»Tradition is a dare for innovation.«

Alvaro Siza

Blog Building of the Week

Volcanic Villas

Kengo Kuma's unusual approach to housing in South Korea

  • Kengo Kuma’s design for a luxury villa housing complex in South Korea resembles the rocky terrain of its volcanic surroundings. (All images: Kengo Kuma Associates) 1 / 11  Kengo Kuma’s design for a luxury villa housing complex in South Korea resembles the rocky terrain of its volcanic surroundings. (All images: Kengo Kuma Associates)
  • While other architects like Dominique Perrault and Yi Jongho designed houses reminiscent of modernist models, Kuma’s take their inspiration from the natural landscape. 2 / 11  While other architects like Dominique Perrault and Yi Jongho designed houses reminiscent of modernist models, Kuma’s take their inspiration from the natural landscape.
  • The precise edges of the structural elements, are softened by the volcanic rock cladding, making them blend in more comfortably with their natural surroundings. 3 / 11  The precise edges of the structural elements, are softened by the volcanic rock cladding, making them blend in more comfortably with their natural surroundings.
  • When seen from a distance, the individual buildings seem to merge into an undulating volcanic landscape. 4 / 11  When seen from a distance, the individual buildings seem to merge into an undulating volcanic landscape.
  • Composed of a curved steel mesh and covered with local volcanic rubble, the complex construction creates irregular, organic roof edges. 5 / 11  Composed of a curved steel mesh and covered with local volcanic rubble, the complex construction creates irregular, organic roof edges.
  • Light falling through the loose stone structure provides the panoramic windows with a dynamic, patterned shade. 6 / 11  Light falling through the loose stone structure provides the panoramic windows with a dynamic, patterned shade.
  • The wooden lattice continues indoors, uniting exterior and interior.  7 / 11  The wooden lattice continues indoors, uniting exterior and interior. 
  • Discrete spotlights and rectangular skylights occasionally interrupt the rhythm of the ceiling structure to offer a mix of artificial and natural light. 8 / 11  Discrete spotlights and rectangular skylights occasionally interrupt the rhythm of the ceiling structure to offer a mix of artificial and natural light.
  • Sectional elevations through the structure, showing how the houses’ dome-like roofs extend down towards the ground, all but touching it in some places.  9 / 11  Sectional elevations through the structure, showing how the houses’ dome-like roofs extend down towards the ground, all but touching it in some places. 
  • An entrance section and elevation showing how the houses are approached up steps, into what looks like a fissure in the rock. 10 / 11  An entrance section and elevation showing how the houses are approached up steps, into what looks like a fissure in the rock.
  • A Roof Plan at 1:50, showing its irregular form.  11 / 11  A Roof Plan at 1:50, showing its irregular form. 

Jeju-do lies at the southernmost tip of Korea, a subtropical island paradise marked by the magnificent Hallasan volcanic crater, with more than 300 volcanic cones scattered around it. When Japanese architect Kengo Kuma was commissioned to design homes on the island for a luxury residential development, he drew inspiration from the its volcanic landscape. Julia Bluth reports.

Lotte Resort Jeju is not your average holiday resort. Kengo Kuma, alongside other high-profile architects such as Dominique Perrault and Yi Jongho, was asked to design housing blocks for this ambitious “art villa” complex. For his block, Perrault created a settlement whose circular elements – “fresh bubbles” – are designed to add an effervescence to otherwise cubic forms, and Jongho’s minimalist buildings boast generous window areas that allow the natural elements outside to become part of the living space. Yet whilst all the other blocks recall previous modernist urban housing developments, the block designed by Kengo Kuma & Associates clearly stands out.

The precise edges of the structural elements, are softened by the volcanic rock cladding, making them blend in more comfortably with their natural surroundings.

Inspired by the island’s ancient rocky topography, the organic building unit that Kuma has envisioned evokes the image of an oversized volcanic stone. When seen from a distance, the individual buildings seem to merge into an undulating volcanic landscape, an effect created by their dome-like rooftops that extend down towards the ground, nearly touching it in some places. Composed of a curved steel mesh and covered with local volcanic rubble, the complex construction creates irregular, organic roof edges that harmonize the built form with the natural environment.

A central element of Kengo Kuma’s design is the interplay of light and shadow. Sunlight shining brightly upon the dark stones draws attention to the porosity of the structure. This is particularly effective along the eaves, where the stones lie exposed across a geometric timber lattice. Light falling through the loose stone structure provides the panoramic windows with a dynamic, patterned shade. The structure also serves to protect the expansive terraces from both sun and rain.

Sectional elevations through the structure, showing how the houses’ dome-like roofs extend down towards the ground, all but touching it in some places. 

The wooden lattice continues indoors, uniting exterior and interior. Discrete spotlights and rectangular skylights occasionally interrupt the rhythm of the ceiling structure to offer a comfortable mix of artificial and natural light. As sunlight filters through the black stone and the lattice structure, there is a continual dialogue between light and shadow. With his contribution to the Lotte Resort Jeju, Kengo Kuma has succeeded in satisfying the demands of modern living while remaining finely attuned to the surrounding landscape – a successful example of contemporary “volcanic” architecture!

– Julia Bluth is a writer on architecture and design based in Berlin.

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