Earlier this year saw the opening of the Campus Center for Ewha Womans University in Seoul, Korea. Designed by Dominique Perrault, the building is appropriately called "The Campus Valley."
[aerial photomontage | image source (PDF link)]
Comprising classrooms, library, event spaces, cinema, theater, shops, outdoor sports fields, administrative support, and parking for the 22,000 university students, the submerged project recalls the Velodrome & Pool he designed for Berlin, in which the presence of the two buildings barely rises above the surrounding landscape.
[view from main road | image source (PDF link)]
While the two buildings in Berlin are objects that nestle themselves into the ground plane, this building is the ground plane.
[view from the stair side of the valley | image source (PDF link)]
The valley, which ramps down from the south and returns up via stairs to the north, is but one "bar" element of four: the circulation that is the valley, the two bars of internal function on both sides of that space, and the outdoor sports fields that intersect the valley vector at its southern tip. This Google Maps view shows the last bar in relation to the first three, apparent even though the aerial view is in the early stages of construction.
[view from the ramp side of the valley | image source (PDF link)]
The design violates one of those "golden" rules from architecture school: Don't make people move down just to make them move back up (and vice-versa), but this project actually just inverts a more typical above-ground building, where people are brought above grade, they do what they need to do -- such as sit in class -- and then they descend to the sidewalk. When seen in isolation the valley doesn't make much sense, but when seen in context of the reaminder of the building it makes perfect sense. Ironically, the building creates a stronger sense of place than a more prominent above-grade building probably could.
[the glass side walls of the valley | image source (PDF link)]
The lengthy glass walls facing the valley utilize deep fins that give the walls a solidity when viewed obliquely, yet keeping views across highly transparent. It's a bit cold in comparison to the landscaping sits above the spaces behind the walls. The decision to make the valley a limited palette of stone and glass is surely intentional, but one that raises questions as to the character of the space and perhaps its future evolution. Will planters and trees appear? Or will the 22,000 students of Ewha Womans University enliven the space enough it doesn't require any changes? Only time, as they say, will tell.
[internal circulation paralleling the valley | image source (PDF link)]