view of Opera House, Seoul Performing Arts Center in Seoul, Korea by OBRA Architects
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Seoul Performing Arts Center

Seoul, Korea
July 2005

We experience music as an inhabitable three-dimensional continuous fabric. Built as an interweaving of melodic lines, we enter it through an immersion in its progression of harmonies which leads us decisively from one recognizable place to another.

Not unlike architecture, music is inhabited as an unfolding of time and is made intelligible by the memory of where we have been and the expectation of where we may be going. Both such journeys are experienced as a crossing of the threshold between the behind and the beyond of the void we inhabit, in music as dissonance, in architecture as chiaroscuro.

The city that builds an Opera House and a Concert Hall builds a celebration of the cultural achievements of its population. Current plans for the development of Seoul extending 15 years into the future envision the gradual definition of four urban quarters of clear individual character and particular flavor: the Axis of Ecology and Reunification; the Axis of World Culture; the Axis of Modern Culture and the Axis of Pop Culture while the Hangang river, cutting through the city center, is identified as the locus of a further urban aspiration: The Seoul Cultural Belt. It befits plans for Nodeul Island to envision its inevitable transformation into an important space for the people of Seoul both as cultural landmark and public place of urban quality and civic enjoyment.

A chiaroscuro from naked sunlight to the thickest leafy shade connecting the two extremes of Nodeul Island is proposed as a landscape of dissonance between the "Primitive" and the "Modern," between diminishing luxuriance and increasing cultivation. At the quieter deeply shaded end of the island, amongst trees, rocks, animals and natural phenomena, sits the Amphitheater of Intuition, dedicated to young people and the adventurous spirit of improvisation and experimentation. Amidst freedom from tradition and a commitment to constant renewal, music can retain its primeval link to the supernatural. All the way at the other end of the island under the sunny sky and the angular shadows of the Opera House and Concert Hall buildings the Reflection Square will define a realm in a context of cultural consensus as common property unfolding in the production of educated works in a dialogue of conscious creation.

Kim Jong-ho's 1861 map of Seoul emphasizes natural and topographic features, in their rendition they seem to evoke subtle changes in personal mood and lived experience. The many streams depicted in the map weave together a multiplicity of topographic conditions, while a certain recurrence of character seems to hold it all together as if nursed by an inner disquiet, not unlike the shifting naturalistic harmonies of an Impressionistic composition. The paths of human movement through the chiaroscuro of Nodeul Island mediate in an similar manner the disparate conditions of inhabitation of forest, urban square and building interior. The architectural counterpart of these paths through the landscape stream over them as diaphanous long thin buildings resting on arcades and fusing themselves into the denser masses of the Opera House and the Concert Hall. These buildings house administrative areas, musicians' studios and individual rehearsal spaces, classrooms, cafeterias and other facilities where employees can work on the day-to-day tasks that would benefit from natural sunlight, cross ventilation and rewarding views of the river and the city beyond. They define courtyard spaces that create meaningful gradations of openness between exterior and interior while under the arcades visitors can stroll, linger or gather protected from the rain or excessive sun exposure. In the evenings the thin buildings broadcast to the whole city their luminous embrace of Nodeul Island.

The large buildings of the Concert Hall and the Opera House aspire to an almost musical integration of form and content. As meaning in music resides in a coherence that lends a sense of inevitability to the ideas, these buildings seek to find expression in an identity between form and content, between issues of acoustical conditioning, audience movement, the creation of public space in the city and the shapes and materials which incarnate them. Both the Concert Hall and the Opera House enunciate the importance of the entry lobby as a public urban space almost exterior in nature by virtue of its size and configuration. As such, these entry spaces are crucially articulated in the continuum of space experienced, ranging from exposure to raw natural elements at the far end of the island to the comfort of a seat amongst the audience in the Concert Hall or the Opera House.