Mimesis Museum by Alvaro Siza 03.08.11

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The almost windowless walls of the gallery give it an introspective air (image: Fernando Guerra/FG+SG)

Álvaro Siza's Mimesis Museum in South Korea is a modern art gallery for a collector and art-book publisher. The museum – in Paju Book City, a remarkable new town 30km outside of Seoul dedicated to the publishing industry (icon 057) – is a concrete building with a sinuous two-winged plan that curves around a courtyard, with sheer, almost windowless walls facing the surrounding cherry trees. "In general it's very closed, most of the light comes from the roof," says Siza.

Paju Book City was originally masterplanned by Florian Beigel and the Architecture Research Unit in 1999, and is already known as an architectural showcase. No doubt a building by Siza is a welcome addition to this landscape, but it does present its own difficulties: "I didn't have as much context as I would like with which I could create a dialogue, I only had a site plan, so I had to concentrate on creating an atmosphere for the building," says Siza, referring to the problem of building for a new town where your neighbours haven't even been designed yet.

This might partly explain the inward character of the building, but how did Siza determine the form? "I wanted a kind of courtyard, but I didn't want to make a quiet court, so it became a continuous, round form. You look and see one building, very concrete in its profile, but as you walk around in the space it changes completely."

The gallery interiors show the seemingly effortless control of form and light one expects from the architect: "I don't like projectors turned towards the paintings or sculptures – I want indirect light coming in from the glass ceilings," he says. This is achieved through rafted ceilings whose shapes form a counterpoint to the curved walls, with skylights spilling out from over their edges.

"We made very large models, so that even in Porto I could enter the museum, look up and control the ceilings, work on the light and configure the spaces," says Siza. "I could work quite freely."

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The ground floor is the only one open to the surroundings (image: Fernando Guerra/FG+SG)

 

Words

Douglas Murphy

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Álvaro Siza's Mimesis Museum is a concrete building with a sinuous two-winged plan that curves around a courtyard, with sheer, almost windowless walls facing the surrounding cherry trees

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Light spills in through hidden skylights (image: Fernando Guerra/FG+SG)

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