Located in the Dongdaemun garment district of Seoul, South Korea, the Seoul Accelerator is a research and development center for textile and fabrication technology. This institution serves as an innovation laboratory that seeks to fuel the local garment industry and accelerate Seoul into the forefront of the fashion industry.
The purpose of the project is to form a network of knowledge between academic, professional, and governmental stakeholders. We seek to facilitate a value exchange between researchers, fabricators, local vendors and their products, and customers. We seek new forms of innovation that go beyond functional city planning toward a more integrated mixed-use urban landscape that serves as a “technology driven action-commons.”
The Dongdaemun region is known for its textile manufacturers, wholesalers, and open-air markets. For over a hundred years, this region has been a center for garment fabricators to select materials, meet with vendors, and showcase and sell their products. Our aim is to establish a mutually beneficial relationship between our building and the garment industry’s existing economic network.
The building site nests between an historical gate, the threshold of the old city wall, and the Cheonggyecheon, a daylit urban river and environmentally restored public space, thus situated as a threshold between the old city and the emerging design district across the river to the south.
The building design of the Seoul Accelerator evolved into five above-grade, translucent glass towers set into a sunken retail plaza, unified by a below-grade exhibition and performance space. The bases of the five towers are set at the same datum as the Cheonggyecheon, allowing a physical connection to the river and public space. Each of the five blocks has an offset core embracing 30′ high laboratory compartments that support a flexible build-out structure.
All sides are clad with a thermally performing ventilated cavity wall comprised of frameless, insulated glass panels to the interior that incorporate a solid state switchable technology. Outboard of which is a tension-supported, custom, glass brick wall with a rusticated surface texture to allow in abundant natural light while providing privacy for the researchers and fabricators. The cast glass bricks are threaded with stainless steel rods and clamped into place. Behind the glass brick is an addressable LED array across all surfaces of the building, allowing for a 24-7 urban landscape. Each tower is topped by a terrace garden for the building users, covered by a permeable, photovoltaic pergola.
The Seoul Accelerator supplies a use that is critically in demand within the garment industry ecosystem of Seoul. It elegantly displays the process of fabricating to shoppers, conveying the means by which they have access to a variety of retail products. We hope to add to Seoul’s intense, rich urban context where history, culture, education, and economy coexist in the pursuit of creativity and production. Overall, the goal of our design research is to establish an intellectual connection between the existing garment industry and the emerging creative economy in order create a value exchange that will enrich the region and advance the industry.
Design ChallengeThe program of a research and development facility for a progressive garment industry spans a myriad of disciplines and economies, from logistics optimization to wearable product engineering. The challenge was to design a laboratory architecture that fully and specifically equips an institution with the space and infrastructure to develop and innovate without precluding the flexibility to meet a multiplicity of needs, functions, and operations that may change as the garment district evolves. We approached the challenge tectonically, with a strategic structural configuration and cladding concept. The aim was to design a versatile armature that support virtually any laboratory build-out.
To maximize open space that would be able to support heavy fabrication equipment, CNC mills, gantry cranes, etc., each laboratory module carries a three-story height and uninterrupted open floor plan. The spacious volume is achieved by offsetting a primary structural core to one side and spanning the resultant volume with deep beams to two corner columns minimalistically. At the perimeter, the enclosure of the building consists of a kind of thermal cavity wall, with a three foot deep occupiable cavity, where steel “catwalks” are situated to create lateral stability every ten feet vertically.
The facade also allows the side-loading of equipment that cannot otherwise be transported by the freight elevators at every tower core. Given that the outer screen wall consists of individually suspended glass blocks, the facade may be selectively opened up in proportions without impacting the facade as a whole. The glass block units are held in place by friction clamps that are relatively simple and quick to assemble and disassemble.
The structure and enclosure of the facility is carefully designed to maximize space and facilitate flexibility to be an environment that adapts to the evolving needs of the garment district.
Physical ContextWhile the programmatic response of the Seoul Accelerator institution and facility seeks to facilitate a fundamental cultural demand of the garment district of Seoul, the tectonic of the project proved to be a challenge and an opportunity given the delicate context of the neighboring, historical monument and the public space that it supports, which has stood resilient in the face of aggressive, contemporary commercial development. How do we fulfill the need for a research and development hub without alienating the essential local culture? How do we integrate five contemporary towers into a delicate landscape? The strategic considerations in massing, orientation, and facade culminated into an architecture that seeks to minimize visual and physical impact while housing its naturally robust program.
Instead of a singular imposing mass, the program was divided into five individual towers of minimal footprints. The towers are loaded to a single side of the site, opposite to the historical monument, along a natural development line created by Dongdaemun’s existing urban fabric of streets and mid-rise mixed use buildings. The towers are intentionally situated with no coplanar faces relative to one another to break up what would otherwise be a visually unrelenting surface if uniformly aligned.
The towers nestle into the site with the existing surface plaza expanded vertically into a sunken plaza, which directly connects to the neighboring sub-grade riverwalk and public transit systems. The intervention of the project seeks to enrich the site by intensifying urban connectivity and facilitating movement that the site otherwise lacked.
The facade too seeks to have a light touch. The outer screen wall of the towers is composed of reflective and textured glass blocks, able to reflect and diffuse adjacent lights and hues. From the plaza, one may see the forms and colors the historic monument in the towers.
The Dongdaemun area is known for a 24-7 culture, where activity does not cease from “dusk ‘til dawn”. The rapid commercial development that surrounds the site is smeared with lit signage and advertisement. Despite not serving to create a pleasing aesthetic for the neighborhood, the surrounding billboards and lights have a rather loud, unavoidable voice in the urban landscape of the site. It was important then for the Seoul Accelerator to proactively engage with light. As aforementioned in the Project Description, the facade carries a fully addressable LED array behind the glass blocks that can provide an elegantly diffused, low-resolution display of light and color. The facility through its facade may directly participate and contribute to the vibrant urban culture of Dongdaemun.
The design approach to the Dongdaemun site, nestled between the historic and the contemporary, sought to be visually light-handed and fundamentally integrated. The massing is strategically dispersed and deeply connected to the existing urban form. The envelope too seeks to disappear by integrating: reflective during the bustling day and participatory during the equally bustling night.