To celebrate South Korea’s fearless commitment to bold architecture and sustainability, we take a look at examples that demonstrate forward-thinking while referencing the country’s cultural roots.

Minimal living

Back in February, the South Korean city of Pyeongchang welcomed athletes from around the world for the Winter Olympics. However, in the run up to the games, there were concerns that visiting fans could be met with a lack of accomodation.

The Tiny House of Slow Town in Pyeongchang
The Tiny House of Slow Town blends into the natural landscape.
Photo: Moobum Jang

The space design team at The+Partners and DNC Architects came up with a solution: a small housing concept that’s simple yet functional. The project, known as The Tiny House of Slow Town, shows how buildings can be designed to blend in with and respect the beauty of surrounding natural landscapes.

Situated not far from the Gangneung Olympic Park and measuring just 213 square feet, the tiny house boasts large windows, which help to let in plenty of natural light, making the space appear bigger than it actually is and giving it a warm feel.

Here comes the sun

South Korea has been heavily reliant on coal and nuclear power for a long time, but in the past couple of years, the country has been pushing for more renewable energy. Notable efforts were also made to make the Winter Olympics as environmentally friendly as possible, including the use of wind and solar power at venues.

At the headquarters of South Korea’s largest energy provider Posco in Incheon, HG-Architecture have constructed a public sculpture that doubles as a source of solar energy. Geometrically designed to resemble the shape of a pine cone, it has an angled roof that allows it to absorb as much of the sun’s rays as possible. This energy is then used to power the surrounding park’s lighting during the evenings.

Dubbed ‘Solar Pine’, the sculpture shows the potential of biophilic design, where architecture mimics nature to improve the built environment and, consequently, our health and well-being.

A solar pine lightning the way in the city of Incheon
Stylish source of energy: the Solar Pine in Incheon.
Photo: Kyungsub Shin

Building with nature

Another example of biophilia is the Yeoui-Naru floating ferry terminal. The idea was conceived by Belgian eco-architect Vincent Callebaut – however, no plans are in place yet to turn it into reality.

Featuring tree-like wind turbines and rooftop solar panels and shaped like a manta ray, the proposed structure would be raised off the ground to protect it from flooding. Callebaut’s concept would also be designed to help promote the permeability of nearby river banks and encourage fauna and flora to flourish. It’s a prime example of what can be achieved through resilient architecture.

The concept of the floating ferry terminal shaped like a manta ray
The manta-ray-inspired ferry terminal is still a concept …
Photo: Vincent Callebaut
… but could soon be realized in Seoul’s Yeouido Han River Park.
Photo: Vincent Callebaut

Up in the air

If you’ve ever wondered how pilots spend their day while on the ground, then the Flying House in Incheon is your answer. Designed by South Korean architecture studio IROJE KHM, it looks like the building is ready to take off – thanks to its elevated structure. With an outside staircase and a roof garden that acts as space between street level and sky, the occupants – a young pilot and his family – can feel as if they’re not on the ground without leaving the house.

The architects have managed to incorporate elements of classic Korean architecture, such as a madang, meaning courtyard, and curved roofs, while reflecting how well modern design can bridge the dichotomy that exists between the built environment and nature.

The "flying house" in Incheon
It’s not surprinsing that the owner of this house is a pilot.
Photo: Sergio Pirrone
The Flying House in front of the city skyline of Incheon
The Flying House: a mix of traditional and contemporary design elements.
Photo: Sergio Pirrone

On the move

From being inspired by traditional architecture to embracing the new and novel. Urbantainer has been using prefab methods to bring new life to the built environment since 2009. One of its most recent projects, Common Ground, is one of South Korea’s largest shopping malls, constructed on unused land using 200 shipping containers.

By producing the modules in a factory, transporting them and assembling them on-site, Urbantainer is able to reduce construction time and possibly even pollution – constructing and demolishing buildings has a huge carbon footprint and South Korea is looking to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent by 2030.

Shipping containers are ideal for pop-up restaurants, nightclubs and retail stores, because of their temporary nature. Once a building has served its purpose, it can be taken apart without disturbing or causing damage to the surrounding environment and moved to another location.

The restaurant on the deck of the Common Ground complex
Lunch with a view on the deck of the world’s largest container shopping mall complex.
Photo: Kyungsub Shin