Seowonmoon Lantern

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View of the Seowonmoon Lantern from opposite sides of the Jebong Street. photo: Philip Christou, Sept 2011
Design study sketch of the Seowonmoon Lantern. sketch: Florian Beigel
Design study model of in-situ cast concrete tectonic relief.
Roman aedicule painting, Pompei.
ARU initial design concept model with existing timber viewing platform on the left.
View of the Seowonmoon Lantern from public pavement of the Jebong Street.  photo: Philip Christou, Sept 2011
Seowonmoon Lantern at night. Photo: Philip Christou, Sept 2011

Seowonmoon Lantern, Urban Folly, Gwangju Design Biennale 2011, Korea

(completed: September, 2011)

The design intention is to strengthen and raise the quality of the public space of the city. The south pavement of the street in Gwangju called Jebongro is a lively place. The given site is a 36x 2 meter stretch of public pavement stretching from the little granite monument reminding us of the place of the former Seowon East Gate of the ancient city wall of Gwangju (demolished in the early years of the 20th Century during the Japanese occupation of Korea), to the monument making us thoughtful about the 18 May 1980 democratic uprising in Gwangju marking the place of the former MBC Broadcasting House.

Between the monuments is a busy bus stop always with people waiting and looking across the street to the bus stop in front of the famous Chonnam Girl’s High School. The setback in front of the Kim Jae Gyu Police Academy building forms an informal public gathering place fitted with raised timber platforms with built-in benches shared by the students and members of the public. They inspire ideas of theatre and performance of the everyday. This space has a lot of potential to attract people. The imagination is heightened. Older citizens take a rest observing people passing by, and some students meet here and wait for their friends. Clearly it is a place of exchange from buses to bicycles or motorcycles.

This place grew on us during our first visit to Gwangju in Dec 2010. We thought we might be able to heighten the attraction of this place by designing a small tower house with a very small footprint – a kind of small stage tower with a strong relationship to the 36 meter pavement theatre of the everyday. It is like an aedicule - a small shrine. The ephemeral aedicule structures that can be found in the ancient Roman wall paintings in Pompeii and Heraculaneum are an inspiration for us.

The folly could potentially have many unpredictable uses: musical performances; a rendezvous place where one can sit and wait for the bus, etc. It has a large lantern inside. At night it is welcoming and gives a sense of calm. There is a little house on the roof of the tower for magpies and other birds to nest and give good fortune to the citizens. Most importantly, the tower houses the existing stone monument to the 5.18 uprising and burning of the former MBC broadcasting building. The little tower will strengthen the memory dimension of this place. The name Seowonmoon (East Gate) Lantern obviously refers to Gwangju, the city of light.

Approx. 30 meters from the little tower a second smaller structure has been built to give more presence to the monument to the ancient East Gate of the city. It makes a small gateway to the large crosswalk on the street. The tower and the gateway structure have been connected by a new granite memory pavement laid between them.

The Architecture Research Unit was invited by the Co-Directors of the 2011 Gwangju Design Biennale (Korean architect Seung H-Sang and the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei), to design one of 13 urban follies in the centre of the city Gwangju, South Korea. The urban folly project is part of a long-term urban regeneration project of Gwangju City, where more than 50 urban follies are planned to be built in the next 10 years. The follies are located where the old city wall used to stand and along a linear park within a disused railway line.

Architects and artists invited to design an urban folly this year: Vito Acconci (USA), Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, ARU (UK), Cho Sung Ryong (Korea), Peter Eisenman (USA), Juan Herreros (Spain), Kim Se Jin and Chung Se Hoon (Korea), Dominique Perrault (France), Francisco Sanin (USA), Seung H-Sang (Korea), Nader Tehrani, Office dA (USA), Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, Atelier Bow Wow (Japan), Ai Wei Wei (China), Alejandro Zaera-Polo (UK).

The Gwangju Design Biennale will be open to the public from 2 September to 23 October, 2011.The urban follies will be maintained “for ever” by the City of Gwangju.

View Gwangju Design Biennale website


Selected Publications

Building Design
'Hello folly!', by Oliver Wainwright, 04 Nov. 2011, p.10-15

download article (pdf)

'London-based ARU was among 10 practices invited to create urban follies for South Korea's Gwangju Design Biennale', by Natre Wannathepsakul, October 2011, p. 40.
ogadobisangdo, Gwangju Design Biennale 2011, Exhibition Book 2

'Gwangju Folly', p. 138-150, Gwangju Biennale Foundation, 2011, p. 260-297, ISBN: 978-89-7059-606-8.

dogadobisangdo, Gwangju Design Biennale 2011, Exhibition Book 1
'Gwangju Folly', p. 138-150, Gwangju Biennale Foundation, 2011, ISBN: 978-89-7059-602-0.
Building Design
'ARU's biennale folly will mark site of South Korean uprising', by Oliver Wainwright, 15 April 2011, p.4.