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[NEW HONGIK IIDC] ‘Delirious’ Hongdae, or the Terrifying Beauty of the Cadavre Exquis

written by
Chang Yongsoon
materials provided by
Hongik University
edited by
Kim Jeoungeun

SPACE February 2024 (No. 675) 


‘Delirious’ Hongdae, or the Terrifying Beauty of the Cadavre Exquis▼1

​The Urban Context: Researchitecture  

In October 2023, Hongik University invited five of the laureates of the Pritzker Prize to participate in rare international design competition. The fourth to present their work, Chris van Duijn of OMA, began his presentation with the urban research of which they are proud. After describing the cultural and urban context of the ʻHongdaeʼ▼2 area, he presented a detailed study of a labyrinthine building layout for the campus. This approach can be thought of as ‘Researchitecture’, research-based architecture launched by OMA. ‘Hongwarts’,▼3 his phrase for the labyrinthine connections established between buildings at Hongik University, clearly demonstrates the depth and meticulous nature of their research concerning the campus. 


Landscape Urbanism

OMA’s strategy based on solid research was that of landscape urbanism. The site of this competition is located on a slope between Wausan Mountain and the complex system of alleyways in the Hongdae area. The idea is to integrate the sloping landscape of the Wausan Mountain with the urban order of the alleyway, like the clasping fingers of two hands. As befits their name, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, they have elected a strategy that combines the urban flow with the natural topography. The greenery of Wausan Mountain is connected by a bridge to Wa-U Center and extends across to the city level, meeting the network of alleyways around Wa-U Center. The buildings detailed in OMA’s proposal form an intriguing topographical landscape, and the terraced building of TechLab and sloping roof of the Makers Center devise a gentle artificial terrain that envelops the central area.


​Topology, Knitting, Knots

Over and above the concept of landscape urbanism, OMA decided on topological knitting as their strategy. The site already has potential for circulation that would cross the playground of Hongik University, which would connect the main gate to the back gate, the dormitory to Wa-U Center, and Design Valley to Mun-Heon Hall. They are known only to those who have spent time in the school. These routes sometimes create shortcuts diagonally crossing the orthogonal system and level differences. OMAʼs proposal realises these potential pathways without any aesthetic preconceptions of turning them into connecting bridges. The idea is similar to OMAʼs IIT McCormick Tribune Campus Center. What makes Hongik University different from this previous project is the inverse layout of voids and solids and level differences. The multiple layers of connecting bridges, like knitting, topologically connect an urban context disconnected by level differences. The project could be thought of as a kind of fabric, or a giant knot woven from its urban circulation routes.


​De-centralisation, De-boundary, Divergence

The destination of OMA’s topological knitting is a state of de-centralisation and the liberation from boundaries. OMAʼs New Hongik project deconstructs the traditional notion of the centre and boundary. The proposals of Renzo Piano and Herzog & de Meuron feature a strong centrality. Their proposals form a self-sufficient and convergent centre, whereas OMAʼs proposal creates a sense of divergence and openness. Boundaries are dissolved and melt into the overall spatial flow. OMA’s proposal has no clear defining borderlines, blurring and dissolving the divisions between buildings and nature, city and university, inside and outside, underground and above ground. The proposal creates the entrance by demolishing part of the Design Valley that originally formed the campus boundary like a barrier.


​De-authorization, Multiple Entrances, No Symbolic Gate, Rhizome

Typically, an authoritative university building has a clearly defined faÇade, a symbolic gate, a central public space, and clear boundaries. OMA’s proposal, which contradicts all of these supposed necessities, has no faÇade, no symbolic gate, no centre, and no boundary. OMA’s proposal has many entrances, but no symbolic gate. It is a networked structure in line with the concept of the rhizome, in contrast to a tree-like structure with clear entrances and hierarchies. Buildings in the traditional sense disappear into the flow of a broader structural network.


The winning entry of OMA. Circulation between facilities within the site.


The winning entry of OMA. Section diagram.


​‘Something’, Object, Sublime, Event

One of the reasons many jurors warmed to OMA’s proposal was that it appeared to break from the traditional concept of a building. ‘Itʼs not a building, but something,’ noted one jury. ‘Something’ means an object that cannot be expressed or described in more specific terms. Facing OMA’s proposal, the general method of describing a building loses its power and lacks the required nuance. Philosophers have used many terms to describe what lies beyond our common imagination and intellect. Lacan called it Das Ding (thing). Das Ding is something that exists beyond language and the symbolic order governed by the pleasure principle and moral imperative. This is also what Kant calls the state of sublimity. The sublime is the sense of discrepancy and helplessness when met with events or vistas that cannot be wholly grasped by our imagination and intellect. It brings displeasure and, at the same time, pleasure beyond the ordinary. Alain Badiou called such encounters an ‘event’, those which are indistinguishable, undecidable, unspeakable, and comprehensive. 

OMA’s proposal marries Das Ding, the sublime, and an event. It brings a kind of embarrassment at its wealth of connection and in the way it renders language inadequate. The speed created by the flow brings a sense of dynamic sublimity. It is also an event that defies categorisation in any conventional way and precise determination. You canʼt figure out what it is, but you can feel that something is happening. The jury was fascinated by an event that exists beyond words. OMA did not create a flawless proposal, but a captivating one. They didnʼt create a flawless design, but a strong concept.


​Terrifying Beauty, Cadavre Exquis

OMAʼs proposals are more bizarre than beautiful. The concepts of the Cadavre Exquis and ʻterrifying beautyʼgesture towards the complexity of this feeling. In Delirious New York, Koolhaas already revealed his interest in programmatic strangeness rather than beauty. This idea reaches its peak in the New Hongik project. The labyrinth achieves a ‘terrifying beauty’ that offers a sense of dizzying speed rather than orderly beauty, and the heterogeneous programmes that are infinitely layered on top of each other create a Cadavre Exquis (exquisite corpse) or perhaps mise en abîme that is endlessly immersive.▼4 The Cadavre Exquis, a creative method employed by the Surrealists’ in which each participating artist commits a drawing to a piece of paper which is then folded and passed to the next artist, each fold revealing only the end of the previous picture. This results in a discontinuous, disparate, and bizarre whole. OMA has been using this practice since their analysis for the heterogeneous programme of the Downtown Athletic Club in New York. In OMAʼs New Hongik proposal, we encounter different squares and spaces created through the Cadavre Exquis. As opposed to the calculated stylings of Le Corbusierʼs promenade, OMA’s proposal creates a surreal derive that asks one to wander through the labyrinth of the unconscious. One will become lost for words in the face of a terrifying sublimity sensed in this aimless and indeterminate wandering. 


Melun-Sénart Urbanism, Curved Void, Void/Solid, Island, and Bands 

In OMAʼs New Hongik proposal, many of OMAʼs key design ideas or concepts and their genealogy have been realised and represented. All the intersecting paths are straight in the aforementioned IIT McCormick Tribune Campus Center and curves, like the bridges in the New Hongik proposal, were not employed. It is only in the Melun-Sénart Masterplan (1987) that a curved intersecting path is used that is almost identical to that found in New Hongik. The void curve that follows the TGV tracks has been transformed into a bridge curve that leads from the dormitory to Wa-U Center. This curved bridge, called a ʻbananaʼ, enriches the project, as it is also seen as a metaphor for the Eoulmadang-ro (former Gyeongui Line) that curves through the Hongdae area. In Melun-Sénart project, OMA’s important theme of voids/solids is used, which have been realised as bands of voids and islands that sit between. This theme is inverted in the New Hongik and transformed into the solid form of a bridge and plazas. In addition, they melded the ‘Culture of Congestion’ of Yokohama Masterplan (1992), the underground programme of Les Halles Plan (2003), and the Piranesian space of the Euralille Plan (1989 – 1994). This shows that the New Hongik is the late OMA’s final destination for the void/solid. 


Red Pipe Railings, Kitsch, and Hongdae Culture

Architects regard railing design as a signatory gesture. OMA used thick logs in their railings at Kunsthal (1992), thick stainless steel pipes for the Seoul National University Museum of Art (2005) and in the Leeum Museum (2004). In the New Hongik, red thick pipes were chosen. They had already been used as railings in the Hong-Mun Hall, and OMA absorbed them as a design element for the railings throughout New Hongik. Many elements in Hongik University are red, something of  a motif, such as the Eternal Smile symbol and the red railing of Hong-Mun Hall. As such, OMA also employed this hue as a design motif. OMAʼs method, however, is more kitsch. Kitsch means eccentric, colloquial, or even of a banal aesthetic, derived from the German word verkitschen, which means ‘to make vulgar’. OMAʼs proposal is at points bizarre and deliberately low-quality, carefully planned from its interchange-like layout to its handrails. The Hongdae area is full of kitsch features, accommodating of bizarre costumes, merchandise, music, and performances that would be thought to be unacceptable anywhere else in Korea. That is the cultural power of the Hongdae area. While SANAA analysed the Hongdae area in terms of its typology and scale, OMAʼs city analysis goes beyond typology to consider the overall spatial flow and cultural landscape, and they applied these findings to their proposal. The appeal of OMAʼs New Hongik lies not only in scrutinising the labyrinthine alleyways and circulatory flows of Hongdae, but also in reinterpreting its invisible cultural power. 


Hongdae, a Place Where a Person Who is Not Deceived Get Lost; Dis-orientation, The Situationists, New Babylon, The Naked City  

‘Hongdae’ doesnʼt just mean Hongik University. The power of ʻHongdaeʼ culture has significance as a gathering place for cultural minorities and sub-cultures. It is a place where people who are not deceived by the established social or cultural order can wander and lose themselves. There are many cultural communities and alternative spaces in the area, hosting those who deviate from the path set by society and try to find a new one by getting lost and wandering. They practice dis-orientation that makes people get lost rather than orientation that leads people to the existing path of the society. The International Situationists, a group that had a major impact on the movements that informed the May ’68 Revolution, saw value in the undiscovered or overlooked rather than in those who fit into society like clock hands and a cogwheel. They created a picture of an unconscious or submerged city that was able to break away from the rules of society by the name of the ʻNaked Cityʼ. This means that they broke free from the conventions and conservative agendas set by society. 

The culture of Hongdae has a chaotic energy, and one great advantage of the design by OMA is that it is exposed as it is, instead of simply covering it with another architectural or aesthetic order. OMA’s proposal is a disoriented New Babylon, a naked city of a terrifying beauty.


1   ʻDeliriousʼ means ʻunable to think or speak clearly, in a state of wild ecstasy’. The title is taken from the title of the book by OMA founder Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York (1978). 

2   ʻHongdaeʼ is abbreviation of Hongik University, but also refers to the area around Hongik University. The architects invited to participate in this competition also use the expression ʻHongdaeʼ instead of Mapo-gu. 

3   ʻHongwartsʼ is a compound word alluding to ʻHogwartsʼ, Harry Potterʼs boarding school for witchcraft and wizardry, and Hongik University. This is how Hongik University students refer to labyrinthine layout of their campus buildings.

4   A mise en abîme means the ʻplacement in an abyssʼ and refers to the infinitely recurring sequence in a frame-within-a-frame way.​​ 

You can see more information on the SPACE No. February (2024).

Chang Yongsoon
Chang Yongsoon received his BA and MA in architecture from Seoul National University. After graduating from the Ecole d’architecture Versailles, Paris 3, he practiced in the Atelier d’architecture Jacques Ripault and Duhart, and received his DPLG. He earned his Ph.D in philosophy under Alain Badiou at Universite St.Denis, Paris 8. He worked at Kiohun, and is now a professor at Hongik University. He has authored numerous publications such as The Philosophical Adventure of Contemporary Architecture (2010 – 2013). His works include Re-Structuring Sewoon Sangga Citywalk and KB Youth Step.