Dongbu Kangam Tower

Dongbu Kangam Tower in Seoul, South Korea by KPF, 2003

Korea's recent boom in construction has created it's share of bland high-rise architecture, a phenomenon not limited to its urban centers, but others such as Chicago with its predominance of painted concrete boxes. The steel and glass variety of skyscrapers has always taken precedence in people's minds when it comes to quality and the sheer exuberance of seeing the building rise from the ground to the sky. But it is definitely not solely a high-rise's structure that determines its appeal, its form and cladding dictate its relationship to its surrounding, and its lower floors indicate its immediate relationship to pedestrians. The Dongbu Kangnam Tower in the Gangnam-gu district of Seoul, by the American firm Kohn Pedersen Fox successfully attempts to address these three components: its form, skin and pedestrian relationship.

For the Dongbu Securities Corporation Headquarters, the architects analyzed the site and the program and determined the best configuration for the building would place its core (elevators, stairs, toilets, and vertical service) to the "back" - the south side - of the site with its main facade gesturing towards the boulevard and park to the north. This orientation also allows the core to act as a solar buffer and reduce the energy consumption required to cool the building in the summer. An offset to this benefit is the lack of direct sunlight for much of the building, an important amenity in Korea.

The multiple sloping surfaces and their interlocking relationships help to give the building a character that distinguishes it from the surrounding buildings. Relating somewhat to the interior functions, these slants also make the buildings vertical rise more dynamic.

Dongbu Kangnam Tower's cladding utilizes a unitized curtain wall system with horizontal fins on the north and south facades. The east and west facades are simpler with clear glass and patterned spandrel panels repeated at each floor. Aluminum cladding transitions between the two groups of facades, helping to accentuate the sloping form of the building through the edges' solidity. Here, the exterior skin reinforces the building's form, a logical role for a system that often fights against - or tries to make up for the lack of - its form.

The lower floors of the tower - an important element that all too often falls prey to contextualizing or trivializing its scale through over-articulation - are handled with finesse by KPF. The different slopes and masses of the upper floors meet near the ground, drawing the passerby's gaze upwards and adding some relief to the lower floors, often the only part of a building that many people experience. A department store at street level adds a level of activity to the building, something missing in many purely office buildings. A nicely articulated glass wall is set back from the tower's edge, a gesture that brings the window-shopper into the realm of the building. This erosion is the only device required to relate to pedestrians, something that helps the building be unique at that level and simultaneously separate and integrate itself with the tower above.