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New Swiss Embassy building, Seoul, South Korea

Seoul is experiencing a phase of intense growth, accompanied by strong densification and the establishment of new sub-centers and transport routes. This urban change is also affecting the residential district of Seodaemun-gu. Low, typical Korean houses are disappearing and a new, vertical quarter is emerging. Encircled by residential towers, Switzerland's new representative office appears as an oasis. The project is a contemporary interpretation of the traditional Korean courtyard house, which has now almost disappeared from the city center.

With its spiral shape, the diplomatic building adapts to the topography, rising from two to three stories. Beginning with the residence oriented toward the private garden, the volumetry develops with spacious representative rooms that open onto the courtyard, followed by the office with a representative entrance facade on the street side. A surrounding projecting roof in the courtyard conceals occupants and guests from onlookers and protects them from the weather. All rooms face the interior courtyard, which has a significant role: It connects people with each other and with nature. The embassy's park, with pines, ginkgos and cherry trees, emphasizes the respectful approach to nature.

The new build in central Seoul fulfills an embassy’s multiple requirements in terms of usage and security. On 3,540 square meters, the building combines the ambassador’s residence, representative rooms and the office. The selected construction material considerably differs between the building's exterior and interior: The exterior facade is in exposed concrete, while the interior courtyard's facade is made of light-colored wood and glass. Meticulously designed details have been implemented to give the embassy special features: The exterior facade's concrete was formed using wood, in the manner of local handicraft, leaving the formwork's wood grain visible. Reminiscent of local building methods, the facade's support structure is a mullion-transom curtain wall construction, the modular subdivision of which responds to the requirements of the program with differently sized openings. The typical Korean wooden slats provide protection from the sun and also give rise to wonderful interplay between light and shadow.

With its traditional style, spiral shape and garden, the new building modestly and respectfully fits into its context. It symbolizes integration and openness, that which is native and that which is foreign, as well as urban and diplomatic space.

More about the swiss embassy in the "Agenda" 103

Client
Federal Office for Buildings and Logistics (FOBL), Bern

Period of time
2012 – 2018

Tasks 
Architecture

Photographer
Hélène Binet

Award
best architects 22