SPACE January 2023 (No. 662)
ʻI am an Architectʼ was planned to meet young architects who seek their own architecture in a variety of materials and methods. What do they like, explore, and worry about? SPACE is going to discover individual characteristics of them rather than group them into a single category. The relay interview continues when the architect who participated in the conversation calls another architect in the next turn.
View of Atin Maru / ©Choi Bongkuk
interview Choi Bongkuk principal, BK architecture ×
Becoming Immersed and Going Deeper
Park Jiyoun (Park): The office is located in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do.
Choi Bongkuk (Choi): It has been a little over ten years since I moved to Gyeonggido. I used to work in Seoul, but I moved to Gyeonggi-do after getting married.
Park: From Yeonhui-dong, it takes around an hour to get here. It is a little further away than I thought! (laugh)
Choi: At first, I opened an office with three co-workers. At that time, the office was in Jeongneung. It usually takes at least an hour to get anywhere from Seoul, right? And since it takes about an hour to get here from Jeongneung, it wasn’t too stressful for me.
Park: There is a rice paddy just in front of the office, as well as a yard and even a puppy.
Choi: This is a house-cum-office that I designed entirely on my own, having bought the land with this plan in mind.
Park: I think I read in April (2020), your travel essay, that you built the house on your own. It said, you finished the house, but after living in the house for roughly two months, you went travelling across Europe and Asia.
Choi: That’s why both the house and the office are small. There was a chance that I would not return from the trip.
Park: During this period of travel, did you consider settling down if you happened to find a place that you liked?
Choi: You are aware of what it is like to be an architect. Once you are able to communicate in a foreign language, you can get a job at an architectural office abroad. So, if conditions arose and made it possible, I was considering relocating to another country. But in the middle of the trip, the Coronavirus Disease-19 began, so I had to return home. I would have kept travelling, whether it took a year or two. This trip began without any restrictions to travel period.
Park: You took each and every photo that was featured in April. You enjoy driving a car and motorcycle. You seem to have a lot of hobbies.
Choi: I had a tough childhood. I looked for a way out, and I discovered motorcycle riding. That was the only joy in life at that time. I think that was when I started to learn how to focus on one thing.
Park: I find it quite intriguing to talk to people who enjoy idiosyncratic hobbies. They equip me with incredibly in-depth information of worlds about which I have little awareness.
Choi: I believe it is good to have an obsession with one thing. When you are completely immersed in one area of study, you develop a habit of diving deep into anything. Once you develop a particular career or a new hobby, you can focus at a remarkable level. Overlanding is a type of travel in which the traveller uses a wheeled vehicle, whether it is a bicycle or a motorcycle, to continue moving to another location. I had this experience while driving and riding the motorcycle, which is how I was able to go on trans-Eurasian travel by the car.
Park: I suppose diving deep into one thing can elicit a range of experiences.
Choi: When others hear that someone enjoys riding a motorcycle, they may assume that ‘That person must be a thrillseeker’ or ‘That person must be fond of speeding through the elements.’ However, when you become immersed in anything, there is an infinite amount of things to love. These stories can become entangled, which can deepen your understanding of and enjoyment of the motorcycle.
Park: When I was preparing for this interview, I read April thoroughly. As the interviewer, I had expected to read more features on architecture, but it was barely mentioned. It felt like a love letter to the family! (laugh)
Choi: I believe I have written features about windows and doors. When I travel overseas, I take note of things that I do not typically get to see, such as ways of opening and closing a window, sizes of windows, and ways of entering. They appear to be the elements that my body responds to most directly. When I visited Russia, people were tall and bulky, whereas the doors were very small. I think there are two reasons. The first is to be able to quickly protect and block, because the country had a lot of wars, while the second is the country’s cold climate. It’s as if I travelled across the country by looking at architectural elements.
Park: Behind the chair in which you are sitting, I notice a wide, long, fixed window that is nearly the size of an adult. Will this window allow me to understand you? (laugh)
Choi: You are aware that the sightlines of the people who stay within the space are determined by the window’s placement, size, and design. In some ways, it serves as the architect’s authority. All you can see through the window you mentioned is, in fact, a concrete wall. This was intended to evoke one’s attention in a small space.
Park: So this window is to draw attention rather than to let air into the room.
Choi: When you create a window for ventilation, you run into restrictions as to how you may design a certain detail. When you plan a system window for the purpose of functionality, many elements such as the frame, hinge, and handle are added. Then I am unable to achieve my desired elevation design.
View of office
Park: You went on a long trip to distant destinations. Did you ever experience travel fatigue?
Choi: I am a person of action who finds satisfaction in carrying out something that I plan. Perhaps that is why I was so restless when I returned from the trip. After the trans-Eurasia travel, I kept making domestic trips. That is why my friends and acquaintances thought that ‘Choi Bongkuk appears to have stopped working.’
Park: Did you gradually start to receive projects following that hiatus?
Choi: I started working afterwards, but oddly enough, I was unable to give the projects my best. The tastes or requirements did not align with how I liked to work. As a result, I did not do as well as I would have liked on these projects.
Park: Is that why you became a client yourself? You designed and even now run Atin Maru (2021) and Atin Haeu (2022) on your own.
Choi: That was definitely influenced by travel. I used to work at Need21 (principal, Yoo Jeonghan) for a long time. I got to share my story to principal Yoo. ‘When I visited Norway, there were a lot of houses in a forest. I don’t how they live, and I am uncertain whether I could live in a forest, but I would love to visit once in a while. I wish a similar area existed in Korea. I would like to create a space by purchasing a woodland that is roughly tens of thousands-pyeong in size, which you can only access by walking – not even by car – for a considerable distance, and where nothing other than huts are present. What if the water doesn’t run well, what if the electricity doesn’t work? If there is no hot water running, I can boil water and use it…’ Once I said this, I really wanted to try this out.
Park: Both projects are located in a sequestered forest.
Choi: They turned out to be considerably more commercial compared to the initial plans. Originally, there was to be no plumbing or electricity. Instead, you were supposed to use solar energy that had to be recharged after usage. So a hut-like form was what I wanted, but in order to do so, the site was supposed to be larger. Since I had a restricted budget and I had to adhere to the permit conditions, I had to make some changes.
Park: There is a saying that a good client creates good architecture. Were you a good client?
Choi: Well, these projects were business, so you shouldn’t ever fail, right? For many reasons, they went in a more commercial direction to that outlined in the original plan. However, there were some things that I was able to maintain. In Atin Maru, each building is separated. I paid close attention to ensuring that each mass and the combination of masses would be in a harmony. In particular, I believed that as the scale of each building increases, it could become incongruous with the project ’s overall intentions and design, and even appear clumsy. I also believed that I would never make spaces, like swimming pools or a kitchen, provided in a lodging facility, and I was able to hold to that as well.
Park: Is there a reason behind your decision not to introduce a kitchen?
Choi: You know what cooking is like while you ’re away. There are a lot of tasks to complete when you start cooking. I questioned if you should even make your own food when you are on a trip to rest. That was how I felt when I was travelling. I thought about a way of keeping my attention on the fact that, I am the one who ’s staying, in this space. In a similar context, there is no double bed. Even if it is a family or a couple, it can be slightly bothersome to sleep on the same bed with the same blanket. As everyone breathes at a different rate, has a different heart rate, and feels hot at a different temperature. So I used a single bed only, which is fixed so that it cannot be moved. Even if two people are travelling, they can at least have time to themselves when they are in bed.
Park: I’m more and more curious about Atin Maru. However, shall we move on?
View of Atin Maru / ©Choi Bongkuk
In the Attitude of a Traveller
Park: I walked up the winding path towards the peak of the mountain, but once I arrived near Atin Maru, I saw a row of fir trees. I felt a calm descend, as if I were passing by the One Pillar Gate.
Choi: According to the local elders, there were fir trees on the site of Atin Maru. People cleared the ground for the construction of a complex. Park: With the exception of the administration building, every building has an exterior finish of galvanized corrugated steel sheets. It resembles that of a camping car. Choi: I thought the creases of corrugated steel sheets fit well with those in the fir trees. Moreover, when they rust, they are tinged with a brown colour. I envisioned them becoming over time the tree ’s bark. Prior to rusting, as you see now, it is a material that reflects the sky and the ground.
Park: Each building also distinguishes between the windows made to draw attention and windows made for ventilation. I hear no noise inside the room.
Choi: I arranged a small refrigerator that is even noiseless so that we can minimise any possible machine noise. Park: Where was your most memorable travel destination? Choi: Iceland. There, you can capture all four seasons from spring, summer, fall, to winter in a single line of sight.
Park: The names of the buildings in Atin Maru are Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. It appears that your thoughts and feelings leave traces, here and there in the projects. After meeting you, I feel like I want to embark on a journey.
Choi: If you get to travel overseas, I hope you get to see the countryside. People ask me why you would go to the southern parts rather than Paris when you visit France. But when I go to the countryside, I feel like I am setting foot on theearth.
Park: People have different identities. Of these, you appear to relate most strongly to your identity as a traveller. This is because you are never afraid to reinvigorate an inertia-based life.
Choi: I made a promise to my wife. Once we finish parenting our child, we should go travelling. And let ’s spend the final second of our lives on the street while travelling. (laugh)
Choi Bongkuk, our interviewee, wants to be shared some stories from 100A associates (co-principals, Park Solha, An Kwangil) in February 2023 issue.