UN Studio in South Korea 17.08.11

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In a satellite town of Seoul, UN Studio has built a department store and cultural centre for upmarket retail chain Galleria. With the introduction of a number of cultural and leisure elements into a high-end commercial programme, the Galleria Centercity in Cheonan is an attempt to respond to changing patterns in consumer behaviour and move
the department store typology further into the 21st century.

The project, one of the first commercial buildings to be constructed in this part of Cheonan, occupies most of its rectangular plot. The whole building is enigmatically wrapped in a double-skin facade, the vertical elements of which create moiré patterns that change as you move around the exterior. Behind this, a shifting media display, also 
by UN Studio, plays out, animating the facade and glowing into the night.


credit Christian Richters

Inside, a series of commercial spaces with highly patterned soffits are arranged centripetally around a large atrium. It is a dizzyingly exciting interior space. The palette is simple, mostly in white, but the curves and special effects create a highly dynamic design language.

Although there were various attempts in the late 19th century to reconcile the new consumer spaces of department stores and arcades with the "uplifting" power of museums and art galleries, these were generally failures, and the over-riding commercial tendency would instead lead to the super-malls and retail parks of the late 20th century. In East Asia, however, it seems the department store is coming to be viewed somewhat differently. "There is a change happening, you see it already," says Ben van Berkel, co-founder and principal architect of UN Studio. "In the last ten years there have been many projects in Asia where stores have their own restaurants and exhibition spaces." Brands such as Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton have all adopted this approach. The Galleria Centercity expands this idea into an entire multi-tenanted building. "Today especially, the younger generation loves to go to department stores just to gather, meet and socialise," says van Berkel.

"We thought it would be so great if we thought of it more as a public building, as a place where people meet, and not purely a department store alone; and this is what we've achieved. It's a place where people hang around, stay for longer than just a few hours, meet their friends and also look at the other activities in the building," says van Berkel. "People go to the edges of the balconies in order to sit down at cafes, but they enjoy being a little bit in view; it's kind of like a catwalk space!"

It makes sense that after the introduction of commerce into public art-spaces, there would be movements in the opposite direction. As van Berkel puts it: "If today's museum can be in some way a shopping centre, why couldn't
a shopping centre become a museum?"



Kim Yong-Kwan



Douglas Murphy

quotes story

We thought it would be so great if we thought of it more as a public building, as a place where people meet, and not purely a department store alone

Photos-Kim-Yong-kwan High-res copyright-free centercity-18

credit Kim Yong-Kwan

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