Outlooker Design converts an ancient Hui-style home into a restaurant and café
by Jerry ElengicalDec 03, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
"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.'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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