Architecture in South Korea is distinguished by its disposition towards naturalism, simplicity and streamlined forms. Historically, South Korea's architectural landscape evolved under the influence of its neighbouring countries, particularly Japan and China, but also bore the imprint of its unique cultural identity. The nation’s tumultuous history, marked by cycles of construction and destruction, has left a lasting mark on its architecture, resulting in a juxtaposition of diverse styles and forms.
While traditional Korean architecture was notable for its deep-rooted connection with nature, contemporary architecture in South Korea embraces technology and experimentation. The last few decades witnessed rapid economic development, leading to the emergence of a vivid modern aesthetic. The country’s built environment continues to evolve, striking a balance between the traditional principles of harmony with the surroundings and the demands of rapid urbanization. The 25 excellent architectural firms selected below summarize well South Korea's current architectural directions:
Born in 1968, Moon Hoon's architectural journey spans continents, from the mining town of Sangdong-eup in South Korea to Tasmania, Australia. A few of his notable South Korean projects include the Rock It Suda House, Lollipop House, Two Moon Culture Center, Gomir Guest House, KPop Curve, and Sangsang Museum. He was recognized with the Korean Institute of Registered Architects Award in 2005. Moon Hoon's creative prowess extended internationally with an invitation to the Venice Biennale in 2014.
Founded in 1998 and led by Lim Hyoung-nam and Roh Eun-joo, Studio_Gaon is deeply rooted in Korean heritage, with 'Gaon' translating to 'centre' in Korean. Specializing in urban and architectural projects, its work is intricately woven into the fabric and reflects the essence of Korea's identity. Its notable projects, such as House in Geumsan, Lucia’s Earth, and the Buddhist Temple Jetavana, showcase the firm’s fusion of traditional Korean architectural language with modern elements. Its philosophy revolves around the belief that "time" is an essential building material that transcends eras, enriching the architectural experience using materials and the temporal context.
ArchiWorkshop engages in the art of everyday architecture, a blend of visual creativity and philosophy. Its name signifies both a workshop of skilled artisans and a platform for lively discussions. It believes that architecture is not just a visual endeavour but rooted in philosophy and rationality. Hence, its process involves extensive discussions and sketches, ensuring thoughtful and influential outcomes. Its mission extends to sharing this architectural culture widely, making high-quality designs accessible to all.
IROJE draws its inspiration from an ancient Chinese tale, where "IROJE" translates to "a house of stepping on dewdrops”. This narrative deeply influences the firm’s architectural philosophy, prompting it to explore the essence of our generation's design identity. By delving into diverse projects, its team aims to grasp the true nature of environments, elevating everyday life. It envisions fostering a society of wisdom, embodying the virtue of IROJE in this modern era.
Founded by Jeonghoon Lee in 2009, JOHO Architecture, based in Seoul, is renowned for its innovative approach to traditional Korean spaces. Lee, a recipient of the 2010 Korea Young Architect Awards, has garnered international acclaim for his projects, notably the "Herma Parking Building." His work has also been featured in prestigious global publications. JOHO Architecture focuses on reinterpreting traditional Korean spaces using affordable materials, aiming to create a unique identity rooted in the country's topographical features. With standout projects like the Curving House and NamhaeChoe-ma House, JOHO Architecture is one of the most promising emerging firms in South Korea.
Archium was originally founded as Inje Architects in 1986 which later transformed into Archium Co Inc in 1995. Having earned recognition from prestigious institutions such as the Korea Architectural Culture Awards and the Asia-Pacific Architecture Design Award, Archium earned international recognition. Notable projects like the Kim Ok-gill Memorial Hall and Urban Hive highlight its dedication to merging functionality and aesthetics. Moreover, the firm's founder's extensive involvement in architectural policy showcases a commitment to shaping the industry's future.
Founded in Seoul in 1994, CHO Architects is a dynamic design-build firm comprising around 20-30 dedicated professionals. The firm collaborates closely with skilled craftsmen and global partners to craft buildings, furniture, and art. ByoungSoo Cho, the driving force behind the firm, has not only earned accolades such as the KIA Award and AIA Honor Award but has also shared his expertise through teaching at prestigious institutions like Harvard University. Its notable projects include the innovative Shaped Concrete Box House and the Ramp building. Its recognition as one of Architectural Record's Design Vanguard Firms in 2004 attests to its innovative approach and impactful designs.
L'EAU, derived from the French word for 'water,' signifies the 'Laboratory of Environment, Architecture, Urbanism.' Established in 2000, the Law Design Urban Environment and Architecture Research Institute is a collaborative hub dedicated to the integrated exploration of cities, environment, and architecture, fostering meaningful dialogues. Rooted in comprehensive design concepts such as Architecture and Urbanism, Renovation and Interior Design, and Environmental Design, the firm aims to reconstruct the intricate web of social, cultural, and natural elements shaping the quality of life.
Aoa architects believe in the silent eloquence of architecture, where it doesn't need grand statements but should silently support and enhance human life. Aoa architects was established in 2013 by founder Jaewon Suh. The firm’s approach embraces contradictions, exploring the contemporary and potential facets of Korean society through dissonance and harmony, rationality and irrationality, satire, and humour. With several accolades, including the Korean Young Architect Award, aoa architects continue to contribute to the architectural landscape, emphasizing the essence of space over unnecessary complexities.
Established in 2003 by Minsuk Cho in Seoul, Korea, Mass Studies engages in the exploration of architecture within the dynamic interplay of mass production, densely populated urban landscapes, and evolving cultural dynamics that shape modern society. Its projects, spanning various scales, delve into spatial systems, materials, and diverse typologies, aiming to uncover innovative socio-cultural possibilities within the architectural frameworks.
JMY Architects is actively engaged in a diverse array of projects, ranging from office spaces and cafes to residential complexes and houses. The term 'design' for the firm signifies an ongoing process, emphasizing the method of construction and spatial organization rather than just the final architectural outcome. It embraces a continuous learning approach, advocating intellectual curiosity, positive thinking, and resilience in the face of challenges, embodying a philosophy that prioritizes both learning and doing within its architectural endeavors.
Hyunjoon Yoo Architects is actively engaged in various projects, including notable ones like ROCK & BRANCH, The Void, Kangaroo House, and more. Hyunjoon Yoo, an A.I.A. professor at Hongik University, serves as the CEO of Space Consulting Group and Principal at Hyunjoon Yoo Architects. The firm seeks to foster harmony through architectural visions between people and nature.
JYA-RCHITECTS, led by partners Won Yoo Min and Cho Jang Hee, is a young architectural firm that has been in operation since 2012. Just one year after its establishment in 2013, it received the 'Young Architect Award,' becoming the youngest to win this accolade. Since then, the firm has consistently undertaken various projects in interior design, architecture, and urban planning, encompassing different programs and scales. JYA consistently works towards creating a healthy organization where it can share ideas, inspire and learn from one another.
Chiasmus, established in 2005 in New York City and now headquartered in Seoul and Beijing, stands as an international atelier renowned for its innovative design approach. Specializing in cultural, educational, commercial, and residential projects, the firm has notably contributed to Kyunghee University Campus Masterplan – Space21, IFEZ Arts Center in Incheon, Red Diamond Theater, Shijitan Contemporary Art Center in Beijing, and various award-winning residences.
UNSANGDONG Architects Cooperation is a collaborative team of architects engaging in diverse areas such as architectural design, interior planning, programming, and large-scale complexes. Recognized internationally, UNSANGDONG received the prestigious AR Award in 2007 from the Architectural Review and the Vanguard Award in 2006 from Architectural Record, a prominent U.S. journal. It was also featured in renowned publications like DOMUS in Italy and DB Magazine in Germany.
Todot Architects and Partners is actively engaged in various projects, including Mangmi Farm, Mom’s Garden, Remed Headquarters, Jin-Hwa Mountain Cottage, Teu-In House, Varanda, and Curtain Call. With a diverse portfolio, the firm demonstrates its expertise and creativity across different architectural ventures.
Established in 1989 by Hyo Man Kim, Iroje KHM Architects has, over the years, engaged in a wide range of projects encompassing residential spaces, office complexes, educational institutions, and more. The firm boasts a record of numerous awards and extensive publication coverage. ROJE KHM Architects seeks to imbue its work with the essence of Korean architectural culture, asserting its presence in the global architectural arena.
poly.m.ur, an architectural firm established in London in 2007 and currently based in Seoul, is led by architect Homin Kim. The firm's notable projects include Art and Craft studios, Living Knot residence, Jugong Pavilion for Incheon global fair, Honeybee Lounge multiplex cinema, SSH Housing, and Sungbok Retails. These works have received international acclaim, being both exhibited and published globally. Since 2007, Homin Kim has served as the director of poly.m.ur, guiding the firm to win numerous international and national competitions.
D.LIM architects, led by founders Yeonghwan Lim and Sunhyun Kim, is an architectural group distinguished for its expertise in creative design and project execution. With Lim's design proficiency and Kim's project management skills, they have collectively received numerous accolades, including the Seoul Architectural Awards, the Korean Architectural Awards, the "Best 7" Awards from KIA, and the Young Architect Awards. Notable projects in its portfolio encompass the Ahn Jung-Geun Memorial, CJ Nine Bridges The Forum, Stardom Entertainment Office, She'smedi Hospital, and Naver Nursery School.
Architecture Studio YEIN, under the leadership of Yesun Choi, reflects a deep commitment to harmonizing architectural spaces with natural landscapes and topographical nuances. Its diverse portfolio includes projects like the Pan Pan House in Yucheon-dong, Dear Wave, Gwaneum-ri House, and the KIST Smart U-Farm.
Yong Ju Lee, AIA, leads Seoul-based firm, Yong Ju Lee Architecture, dedicated to creating engaging designs for everyday life across various scales and mediums. His impactful creations have been showcased globally, from the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Venice Biennale. Lee's exceptional work has earned him prestigious awards, including the Korean Public Architecture Award, iF Design Award, and Design Vanguard recognition.
OBBA, short for Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture, is a globally oriented architectural studio founded in 2012 by Seoul natives Sojung Lee and Sangjoon Kwak. The practice thrives on exploring multiple avenues and integrated solutions within a rapidly evolving society. OBBA's unique design methodology begins with a thorough analysis of the surrounding environment, encompassing urban landscapes, existing structures, and everyday life elements. Emphasizing the intersection of diverse fields and relationships in-between, OBBA continually expands its expertise across different disciplines.
ON ARCHITECTURE INC. has been involved in projects such as Shear House, THE MASONRY, and Stratum House, showcasing its exploration on local architecture. Its focus goes beyond mere physical and environmental factors; the firm aims to foster meaningful connections between people and local communities.
Founded in 2015, WGNB is a Seoul-based spatial design studio with a unique approach encapsulated in the motto "See the same thing but think differently." By connecting everyday inspirations with spatial design, WGNB strives to create fresh perspectives. Their innovative mindset blurs the lines between architecture, furniture, and product design, fostering collaborations with diverse artistic genres. Currently, WGNB focuses on fundamental aspects of space, exploring context, form, functionality, structure, detail, and materials to craft meaningful interactions within their designs.
NAMELESS Architecture is a concept-driven design firm headquartered in Seoul. Its innovative work has gained worldwide acclaim and has been showcased at renowned venues such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in Seoul. Awards such as the AIA New York Honor Award and the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects underscore their innovative approach. The founding directors, Unchung Na and Sorae Yoo, hold esteemed accolades, including the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects.
The selection curated by the Archello editorial team is based on a combination of the number of featured projects and the views they generated.