In a preview from The Touch—the new book from Kinfolk and Norm Architects, published by gestalten—we take a tour of the light-filled Seoul headquarters of Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation, where five millennia of Korea’s cultural heritage has been distilled and reinterpreted for modern life.
The latter part of the 20th century was a period of rapid transformation in South Korea—one during which the preservation of cultural traditions took a backseat to economic growth. But this began to change as the new millennium dawned. “Many people thought about what they had lost during the nation’s period of such intense and dramatic growth and realized that they needed to revive their culture and traditions,” says Yun Gyun S. Hong, chair of the Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation—a non-profit, private foundation that was established in 2001 to preserve 5,000 years of Korean culture and tradition and pass it on to future generations.
It attempts this mission from a discreet building in Seoul, completed by Kim Jong-kyu and Kim Bong-ryol of architecture practice M.A.R.U. in 2013. An unassuming low-rise, it seamlessly blends old and new and merges into its surroundings both in form and substance. From the outside, it’s a muted symphony of light-colored wood, concrete, and glass, layered to hint at the functional divisions inside—spaces for exhibitions, social gatherings, and offices.
Inside, an elevated courtyard featuring an ornamental pitch-roofed pavilion nods to the configuration of traditional Korean houses, in which the main home and other buildings were organized around an open space. The natural flow between spaces, white walls, plain wood, and clean lines is almost meditative, echoing the simple yet splendid aesthetic of the Joseon Dynasty, which built the nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace.