Korean Cultural Center, OBRA Architects,  New York, 2009
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Korean Cultural Center

Korean Cultural Center, New York
2010 AIA NYC Design Award

The advent in New York of a new building for the Korean Cultural Center will be an important moment in the cultural history of the city. The introduction of strange element in the urban fabric will, like the proverbial grain of sand in the oyster, create the opportunity of the freak beauty of a pearl. Korean and New York culture have of course specific ways of being, their mix will be providential as those unique individual qualities coexist without betrayal.

It will be fitting to a Korean understanding of architecture that the building wraps around a natural presence that animates it and creates a context for its understanding. New York City is not the space of nature, it exists instead in a context of allowable building envelopes, zoning classifications, floor-to-area ratios and maximized land values. In this rarified urban world, nature occupies a realm of accommodating compromise to profit while coexisting in conditions of extreme physical congestion and cultural excitement.

Natural illumination has been proven to improve living conditions of building interiors, making workers more productive and students’ learning more efficient. Natural lighting reduces building operating costs, lowering energy expense necessary to artificially illuminate spaces. Light enters the building in 3 ways: 1. Direct south light in the winter 2. Indirect south light in the summer 3. Indirect north light throughout the year Multiple sources of light, a mixture of direct and indirect, create more comfortable environments. The design of the north-south section of the building pursues this, opening up exterior walls to incoming light from both south and north at more important public spaces in the building. These glazed facades are designed as geometricized Light Clouds. Their 3-dimensionality alludes to light as (necessary) object since their faceted geometry amplifies light by diffraction of beams simultaneously reflected by other facets.

Constructed out of acid-etched glass structured with steel elements, these Clouds of Light will give unique character to the spaces of the Korean Cultural Center and endow the building with memorable uniqueness. The building will embody, as luminous presence, the Korean Cultural Center within the already rich cultural landscape of New York City.

In the complex patterning of their volumes, the Light Clouds, as if momentarily delayed in the walls of the building, reference both old and new aspects of Korean culture. While many artifacts of Korean tradition such as window shutters or wrapping cloths are appreciated for the delicacy of their patterned structures, these facades also suggest “multi-faceted” diversity of contemporary Korean culture. A wall with simple rectangular window openings, the structure resembles humbly and respectfully many other buildings in the city without relinquishing its individuality or silencing its expression.