made by ‘product development team’ in construction companies. Every architect (and 2nd grade architect) knows that, but ignores not to be hurt.
At some point, construction companies, which have APT brand, start to hire foreign architect. They thought, to be distinguished from other APT brand, they think they have to have some ‘special’ design. They imagine their product as iPod or iPhone. Yes, everyone wants to be Steve Jobs, every company wants to be Apple. They thought design as a decoration, like art. Whatever. I don’t wanna write down all the ugly history of failed APT by world starchitets and their name, but most of the reason they have failed, is almost same reason above. We will bring you an advanced design, but we don’t know your local code. They actually did same mistake as pure Korean architects who tried to be a part of the market.
However recent REX’s proposal nailed it. They dig into the code / the market. Unlike its precedent ‘foreign to Korea and world renowned’ architect, they knew what they should do. I believe it is a result of football-player-looking Joshua Prince-Ramus’ ((Really? Prince in the name?)) international experience in OMA. (Maybe) they did a lot of international projects, especially, Asian projects with the ‘shade’ code. ((As far as I know, the north eastern Asian countries – Japan, Korea and China- have this similar code.))
This diagram explains everything. Korean housing ‘professional’ designers have believed the optimization of the Korean typical housing plan. I saw many ‘optimized-to-code-and-market-by-time’ plans, ((Usually we have one big CAD file of all the types of typical and successful tower and unit plan.)) No one breaks the rule of core system. Simply it was cost-based decision. No one doubt it. In fact, sad thing is, if a Korean firm propose this, no construction company will accept it.
They still can laugh at this diagram, “So what?” However I wish this project can impact many other “do-as-did” proposals with success as a product. I doubt it could be built, ((My last Song-do work at the previous firm also remains unbuilt for economic recession.)) but wish to be built.