The clients were a young husband and wife couple running a share house in Seoul. They lived in an old two-story building while leasing the rest of the space by personally making a few modifications here and there. Everything from the interior design to the windows and doors, bathrooms, and even the rooftop waterproofing was done by their hands. This alone revealed their uncommon knowledge and interest in architecture, but after talking to them, we found out they spent years mulling over and seeking a way to build a new house. The site was located in a little-known, quiet neighborhood with a stream that you can see within a short walk. This wasn’t originally their home; the couple moved into the neighborhood a few years ago on the spur of the moment.
On the 1st floor, there are two parking spaces along with storage rooms to be amicably shared between the owner and the tenants. Laying largely open to the roadside, the 2nd floor commercial space was reserved by the wife’s favorite nail salon while the building was still in the course of being designed. Thanks to a large enough window, the space is warmly adjacent to the roadside despite being on the 2nd floor. On one corner of the 2nd floor is a wine room for the wife whose hobby is wine collecting. On the 3rd floor, there are two studio apartments, along with the front entrance to the owner’s place leading down from the 4th floor. We tried to provide sufficient storage space for each studio apartment and placed the windows in a way that would let the tenants have fun in their encounter with the outside world.
The common staircase extending up to the 3rd floor goes around the building exterior at length unlike normal staircases that go round and round in the same place. When the proportions of a plan even slightly become out of place on a small lot, it becomes difficult to configure the interior design. Moving the stairs to the periphery makes the plan come out better on account of the center part bigger. As the circumstances made it difficult to place elevator facilities, it was important to alleviate the boredom of the staircase considering it would be in frequent use. The windows at the start and end of each flight of stairs let people encounter the outside world from different directions. There are even pretty pendant lights installed every so often. On the floor, pink pea gravel is laid down—a detail to which both client and architect agreed without hesitation. The pink color starts at the parking lot outside the front gate, making a pursuit up the stairs.
A front entrance can take up more space than you first realize, and moving it to a floor below lets the owner’s place properly begin on the 4th floor. The husband’s hobby was cooking at a full-fledged level. the husband is passionate enough about his hobby to provide home-cooked meals to his tenants from time to time. The 4th floor also functions as a kind of party room for sharing his hobby with acquaintances. A kitchen and dining room adjacent to the balcony through a large window creates a feeling that you’re there on an excursion rather than at a family home. The floor was finished using tiles with a neutral, unpolished feeling rather than ones with a warmer feeling, and the kitchen furniture was displayed more like a commercial space rather than a residence. In a combination of a stainless-steel top, a glass block, and lighting, the kitchen island was an area we particularly focused on. We believed the couple’s choice of furniture and props, borne out of their delicate tastes, would moderate the warmth and coolness of the place. The 5th floor, which corresponds to the main room, has slightly more of a domestic atmosphere. The wooden floor and cute lights create stability. The bedroom area where a bed would be placed is totally closed off, while the living room area where a sofa would be placed broadly opens up to the attic. The windows, which had only opened up broadly once on the 2nd floor, would now reach full bloom in the 4th and 5th floors after quietly laying in wait on the 3rd floor. There’s no reason for windows opening up to the balcony to be small. In search of the view that the couple dreamed of, we added windows throughout, turning the 4th floor into something much more like a party room and the 5th floor something akin to a country house. We imagined the attic on top of the 5th floor as a mix of storage space and a study.
The depth of the 1st floor parking lot and the big window on the second floor determined the impression that the north façade would give off. The windows on the upper levels piercing across the façade and the right side of the building reveal the configuration of the owner’s unit to the outside world. The balconies of the owner’s place and the triangular-shaped staircase gather as a mass on the left side, forming the loveliest scene of the building. It’s worthwhile to see the changes made to the normal appearance of the lot after tracking its potential. It just happens to be the case that most people approach the building with a view to this side. The facing of the lower levels was finished with tiles, while the middle and upwards were finished with stucco. There’s no material better to exhibit purely as a mass than stucco. The lower-level tiles were chosen for durability, and the two materials were unified in white with the idea of displaying the entirety as a single mass.
Ultimately, the better and prettier parts of the building all belonged to the owner’s place. In terms of surface area including the attic, half of the building is made up of the owner’s place. This is quite a different attitude from general rental housing in Korea where the owner often appears to be barely tacked onto a property on account of common configurations that maximize the commercial viability of a rental property. With two studio apartments and one commercial space, this building is not a just romantic single-family home either. To use an analogy, it resembles a sports sedan. The building makes sure to seize swagger and fun without discarding practicality.
In 2022, a year filled with worldwide chaos, this building, just like other projects in Korea, went through so much difficulty until completion that it’s hard to put it into words. Although traces of hardship remain here and there, there are also traces of overcoming that hardship, making the building especially endearing. Going through this project, we learned quite a lot. If the architect is the brain that builds the building, the builder is the hand that builds the building. Add to this, what we learned anew: the client is the heart that builds the building. The husband works as a designer for a video game company and the wife is a middle manager at a startup. Both took part deeply in the design and construction of the building following in the style of their respective jobs. During the design, the discussions that the game designer had with us through sketches were in themselves a collaboration between designers, while it was mesmerizing to see the middle manager’s managing skills during the construction especially when the project fell into crisis. All of this served as the heart that made the building beat until the very end. In any case, as long as the client doesn’t give up, the building will get properly built.
We worked hard to build a house where you can play inside and rest inside without having to go outside, just as the couple hoped for. We diligently drew things all over the place so that small joys would overlap with big joys. We hope it helps the clients be reborn as authentic homebodies just as their initial determination. When more and more houses seek practicality, swagger, and fun just like the OJOJEJE HOUSE, we believe our understanding of urban houses will grow as well.