This article first appeared in Architectural Review Asia Pacific issue 127: The Residential Issue.
In South Korea apartments are considered ‘commodities’ with very high investment value. They’re designed with convenience and safety in mind and with competitive unit plans, and have been widely seen as the most effective means of increasing personal wealth for many years. Today more than 60 per cent of the population resides in this type of dwelling, despite the monotonous and dull nature of apartment developments. Apartments have become the leading type of housing in Korea, and in tandem with this trend, the pursuit of a ‘dream house’ has been put off or considered unrealistic because of investment reasons. Ironically, it took a decline in apartment prices, caused by the impact of the global economic crisis, for people to begin to consider alternative living spaces.
Swirling pink and white panels mirror the dynamic intensity of Moon’s drawings.
The popularity of the so-called ‘Peanut House’ is a perfect example of recent changes in the Korean single-residence housing market. ‘Peanut House’ is a nickname for a duplex house built on a land property owned by two families. It can be built for about 300 million won, which is the average cost of a ‘Jeonse’, a type of lease where, instead of paying monthly rent, the tenant deposits a lump sum to a landlord in Seoul. This was possible due to cost-competitiveness from land sharing as well as reduced construction time through lightweight wood frames. From there, the new craze of low-budget, single-residence homes was stimulated.
The Lollipop House is influenced by the Peanut House craze, although a version in modified form. At first the duplex was the typical way into peanut housing, although today many people erect just one building on the land even if it increases cost. After reading about the craze, the client approached architect Hoon Moon, having been smitten already with Moon’s provocative illustrations. These drawings, full of creativity, fun and wit, matched the client’s fantasy-loving personality, giving rise to the brief for a ‘strange’ house, a fun place to live in. According to Moon, “there is no right or wrong or high or low in diversity. The beginning of architecture is satisfying the consumer’s desires.” Thus the Lollipop House was born, with its interesting exterior of pink and white metal panels circling around like a sweet candy treat.
From peanut to lollipop, and a brief for a ‘fun, strange’ house.
Moon’s drawings portray a kind of emotional energy, full of red, dynamic images; buildings suddenly take off into the sky, defying gravity. These sensitivities often come to life as architectural elements and key features in his built work, like the house he designed with flowing red curtains instead of a sturdy wall or the weekend resort pension that rears up with horns and tails adorning the building. Moon deviates from hard and solid building types, instead attempting to convey emotional impact through designs that are saturated with life and motion.
Even though the Lollipop House is a small structure, it boasts an internal void at the centre, which resembles a tornado taking off from the interior space. The client dreamt of a house ‘completely made up of stairs’ so the architect used ‘skip floor’, a term used in Asia to mean a split-level or staggered floor. A deep lightwell was designed in the centre of the skip floor with surrounding stairs so that the Lollipop House becomes an ‘open’ house, sharing a central atrium where the living room would typically be. Now, the stair is not merely for circulation but also a space for relaxing, for viewing the skylight and for sharing vertical views with other floors.
The staggered stair space transcends its functional status to also become a space for relaxation.
The interior’s sweeping circulation pattern was expressed by the powerful tornado shape, as Moon elaborates: “The building is residential so interior space has been arranged rigorously, but exterior space is an expression ripe with energy. The result is an anonymous inner space with an intense exterior.” The living room and the study are located half a level down from the entrance level, while the succession of kitchen/master bedroom/child’s room is alternated on each half-level. There are two attic rooms on the top level, the highest positioned to face the skylight and presenting a spatial metaphor, like the control room of an aircraft carrier.
Moon’s expressions free the house from convention and taboo, delivering a light joke to the solemn nature of architecture. As he explains, his buildings resemble Korean folk paintings, which express the desires of common people: “Folk paintings should not be considered ‘low’ simply because their expressions are merely comical and natural. Indeed, the very strength of folk culture is in its ability to flexibly interpret sophisticated tastes. I’m more comfortable with this way of thinking.”
A view from the stairwell: the realisation of Moon’s ‘anonymous inner space’.
Moon sees his role as that of a shaman who brings out the desires and fundamental qualities of Korean society. He does not fear profane flirtatiousness and favours freedom in shape, content and thought. His architecture is always an expression of a comical, bold and unconventional form, boasting vivid colours.
A critic once said, “Moon’s immature jokes and pranks are like a plot to avoid the resistance of materialism and register fantasy within reality.” However, with the Lollipop House, Moon is again dreaming of emotional communication by overlapping over-imaginative fantasies with the spaces of everyday life.