Architecture

Busan Cinema Centre

June 25, 2013

Coop Himmelb(l)au’s ambitious first project in South Korea, the Busan Cinema Centre, is characterised by a vast 163-metre flying roof furnished with thousands of LED lights.

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Can architecture defy gravity? Busan Cinema Centre is an embodiment of Coop Himmelb(l)au’s relentless pursuit of greater architectural ingenuity beyond architecture’s physical boundaries. The Musée des Confluences (Lyon, France, scheduled completion 2014) and the BMW Welt project (Munich, Germany, completed 2009) demonstrate Coop Himmelb(l)au’s continuing experimentation with roof design, deconstructing a roof’s functionalities and reinventing it not only as a piece of architectural structure but also as a piece of architecture in its own right. Its buoyant cloud aesthetic, with contained structural and programmatic complexities, define what the studio refers to as the ‘flying roof’.

This ever-evolving experiment is intensified further at Busan as the structural integrity is morphed with various programmatic segments, as well as intertwining the project with the broader urban fabric. The building provides the site for the Busan International Film Festival(BIFF)and is a combination of cultural, technological and architectural spaces. In concept, the architects devised an ‘urban centre’ with superimposed areas: the Urban Valley, the Red Carpet Zone, the Walk of Fame, the Memorial Court and the BIFF Canal Park. Among the cinematic programs, the building also houses a conference centre, commercial offices, production studios and restaurants. The design also seems to represent a blurring of spatial boundaries as each program blends with the other as interior and outdoor spaces literally intermingle.

BIFF has earned its place as one of Asia’s leading film festivals and now commands the attention of cinema aficionados the world over. By capitalising on existing locations across Busan – including the coastline of Haeundae, the old downtown area of Nampodong and the pier on Suyoung-man Bay – BIFF has helped to successfully reinvent the city from being known as a leading Asian port into a global city celebrating cinema. However, sufficient demands for a facility dedicated to the annual event became increasingly evident as visitor numbers grew, straining the logistics of the event as it stretched across a plethora of scattered individual theatres. The selection of Coop Himmelb(l)au’s proposal, in a competition in 2005, was an audacious decision, given that their concept design outlined the provision of both indoor and outdoor theatre spaces. Their vision for an expansive roof – stretching across 163m supported only by a single Double Cone, cylinder-shaped structure without any additional supporting columns – created an open three-dimensional, urban landscape.

Key facilities including theatres, office and administrative amenities are each rhetorically named – Cine Mountain, BIFF Hill and Double Cone – resembling peaked topographical landforms. These amenities are encased by the unequivocally entitled Big Roof and Small Roof to create an outdoor theatre and public plaza large enough to accommodate 4,000 users. To realise Coop Himmelb(l)au’s understanding of the site, together with the notion of a ‘flying roof’, the same shade was used to finish both the building’s undercarriage and ground plane. Overall, the flying roof makes for an interesting interplay, as it appears as if the building has geologically risen from the Earth. With some 42,000 LED lamps installed, thus enabling dynamic visual images, the structure is provided with a dramatic resonance at nightfall. The building entices its neighbours and encourages public interaction, so much so that upon completion, Wolf D. Prix – the co-founder of Coop Himmelb(l)au – was recognised with an honorary citizenship of the City of Busan by Mayor Hur Nam-sik.

The project is the studio’s first in South Korea, but it is the ideas and methodologies from other projects in Europe that make Busan so intriguing. By addressing the roof as an architectural element, the studio is developing an exploratory narrative. Prix has spoken about the roof as a developmental piece in architectural ideology, noticing a transmutation from the Renaissance and Baroque eras, extending into the works of Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier. The roof, at this historical juncture, is no longer deemed merely an element of protection or shelter, but ‘as a frame for the most diverse concepts’. Where Niemeyer’s roofs protest to no longer following a floor plan and instead frame a view, Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation (Marseille, France, 1952) is itself a landscape through its sculptural articulation. And so, Coop Himmelb(l)au is taking up the baton in its body of work. The cantilevered roof massing is a defining feature across a number of the studio’s projects, most notably used previously at the BMW Welt. The roof structure at Busan is a single cantilever structure – the largest of its kind in the world – catering for three storeys of generous interior space. As a multifunctional events centre, the expansive structure sits on spanned concrete slabs and functions beautifully. Its Double Cone structure, with its eleven horizontal rings and diagonal trusses, becomes a symbolic gesture with truly structural quality as the only vertical supporting structural element for the large projecting roof.

Cascading from this central core, the undulating roof structure conducts the idea of a flying roof or rising cloud. A large proportion of the steel-lattice shell was prefabricated off-site and further strengthened through a crown steel frame structure, consisting of two truss rings on top and a base crown to connect the roof and the Double Cone.

The Double Cone not only acts as a triangulated metal-clad supporting column, it also functions as the central mode of circulation. The ramps spiralling out from the Double Cone connect Cine Mountain, BIFF Hill and the ground level plaza. In comparison though, it is interesting to consider a transition of use from the ramp at BMW Welt to the ramp implemented here at Busan. Where it provides new BMW vehicle owners with the thrill of taking home a brand new car, and as such a vehicular thoroughfare, it is transformed to the red carpet at Busan, where celebrities parade upon entrance to the film festival. Moreover, the ramps are located in the exterior open space formed by the roof structure, inverting the relationship between inside and out.

The illuminated and beguiling ceiling plane acts as the centre’s communication platform, together with the swirling circulation ramps, the building is metaphorically free from the constraints of gravity – a quality quite befitting for the building’s programmatic use. Furthermore, it provides a new direction on roof structures, building on previous master-architects, in a bid to develop both architectural and structural capabilities within the discipline. Its awe-inspiring cantilever pushes the boundaries of architecture’s physical properties and, at the same time, attempts to defy stereotypes and conventional wisdoms.

See more about the construction of Busan Cinema Centre at arasiapacific.tumblr.com

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