18 June 2020
Gwanggyo is a “new” city south of Seoul, made up of skyscrapers that seem to have sprung up from nowhere in an urban fabric that has yet to define its own limits. This is where Eun Soo Kim, President of the Hanwha Galleria Co., basically the Korean Rinascente, has decided to build what she hopes will be the chain’s most prestigious store. Given the importance of the job, she turned to OMA, one of the most famous, eclectic and imaginative design studios in the world. The result is what Rem Koolhaas has described as a “natural point of gravity for public life in Gwanggyo,” a meteorite, a raw black diamond, or a carved piece of lunar rock according to “lay people.” In any case, it is a striking building thanks to the originality of its architecture in relation to the contemporary landscape in which it sits, and to its multi-purpose nature, not just a shopping mall but also a cultural and artistic hub.
OMA’s concept aspired to create a structure in equilibrium with nature and the post-modern city, that would combine several different functions. In fact, this monumental stone cube, its façades clad in a mosaic made up of more than 125,000 granite tiles, rises up completely unexpectedly on a major urban crossroads and is swathed in a ribbon of glass that contrasts with the opacity of the stone. In the architects’ minds, the nine floors of the building were conceived as a place for the community first and foremost and then as a shopping centre. It is through the glazed ribbon windows, their iridescent colours ranging from yellow to violet to blue, that the commercial and the cultural activities come together and are revealed together to the city. The ribbon of glass is actually a multifaceted glass passage that cuts through the volume, from the public promenade leading to the mall upwards and is dotted with cascading terraces as it winds around the floors of the building before culminating in a hanging garden. The dual role of this passage is, therefore, a significant innovation in the history of shopping centres – as well as including a walk enriched with cultural visitor-friendly activities, the building opens out onto the outside world, allowing new and stunning views over the nearby Lake Suwon, unlike quintessentially traditional department stores that are devoid of glazed surfaces lest they distract buyers.
OMA’s latest project is thus destined to become a feature of architectural handbooks because, basically, it offers an escape from the predictability and monotony of shopping (even luxury shopping).