The House of Three Trees

JK-AR (Jae Kim Architects + Researchers) as Architects

The House: Architectural Fantasy

The House of 3 Trees is the realization of an architectural fantasy; the fantasy explores an alternate reality in which several historical events of the past century have not occurred. What if timber resources were not depleted in the late Joseon Dynasty of Korea in 17 th to 19 th Centuries? Despite the exhaustion of timber, what if globalization had begun earlier and had introduced the import of wooden materials from Russia, Canada, Northern Europe and Japan as affordably as it is now? Finally, what if the reinforced concrete structure had not dominated the architecture of the 21st century? Then, the timber buildings of East Asia may have continued to evolve. These premises can give us an opportunity to retain a culture of timber architecture that we had kept for at least 1500 years, and may further lead us to experience a new architecture.


This house is the rebirth of East Asian timber architecture that disappeared 100 years ago. More specifically, the project is the reinterpretation of the iconic wooden bracket systems ubiquitous in the East Asia timber architecture. Called "Gong-po" in Korea and “Dougong” in China, the system was the most symbolic part of East Asian timber buildings from both structural and aesthetic perspectives. The house criticizes today’s application of traditional buildings that is superficial, merely imitating traditional expressions in architecture, or too abstract. Rather, the house redefines the virtue of East Asian timber buildings in its tectonic aspect which is a combination of structure and ornamentation. Moreover, the house serves as an example of how contemporary technology such as design computation and digital fabrication can reinterpret traditional architecture. Technology can give East Asian timber construction the potential to evolve in a new direction.


Three Trees and Becoming a Forest

The 3 trees within the house create an interior space, responding to the hexagonally shaped building footprint. Three trees as anchor points are also a minimum requirement to support the roof. Apart from the structure, the wall enclosing the house was required to insulate during the cold winter in Korea, as well to tailor the visual experience while inside the space. As a result, people inside experience only enclosed space dominated by the tree structure, yet they still have a curated view to the outside through apertures. The change of time can be felt through sunlight’s movement as it filters into the gap between the roof and wall. It resembles the sunlight falling into a forest. In this way, the trees become a forest.


The tree structure of the house is solely composed of wooden joinery. The construction method without using additive fastener such as nails is not only intended to follow traditional methodology, but to show the sheer strength of engineered timber as a structural element.


Building Form and Material Choice

The footprint of the house follows the erratic shape of the site. Despite its irregular hexagonal form, the house can follow an order generated by algorithmic tools. The order by the tools sets the guideline for placing 3 Trees. Algorithmic tools again guided the design and analysis of the complex form of 3 trees. The 4006 pieces of wooden elements generated to form the 3 trees resulted from the optimized numbers for construction efficiency and logistics.


In addition to designing a building form, the typical rural houses around the site inspired the roof design and material choice. Rural houses built in 70 and 80’s, which were designed by construction standards given by a government, have a flat roof that results in poor drainage and rainwater accumulation, which pose serious threats to the homes’ water-resistance these days. The voluntary solution to rainwater leakage is to cover an existing flat roof with a pitched roof made of sandwich panels. This spontaneously made roof inspires the design of a thin and floating roof with the notion of lightness. Also, the use of asphalt shingles, known locally as cheap materials, helped to emphasize the lightness of the roof.


Moreover, other commonly used materials in the rural area of Korea were selected for the exterior finish of the house. These include plywood and plastic panels for the exterior walls. Especially, polycarbonate corrugated panels, for the exterior wall finishing material, are often seen as the cladding of warehouses and greenhouses. This translucent panel subtly reveals the plywood finishing inside and, similarly to the roof, gives an ethereal lightness to the building which simultaneously contrasts from adjacent houses and recollects other structures common in the region. Functionally the panels generate an additional air layer and increase insulation performance, as well protect inner plywood from rainwater.

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