Vertical living as a solution to Korea’s dense urban fabric: the story behind stpmj’s five-story house
Seoul, like many major cities around the world, is characterized by land scarcity, overpopulation, staggering real estate prices and urban segregation. These living conditions forced architects and urban planners to pursue alternatives, by (re)introducing new models of co-living, low-cost housing in suburban areas and mixed-use developments. However, proximity to work, education, commercial facilities, health facilities and public transportation, as well as optimized infrastructure and better governance have made living within compact city limits desirable. Tucked away in the bustling streets of Gangseo-gu, Five Story House by stpmj is a project that explores the relationship between single-family homes and dense urban contexts beyond investment value and contextual constraints.
The Gangseo-gu district is characterized by small plots with typical 2-storey residential buildings. Recently, the area has been redeveloped as a major R&D campus, with diverse cultural complexes, residential and commercial buildings and public parks attracting young people and families. Real estate in Gangseo-gu is considered to be one of the most effective investment tools, where buying a flat is the most common way to increase personal assets. And while typical Seoul housing typologies include a flat with living room, kitchen, dining room and bedrooms all on one floor, Gangseo-gu’s dense urban fabric and the small location of the project forced stpmj to create a “vertical living room” with various design floor zones.
Taking into account the local cultural norms, the economic value of flats through redevelopment and the familiarity of the housing infrastructure, a vertically stacked house with a small floor space is considered a provocative and questionable housing solution. If the construction conditions in the inner city are not so practical and require the use of special construction technologies, construction costs often increase due to the nature of the small construction site and the construction area, making it a better idea to build a detached house with one or more two floors in a larger site.
Five-storey house / stpmj
The added expense of building in such a small site, trying to increase the area of the interior and exterior enclosure, making sure each floor gets the required amount of sunlight, and receiving complaints from neighbors in this dense urban fabric were all some of the complications of developing such a house. However, upon completion, vertical housing became a need for people who had grown up in 80s and 90s flats and sought diverse spatial qualities not found in typical flats. It is now possible to own a building at a low sale price, focused on personal life rather than community life in the city center.
As a solution, Five Story Building is designed as a moderation between high-rise condominiums and single-family homes that offers different types of living environments in highly populated cities. The vertically stacked project sits on a lot with less than 100 sqm of property area, limited by mandatory setbacks and parking regulations. Although small in its uniform morphological features, the architecture shows minor adjustments by ‘arching over’ on key elements that define the building. The ‘arch’ of the cantilever above the parking lot, as well as the sloping wall on the 4th floor that expands towards the entrance and openings on elevations, reveal the structural identity of the vertical single-family house and express its unique appearance.
The house is made for a family of five members; a husband, wife and their three children. In addition to the typical functions of a house, the project also includes a private furniture workshop for the husband and a playroom for the 10-, 8- and 6-year-old daughters. Within the maximized volume formed by the regulation of setbacks and parking, necessary programs are laid down in vertical zonings. The girls’ multi-room is located on the first floor with an extensive north deck where they can spend time between school and after-school activities. The furniture studio is located on the south side of the street, adjacent to a parking lot to facilitate the man’s commute. The common areas like living room, kitchen and dining room are all on the second floor while the master bedroom and youngest girls room are on the third floor with a mini library and closet. Each of the first and second born daughters has their own floor; the oldest girl’s room is allocated on the fifth floor with a panoramic view of the surroundings, while the fourth floor is dedicated to the middle child, with a bedroom, a bathroom and a second gathering area with a terrace.
The exterior of the building is clad in locally sourced red brick; a typical brick of 190mm x 57mm x 90mm used on the orthogonal geometric surface. On the curved surfaces and shoveled volumes, the car park on the ground floor and the terrace on the 4th floor, broken bricks of irregular cross-section are used to create different textures of the building. Large and wide openings have been replaced by thin windows to provide lighting and ensure privacy from the adjacent buildings. To further guarantee privacy, a brick screen has been installed on most of the openings except the south side. The interior is finished with warm wood floors and panels, along with white paint finishes on some surfaces.
This feature is part of an ArchDaily series titled AD Stories where we share the story behind a selected project, diving into its specifics. Every month we explore new constructions from around the world, highlighting their story and how they came to be. We also talk to the architect, builders and the community who want to underline their personal experience. As always, we at ArchDaily appreciate the input of our readers. If you think we should highlight a particular project, please submit your suggestions.
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