Florian Beigel has been director of the Architecture Research Unit (ARU) based at London Metropolitan University, formerly North London Polytechnic, since the 1980s, working in partnership with Philip Christou.
Projects by Beigel + ARU include the Pojagi Building in Heyri Art Valley (AJ 05.05.05) and the Youl Hwa Dang Publishing House in Paju Book City, both in South Korea, and the redevelopment of post-industrial and military sites in the former East Germany (AJ 03.04.03).
The new building for a publisher in Paju, South Korea, which Florian Beigel + ARU have just completed, marks the latest stage in developing a city there, on a site 30km north of Seoul.
After lengthy preparations beginning in 1988, Ki-Ung Yi and a number of other Korean publishers decided to establish a working settlement for publishing companies in Paju. As well as undertaking extensive land and planning negotiations with government authorities, they went on a number of international architectural tours and had many discussions, in order to create a community spirit for founding the city.
A decisive moment came when the publishers began talking about a city built to a design manual, rather than through the development of each building individually. Generally, the government-led 'urban planning' of new cities in South Korea lays down functional road networks first, then divides the fields according to the designated types of uses. Unfortunately, there are practically no planning controls that integrate the individual developments at the urban scale. Although there are basic development rules and minimum guides, they aren't speci-fic enough to generate clear and strong urban characteristics. By contrast, the design manual of Paju Book City was meant to be a framework that would hold the individual developments together.
Even though the exact content of the developments could not be defined in advance, it would supply the urban spatial orders to integrate them.
Based on the strategic urban and landscape design plan entitled 'Paju Landscape Script', which was created by Florian Beigel and ARU in London, the design manual was produced in 1999 by a team including Beigel, three South Korean architects and me. 'The Paju Book City project is not a landscape-design project, nor is it an urban-design project. It is an infrastructural architectural project on a large scale - just as the table is on a small scale, ' saysq Beigel.
Prior to the Paju Book City design, Beigel first tested his concept of 'architectural infrastructures' in a proposal for regenerating the Brikettfactory Witznitz, in a former coal-mining region near Leipzig in eastern Germany. In Time Architecture:
Selected Architectural Works, by Florian Beigel and Architecture Research Unit, Iñaki balos explains: 'The conception of their work as filandscape infrastructurefl is designed not to anticipate the final picture but to make possible or rather to stimulate development processes, creating guidelines that allow us to interpret land as a medium for laws of change and transformation that it is not the project's concern to predict or specify.'
Based on his experience of the Witznitz project and several other large urban design projects in Germany in the late 1990s, Beigel was asked by Korean architect Seung H Sang to design the strategic urban and landscape plan for Phase One of Paju Book City. He and I were then commissioned in 2000 to design the Youl Hwa Dang publishing house in Paju Book City.
Beigel said at the time: 'This building is a test case for the new methodology of the landscape infrastructure plan.' Beigel was subsequently asked to design premises for the publisher Positive People Inc. on a site adjacent to the Youl Hwa Dang building, near the very beginning of the street of publishers.
The Positive People offices not only signal the beginning of the street but acknowledge the street's change of direction by being conceived as two buildings rather than one. From the beginning of the design process, Beigel used the term 'urban ensemble' to describe his proposal. The North Building keeps the order and directionality of the street, whereas the South Building works as the starting point of the street, as well as the focal point - it tilts away from the street edge at such an angle that it discreetly creates an in-between space with the other building. When Beigel discusses Giorgio Morandi's paintings, he stresses the importance of the leftover space between the objects (AJ 03.04.03). The offices for Positive People contain such a space in between two L-shaped buildings, which are different in volume.
In Korea, the large void space between buildings is called 'Ma-Dang', and is perhaps the most essential characteristic of Korean architecture. Traditionally the 'Ma-Dang' was deliberately created between buildings to accommodate various domestic activities and act as an 'outdoor living room', whereas the patio sited between the Positive People buildings is simply an in-between space. This subtle difference is similar in nature to the difference between Morandi's paintings and traditional Korean painting.
The true sense of 'Ma-Dang' has not been realised in modernday Korean architecture, mainly (and unfortunately) due to the modernisation of the Korean lifestyle. 'We are bored with object fixation. Instead we are interested in what happens between objects, in the void, in emptiness. We still think the raison d'être of architecture is space not object, ' says Beigel, - a point that is a meaningful enough one to ponder whether one is in the East or in the West.
Examining Spanish architect balos & Herreros' Casa Mora project, which eliminates corridors and treats the house as an assembly of juxtaposed rooms, Beigel says: 'Programme is not allowed to dominate design. The programmatic descriptions are put into the plan of rooms as a testing procedure of a construct of architectural character achieved by considerations of proximity.
The architectural character of this house is a complex matter.
But the complexity is not manifested in the technology. It never becomes a matter of the architects expressing more than there actually is. It is calculated architecture, a bit like a Bach fugue.
This is an exciting house. It would make one go on one's toes, any moment expecting the unexpected, a room-by-room discovery, featuring escapes and encounters, including slightly awkward, even irritating ones. [It is] a cultural condenser.'
Beigel's attempt to realise his own 'cultural condenser' can be seen in his Positive People offices. The earlier Youl Hwa Dang project contained some of these ideas, but this scheme is mostly composed simply as a vertical arrangement of spaces, whereas the Positive People offices utilise both horizontal and vertical arrangements.
Beigel had intended to use a structural loadbearing brickwall construction for the whole building, but this changed during the design process because new seismic standards came into effect in South Korea. To continue with a solid masonry building would have resulted in a substantial rise in cost, so Beigel opted for a reinforced-concrete wall with brick and steel cladding.
Brick was deliberately chosen to give a feeling of 'solidity' and a 'monolithic' quality, intensifying the experience of the inbetween space. The steel framework around the brick panels was chosen for 'tectonic' reasons, while the various types of windows are positioned to be independent of the module of the facade steelwork, further stressing the building's 'solidity'. As perforations in a solid mass, they project the characteristics of the interior space, forming a 'family of windows'. In his book Constructing Architecture, Andrea Deplazes writes: 'The character of the architectural space depends on how things are done and for that reason it is determined by the technical realisation and by the structural composition of the substances and building materials used.'
The charm of Beigel's design lies in the fact that it was built to fundamental rules of construction and realised with delicate details. Mentioning architect Walter Segal, a pioneer of self-build housing, Beigel says: 'He liked to use a few good things.
His timber houses were gazelles compared with some of the clumsier versions of his followers. Segal, however, never felt the need to fiexpressfl this efficiency. It remained at ease with itself.
It never shouted about itself.'
The same is true of the works of Beigel. They feel natural, as if they have always been standing. The interiors are a series of neutral spaces, their relationships diverse but not complicated. The spaces are waiting to embrace the occupants' daily activities while retaining an open-ended use.
The han-ji rice paper internal walls which are mounted on the reinforced-concrete structure look like an art installation, and they work as a calculated 'interior infrastructure'. The spaces between the han-ji wall panels are tailored to be filled with bookshelves for the publishers. Therefore, each space will be able to change through time to meet the specific requirements of the users, leaving the original intention of the architect intact. This can truly be called 'specific indeterminate space'. For this, Beigel proposes an 'inhabitation strategy', which also exemplifies his affection for daily life.
To me, Beigel's work can only truly be understood by experiencing its result rather than just by reading a description of it. His affection for architecture cherishes the experience of the building through time rather than simply creating eye-catching objects. Despite the fact that Beigel's work process is extremely calculated and precise, dealing with a huge number of interrelated elements within the given circumstances, his genuine concern about the people who will use the building remains at the heart of it.
The resulting construction is extremely well executed, particularly when one considers that in South Korea we often still suffer from a lack of high-level architectural workmanship based on a fundamental understanding of the intentions of the architect.
While the pace of technological development is extremely fast in this country, unfortunately because of the shortness of its modern history, building workmanship is often not quite up to the level it should be. I would like to note, however, that a tremendous effort has been made on this scheme by Jong-Hoon Choi of Network in Architecture, ARU's partner architect in South Korea, to realise Beigel's delicate design intentions within the constraints of the local building industry.
1 SOUTH BUILDING PORTICO ENTRANCE ON BOOKMAKER STREET 2 SMALL SQUARE ROOM, BOOK CAFÉ BAR, WITH VIEW TO BAMBOO GARDEN 3 SMALL RECTANGULAR ROOM, BOOK CAFÉ, WITH VIEW TO MOUNTAIN 4 LARGE SQUARE ROOM, BOOK GALLERY, WITH VIEW ACROSS TO NORTH BUILDING 5 SMALL RECTANGULAR ROOM, BOOK LIBRARY, WITH VIEW TO CHERRY TREE 6 SMALL DOUBLE-HEIGHT ROOM, BOOK TOWER LIBRARY, WITH VIEW TO CHERRY TREE 7 NORTH BUILDING ENTRANCE 8 LONG THIN ROOM, STAIR GALLERY ROOM, WITH VIEWS ACROSS TO SOUTH BUILDING AND THROUGH INTERNAL WINDOWS INTO ADJACENT ROOM 9 LARGE RECTANGULAR ROOM, OFFICE STUDIO, WITH VIEW ACROSS TO YOUL HWA DANG 10 LARGE RECTANGULAR ROOM, OFFICE STUDIO, WITH VIEW ACROSS TO YOUL HWA DANG AND THROUGH INTERNAL WINDOWS INTO THE ADJACENT ROOM 11 LARGE RECTANGULAR ROOM, OFFICE STUDIO, WITH VIEW TO MOUNTAIN 12 LARGE SQUARE ROOM, OFFICE STUDIO ROOM, WITH VIEW ACROSS TO NORTH BUILDING 13 SMALL RECTANGULAR ROOM, BOOK LIBRARY, WITH VIEW TO RIVER 14 MEDIUM RECTANGULAR ROOM, MEETING ROOM, WITH VIEW TO MOUNTAIN 15 SMALL SQUARE ROOM, OFFICE ROOM, WITH VIEW TO MOUNTAIN