Gil Jang & Brandon Smith
Bachelor of Architecture
Studio coordinated by Heather Bizon and Sarah Rafson
Themes: Culture, Tectonics, Tradition, Ritual
Tectonic Topographies investigates the historic identity of tea houses and cafes in relation to an altered place and moment in South Korea. The two mediate larger cultural and spatial adjacencies as notions of urban and rural collide and erode grounded traditions. The tea house and cafe reflect dichotomous, yet co-productive, strands of mountain and city, locality and globalization, singularity and collective. A tectonic strategy is suggested for the construction of both the material joints and the larger conceptual melding of divergent principles. A reorientation toward a series of fundamental elements (threshold, garden, floor, roof, fire) exposes the contemporary corruption and the proposed reintegration of moments representative of indelible cultural identities. The thesis investigates vernacular architecture as the origins of ritual through its tectonic sensibilities. Contemporary architecture’s neglect of place and tectonic corrupts this ritual leading to a loss of cultural identity. The thesis argues for a new tectonic to instill new rituals attuned to the emergence of new places. The thesis redesigns four existing cases of the shifting typology in topography (the tea house in the mountains, the tea house in the city, the cafe in the mountains, and the cafe in the city) to argue for a nuanced understanding of ritual and its embedment into the tectonic as a place-specific function.
Daejeon, South Korea
Tea House in the Mountains
Tea House in the Mountains
Cafe in the Mountains
Tea House in the City
Cafe in the City
The Mountain and City represent ingrained ideological, social, and cultural disparities between Korean lifestyles. The Korean mountains embody a spiritual serenity. They are an immobile tether to the past. The City pushes a trend of globalization, innovation, and rapid alteration. The City is infinitely intensive, a constantly churning force.
The condensed context of South Korea, however, yields a dichotomous clash of the mountain and the city. This abruptness is understood not as oppositional forces in competition but as harmonious essences that coproduce and enrich each other. Contemporary Korean culture is fragmenting between these ideals.
The thesis investigates vernacular architecture as the origins of ritual through its tectonic sensibilities. Contemporary architecture’s neglect of place and tectonic corrupts this ritual leading to a loss of cultural identity. The thesis argues for a new tectonic to instill new rituals attuned to the emergence of new places.
Slowness is overwhelmed by fastness, a loss of sacredness.
The thesis translates the topographies of the mountain and the city into the typologies of the tea house and the cafe. The tea house is a space for intimacy, for conversation, for contemplation. The cafe is a place for convenience and for meeting.
However, these two typologies have begun to leave their native topography; tea houses appear within urban centers, cafes encroach on the foothills. The two become lost typologically and topographically, lost in space and time.
The thesis develops from the geurengijil tectonic, from the carving of the bottom of the tree to match the contours of the stone. From this, the thesis forms an investigation into the joint between the tectonic, the wood, and the stereotomic, the stone. This joint defines the meeting between the column and foundation, between the building and the topography, between the city and the mountain.
Balance is found within asymmetry.
The thesis also develops a series of tectonic elements representative of indelible cultural identities and sensibilities. The elements are as follows: the threshold, the garden, the floor, the roof, the fire. The thesis attunes the traditional elements to four rituals and four contexts.
The threshold gains its origins from the Buddhist temple. The Buddhist temple possesses a series of liminal gates in which one sheds their mundane, materialistic tethers.
The gates form a physical and spiritual journey from the city to the mountain.
The threshold has become a commonplace spatial element within traditional homes to form separation in spaces. The contemporary threshold condition has lost cultural significance.
The spiritual distance provided by the threshold has also collapsed. The street runs right into the building without a step, without a threshold. The contemporary threshold holds potential for reinterpreting the concept of spiritual transition.
The garden is the space entered after the threshold gate. It thickens the threshold, becoming a mediator. However, gardens have become an unobtainable feature for most citizens.
The South Korean garden is an informal space following the guidance of the pre-existing landscape condition. Emphasis is placed on unaltered elements of streams, ponds, and original trees. The contemporary garden disrespects its origins, becoming immodest and artificial.
The garden is an integral space within the building, developing functional usage as programmatic support for the home. Contemporary buildings understand the garden as a separate entity, unlinked from threshold or interior.
The garden is also a conceptual mediator. It tethers the added construction with the original topography. It tethers the built city with the untouched mountainscape. The contemporary lacks appreciation for small moments of space that can become meaningful moments.
The floor is a modern topography, originating from a history of shrines terraforming hillsides.
The floor originates as a reaction to topography, to flatten a surface and declare it a place of activity or rest.
The floor in South Korea is the occupied surface. The floor is where one sleeps, where one sits, where one eats, where one lives. The floor becomes an active participant in the spatial composition of the building.
The floor is now compromised. The floor is stepped on by the shoe! Traditional interaction with the floor has become an optional and inauthentic act. The joint between the tectonic and stereotomic is misinterpreted, relying on cultural symbols instead of traditional intentions. The rock is now cut and pierced by the wood.
The traditional Korean roof is the main expression of the home. Unfortunately the roof is no longer sacred. The contemporary roof punctures floors, expresses its thinness, or can disappear altogether.
Roofs are essential to the definition of space. Even in informal settings, the roof remains a critical element to harbor activity and life. The roof creates interiority.
The roof holds the building in place and therefore requires great mass. It is made of
available nearby materials. The roof carries the essence of place through its tectonic.
The contemporary roof is often not even perceived. Roofs become floors, letting buildings lose identity. Roofs are used to exploit mountain views. Roofs no longer hold a poetic connection to nature or to tradition.
The fire creates the sacred plane, using ondol heating to warm a raised surface. The fire runs through the floor and activates the space. Remnants of fire are seen throughout contemporary structures, often confused with their function.
Traditional fires are spatial definers, creating significance and importance in orientation of space. The contemporary fire is understood as an additive element, unliked to the core identity of place.
Fire adopts many scales, always bringing activity and life to place. Without fire, ritual is lost. Without fire, spaces have no orientation, no function, no meaning.
- GJ BS