Jaemin Yoon, Director of JMY Architects, sees his firm’s work as reclaiming something that his country lacked the opportunity to create for itself. “In the history of modern architecture, Koreans never had the chance to modernize ourselves because of the Japanese occupation and civil war,” he says.
Modern Korean cities, he feels, reflect this loss and lack a degree of introspection. “I think our work will be a link between this missing modern architecture and contemporary design by creating a new form of modernity that relates to our lives today, in the face of globalization.”
What this modernity has meant, so far, is the innovative design of spaces that are constrained by size, location, or cultural and family needs. The result is a style in which structures with simple exteriors seem to bend to fit the plots for which they were designed. JMY’s work seeks to carve out slivers of light and stillness in densely populated cities.
Woljam-Ri House (2014)
The city dweller sacrifices privacy for urban conveniences, especially in Korea, where it’s common for multiple generations to live under one roof. The Woljam-Ri House in Changwon was designed to be shared by a family consisting of grandparents, parents, and children.
“Having multiple generations in a single house is not as simple as one might think,” says Yoon. “We tried to create a sense of having several houses on a single plot, maximizing privacy as well as a sense of community, as with the two living rooms.”
This multiplicity is achieved by an L-shaped layout with layers of vertical and horizontal planes. Each generation has its own private space: the parents on the upper floor, and the grandparents and children below. Although the property is situated at the lowest point of a small basin and encircled by a privacy fence, its courtyard, backyard, and upper-level balconies endow each area of the house with a view of either the property’s own green space or that of a nearby lake. The outdoor space also provides a natural buffer for interior rooms.
172M2 Compact House (2014)
Privacy was also a consideration for this project in Gyeongju, where a family wanted to build a larger house on a 1,900-square-foot plot. To isolate the house from the dense urban sprawl surrounding it on all sides, JMY’s design encloses the property in high white walls and places slot windows on the upper floor. These features allow for both privacy and ample light.
JMY also sought to emphasize the home’s only natural surroundings: the sky. A rooftop terrace and skylights on the upper floor provide a direct view, while the walls surrounding the property serve to draw the eye up.
An open-floor family room connecting the two bedrooms on the upper floor has been designed so that it could later be converted into a third bathroom, allowing the home to evolve with the family. “What I find interesting about small spaces is creating utility that transcends limits,” Yoon says.
To Yoon, every detail in a building should serve an almost platonic function. He tries to avoid making holes in walls because he thinks a wall should be a wall. He would rather create an opening by taking advantage of a gap between walls.
Daecheong-Dong Small House (2014)
For this project, JMY stacked five stories of mixed-use space on a 16-by-39-foot site. A three-story residence sits atop a floor for community space, which is perched on a ground-floor commercial gallery. In addition to the spatial restrictions, the building also had to meet zoning standards for emergency egress.
The result is three self-contained spaces connected by an open stairwell that encourages interaction. A façade of windows, frosted on the upper floors, both creates and limits contact with the city outside.
Yoon hopes this project will serve as a model for urban living, as it provides the owner with commercial space with which to generate income, community space for urban leisure, and living quarters, all on a compact site.
Yoon believes that an architect’s power over space also has an effect on time. “For example,” he says, “imagine a cubed room. If we divide that room in two with a wall, you can sleep in one and dance or cook in the other. When we partition the space, we also partition time.”