T-FP remodels a traditional Korean house into the EYST1779 Café as a brick-built hymn

The First Penguin reincarnates a traditional Hanok house in South Korea into the charming, brick-infested EYST1779 Café, carrying an ethos of ‘noblesse oblige’ in its transformation.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Nov 18, 2022

The uniqueness of heritage South Korean architecture, especially Hanoks (traditional Korean houses) has developed over centuries, citing influences from Chinese pagodas, Buddhism, and Korean Confucianism. These structures are majorly distinguished by their slightly curved, overhanging tiled roofs with edge details, a framework of wooden beams, columns and purlins, and a deep, spiritual connection with nature.

The EYST1779 Café conceived by Seoul based architecture and design studio, The First Penguin (T-FP) | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
The EYST1779 Café conceived by Seoul-based architecture and design studio, The First Penguin (T-FP) Image: Kiwoong Hong

Many rich, private estates of the South Asian country’s architecture are symbolic of ‘noblesse oblige', a French phrase that translates to 'nobility obligates', that is, 'privilege entails responsibility'. A rich Choi family house in Gyeongju in South Korea was newly launched as a foundation named the 'House of Choi', encapsulating the spirit of noblesse oblige, with an unusual consideration and responsibility towards others.

A traditional Hanok (Korean style house) was renovated into the charming EYST1779 Café by T-FP | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
A traditional Hanok (Korean style house) was renovated into the charming EYST1779 Café by T-FP Image: Kiwoong Hong

The 'House of Choi' was then remodelled into the brick-infested EYST1779 Café by The First Penguin (T-FP), as an impeccably carried out endeavour of adaptive reuse. A tint of western ideals—of design, of sophisticated minimalism, and straight lines activate the transformation of the traditional architecture into a modern, charming café and commercial space relaying contemporary sophistication and nostalgic soulfulness. The building’s restored grandeur is complemented by vernacular and mid-century touches, of structural and stylistic elements unique to that region, filtered through a contemporary lens that connects its architectural heritage with modern-day Korea.

Inside the EYST1779 Café in Gyeongju, South Korea | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
Inside the EYST1779 Café in Gyeongju, South Korea Image: Kiwoong Hong

A paradigm of understated stateliness, the poignant café design is situated at the entrance of Gyeongju Gyo-dong Hanok Village, a site replete with regional, traditional, and cultural architecture. "While respecting the historical and cultural context of the region, we wanted this project to be a symbol that connects the past and the future," shares Jaeyoung Choi, project director, founder and lead designer of the Seoul-based architecture and design studio.

The café’s architecture and design is articulated soulfully with brick | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
The café’s architecture and design is articulated soulfully with brick Image: Kiwoong Hong

In the last few years, there has been a considerable revival and emulation of Hanoks in South Korea. Many are opting to live in these traditional style Korean Kiwa-jib (tile-roofed house), and some heritage ones are also being extensively converted into hotels, workplaces, and cafes, such as this one. World-famous K-Pop acts such as—Suga from BTS and Stray Kids have also filmed their extravagant MVs (music videos) in similar locations, aiding the trend of Hanok restoration and modern usage.

  • The café’s entrance | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
    The café’s entrance Image: Kiwoong Hong
  • The prevailing, traditional Korean roof was retained due to the region’s building regulations | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
    The prevailing, traditional Korean roof was retained due to the region’s building regulations Image: Kiwoong Hong

Its location in Gyeongju also came with its own regulations, and the foremost remained the retention of traditional tiled roof of Korean Hanoks, called Kiwa. Since the structure was previously a residence, the layout was quite atypical for a commercial setting. “However, we thought it could lead to a unique result, so the overall layout was sustained,” says Choi. Except for the two skylights in the main hall as well as its distinct roof, most of the elements were made for the renovation project, which enjoys spaces of distinguished simplicity.

The traditionality of the Korean tiled roof is given subtle contrast through the more modern, minimal interiors | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
The traditionality of the Korean tiled roof is given subtle contrast through the more modern, minimal interiors Image: Kiwoong Hong

The direction of the entrance (which is accompanied by an elaborate entry sequence spatially) was changed to juxtapose the yard with outdoor seating welcoming guests, becoming the entrance to the village itself. The prevailing aesthetic of the Korean traditional roof finds a seamless, almost unseen contrast with the modern straight lines of the building, brought forth by simple brick masonry, minimal décor, glass cabinets, and artificial illuminance inside.

Geometric skylights bring in daylight into the cafe | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
Geometric skylights bring in daylight into the cafe Image: Kiwoong Hong

Bridging time and framing eloquence with brick

Brick is cited as the key architectural and design concept carrying the project—"It is one of the most commonly used materials of all time, and will be used in the future for ages. Therefore, we thought that bricks would be appropriate to talk about the project’s topic —the connection with the past and the future,” says the design team comprising Hwanmin Lee and Seongsin Choi (space direction).

  • ‘Brick’ is cited as the key architectural and design concept by the designers | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
    ‘Brick’ is cited as the key architectural and design concept by the designers Image: Kiwoong Hong
  • Brick takes over walls, ceilings and floors of the cafe | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
    Brick takes over walls, ceilings and floors of the cafe Image: Kiwoong Hong

The brick architecture is successful in soulfully harmonising with the surrounding Hanoks, in tandem with boasting a strong presence as an architectural volume. The expression and impression of the site is relayed coherently through this material, which comes together to become the walls, floors, and ceilings of the hospitality architecture.

The four bedrooms of the former Choi residence were converted into the four seating zones of the café | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
The four bedrooms of the former Choi residence were converted into the four seating zones of the café Image: Kiwoong Hong

"Also, we thought the idea of building bricks one by one, reminds (one of) the stacking of time,” the South Korean architects explain. The inclusion of modern patterns and stainless details applied to the floors, walls, door/window frames, bar, lightings, and more, outside as well as for the interior design, finds a subtle contrast to the traditionality of red brick, as a 'metaphor for the future.'

The entrance yard is fitted with benches made of cubed timber | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
The entrance yard is fitted with benches made of cubed timber Image: Kiwoong Hong

T-FP relays that the old building’s yard had poor, disorganised landscaping, and placement of trees. This was combated by cleaning the yard’s central public space, making it into an open square to welcome visitors, and adding solid benches made of cubed timber blocks, where guests could enjoy the outdoor garden in comfort.

  • Brick ensconced lamps decorate the bare masonry walls | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
    Brick ensconced lamps decorate the bare masonry walls Image: Kiwoong Hong
  • The massive tabletop is also made of brick, illuminated by a huge hanging pendant | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
    The massive tabletop is also made of brick, illuminated by a huge hanging pendant Image: Kiwoong Hong

Once again, brick plays an important role in connecting the insides with this square, augmenting the building with its visual and aesthetic continuation to bring its spaces to fruition as one, unified whole. Even the massive tabletops inside the Korean architecture are lined with brick, as are the brick light scones decorating the bare walls.

The exterior and interior are given seamless continuity through brick masonry | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
The exterior and interior are given seamless continuity through brick masonry Image: Kiwoong Hong
The entrance floor is also emulated in red brick | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
The entrance floor is also emulated in red brick Image: Kiwoong Hong

Traversing inside, the single-storey commercial design consists of an expansive main hall fitted with high ceilings and skylights that expand the space further, with a solid reception area illuminated by a massive hanging pendant. A muted, black bench snakes softly along the length of the walls here, doubling up as a sculptural artefact. The four bedrooms of the former residential architecture were transformed congruously into the four different seating areas boasting differing vistas. "We set various directions for each zone and brought the beautiful scenery of the garden inside to provide a memorable experience," says Choi.

Details of the quaint interior design | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
Details of the quaint interior design Image: Kiwoong Hong

The two dramatic skylights form unique shapes upon interacting with daylight, decorating the main hall of the contextual architecture, as the day passes. Sculptural furniture design made by Chulan Kwak is placed throughout the seating areas to enhance the almost visceral quality of the space. The café’s kitchen sits concealed behind a sliding door, almost invisible.

A sculptural bench in matte black snakes from the entrance lobby into the café’s insides | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
A sculptural bench in matte black snakes from the entrance lobby into the café’s insides Image: Kiwoong Hong
The elaborate entrance | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
The elaborate entrance Image: Kiwoong Hong

Elegant, graceful, humble, and generous, the EYST1779 Café bequeaths Korean architectural legacy to present and future generations, in modern spatial energy. Projects of such nature celebrate architecture in retrospect and its foreseeable future, creating an obvious, necessary link between its traditional past and its contemporary present, in accordance with T-FP’s ethos of dealing with architecture and space by foregoing boundaries between—domains and genres.

  • The commercial design illuminated at night | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
    The commercial design illuminated at night Image: Kiwoong Hong
  • The kitchen is concealed, almost invisible to guests | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
    The kitchen is concealed, almost invisible to guests Image: Kiwoong Hong

"Gyeongju is an ancient city that has existed for more than a thousand years, with a long and strong historical and cultural context. We want EYST1779 to be a long-lasting, sustainable architecture, and not just a commercial space that flashes and fades over time,” concludes Choi, highlighting the essence of the hospitality design.  

Floor plan | EYST1779 Café by T-FP | STIRworld
Floor plan Image: Courtesy of T-FP

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