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[Interview] The Architect who Works with Life with Life

written by
​Jeong Jaeheon x Kim Jeoungeun (editor-in-ch
photographed by
Park Youngchae
materials provided by
MONO architects
Living Harmoniously
Jeoungeun Kim (Kim): A house is a private space, but it has to have a sense of publicness in terms of living harmoniously in a city or a town together. You refer ‘building neighborhoods’ as not going against the surrounding landscape and context, and as laying the ground and planting the grass and trees on the street where people walk around. Or, what kind of experience does the outdoor space on the site, which is likewise being shared with the neighbors, offer to the client?
Jeong Jaeheon (Jeong): When you stroll around the neighborhood, there is a space in front of a house that you can run into. A flowerpot is often placed in it, or it serves as a space to offer a moment to stay. At there, people feel a kind of greeting or hospitality. They can feel the nature of people who live inside. So, from the very initial stage, I advise the client to invest 5~10% of the total construction cost in landscaping. Most people are focused on maintaining the maximum interior space, without paying much interest in the space outside the fence. However, well-designing the landscape outside the fence is the easiest way to expand the realm of a house outwards. So if each house leaves a little more space outside the house and creates a landscape, the neighborhood will be as comfortable and beautiful as an old town looks. Thus, I always tell the client. ‘If you push the fence little more inwards and do a good-gardening by the street, the house will express its gratitude to you and create a landscape of life. That land does not go anywhere’.

Kim: In the case of Pangyo the new city, it is difficult to identify a common element that creates the scenery of a town or a complex. In this housing-exhibition-like space, where various materials and shapes are gathered on the lots with similar shapes and areas, the Pangyo House used the granite with subtly changed texture. How did you wish this house to be seen?
Jeong: Since Pangyo is a pre-planned housing district, the lots are divided into small areas and seem artificial. Nature also seems artificial. Buildings are erected without much consideration given towards the surrounding, so they are viewed as if they are model houses or filming sites. I try to use only one material per each project if possible. Yet I use one material with different methods instead. I used granite for the Pangyo House. I felt that we have never used the brown toned granite, which is a very familiar material, in a way that granite should have been used. I wanted to express the color and texture of granite in a relaxed manner.


The ramps which can be found inside of Pangyo House, Munui House and Willow House make the inhabitants to feel the transition of the space dramatically by the sense of the foot.




Weaving People’s Lives

Kim: Ever since the apartment has occupied our residential culture, it was said that the style of living or life inside the house has disappeared. For instead, it is asked if it would be really possible to invite guests to an apartment where private space inside is clearly visible. In fact, the clients whom we met during the site visit do the activities that they did not do when they were living in an apartment – enjoy cooking, taking a walk at a house, and invite guests. What element do you think has retrieved this kind of life inside the house?

Jeong: In the case of Hanok, there was a room for life because of the separation between zones, such as a detached house (Sarang-Chae) and the main house (an-chae). Apartments are simply divided into rooms, without indigenous zones provided. For example, can you imagine inviting guests to a house where a high school senior is living? In Hanok, even if guests come by the main house (an-chae), the detached house (sarang-chae) could function separately. It is integrated as a whole, but it creates a long journey and zones are divided into. The relationship between interior and exterior is important. On the journey to the destination, one must be able to feel the change of light and be in accordance with hidden nature. Then there must be more junctions with the outside air. I wasn’t able to think that deep in the early works. Now I try to capture the delicate parts of life. For instance, in Yangpyeong Unfolding House, it was designed to naturally drip water instead of having a gutter to drain off the water. The scenery of water falling and the sound of it touching the ground are always friendly. It is pleasing when clients get to experience such sceneries and share those stories.


Kim: You have designed 20 houses for the past 20 years. The culture of housing must have gradually changed. I would imagine you must have sensed that kind of change from the client’s request.

Jeong: The biggest change is the status of the kitchen. The kitchen at Dumulmuri House is hidden in the deepest place. But not the kitchen became an open space where the whole family members get together. It used to be the Frankfurt Kitchen that is wall-mounted in the past, and now it is an island-style. The kitchen has now changed as a space for communication, beyond just carrying out the function. In the case of the living room, it used to be a space with a neutral character, whilst nowadays people express a desire to design the living room with their individual taste. Their requests became more explicit, such as designing a living room like a den, a café, or an extended kitchen.


Kim: You emphasize that you tend to make a lot of storage spaces that are hidden inside the house. It is nothing new to make lots of storage spaces in houses or apartments. Besides simply providing space for storage, what roles do the built-in closets that you make serve architecturally?

Jeong: In my case, I tend to build the built-in closets to feel like walls. I try to make them dissolve into space without announcing their presence. Especially, they are installed on the side of the exterior wall. There are two reasons for this. One is that it is mostly installed in the passageway, then the passageway not only serves the means of passing but also is added with a function of storing. Another reason is that when it is installed on the exterior wall of the rooms, the wall gets to have a sense of thickness. Then about 1m of thickness is added between the exterior and the interior, not only serving the roles of buffer and insulation but also adding the depth to give a comfort when the light comes in or when the outside is seen from the inside. A single design can initiate multiple changes.


Kim: You created corridors in common when designing Pangyo House, Willow House, and Munui House, and those corridors accepted the slope of the sites. If it were other architects, they would have placed steps instead of creating the slope to overcome the difference in levels. The subtle slope in the narrow and long corridor must have not been designed for the sake of functional purpose, so what kind of experience did you wish to create?

Jeong: All the housing projects that I designed are single houses. That is intended to place our country’s environment on houses and to free the outdoor space. A slope was naturally achieved while designing a journey on the inside of the house. I wanted to express the small differences in the land provided. For instance, some of the changes in height include raising the level of the living room a bit higher and lowering the height of the room a little. In the case of a ramp, the transition of the space is dramatically felt through the sense of the foot. Of course, it is a subtle difference that is not overwhelming. Usually a grade of 1:12 is used, and children especially love it. I believe the house that children enjoy is a good house.


Kim: We can feel Jae Heon Jeong’s indigenous sense of proportion in the four houses, specifically in the height of the window that frames the landscape, the proportion of the door, and the depth and height of the corridor. What are other dimensions or scales that you value the most in a house?

Jeong: Depending on which material is used in one space, the dimension or the sense of scale that the user experience is relative. In Achiul House, brick was used on one side of the staircase, and the steel plate on the other side. The sense of rough brick pushing out is taken by the smooth steel plate.

Also, the height of the window is continuously thought through. First things to consider are how the light comes in, how the landscape is seen, and how a person can feel the comfort. Large windows are not always the best solution: space might become lost, along with a sense of comfort. In my case, I tend to lower the height of the window as much as possible. When the light penetrates into the floor and brings in the scenery, it creates a sense of comfort and calmness. A certain place creates a unique atmosphere by scattering the light in the vertical direction. There is a type of light appropriate for each window. Material, light, and scenes are thought through as a whole. When I was young, such measurements felt difficult to handle. Seasoned architects utilize dimensions extremely tightly, without leaving any gap. Shedding the light at the correct place. Such space cannot be forgotten.


In Toh Cheon Lilac House (top), Jeong Jaeheon experimented with the texture of broken brick. In Willow House (bottom), he was only used in the fence, in order to remove the role of the fence and to create a wall that blends in with its surroundings.


Using Materials in a New Manner

Kim: You said you do not use the same material repeatedly. After a series of experiments, you discard it and begin another experiment with a new material. The brick that is introduced in Willow House and Achiul House seem to have been considerably experienced in Toh Cheon Lilac House in the past. What are the differences between them?

Jeong: In Toh Cheon Lilac House, I experimented the feeling of broken brick. Whilst in the case of Achiul House, it is a three-story high, a very tall building considering the depth of the road. If it was finished with a typical method of brickwork, it might seem too heavy from the roadside. So I reduced the sense of scale by using vertical stacking to create horizontal stripes then inserting broken bricks in between. Instead of pushing the horizontal scenery away, the texture of broken brick adopts it as if air or water permeates into lots of air gaps. Red old brick was selected as a material because I wanted the house to be seen as if it were standing here for a long time. When you use old bricks that are broken into pieces, you can see the layers of time. When the newly made bricks are baked at a high temperature of more than 1,000 degrees, their strength is intensified and the nature of the soil changes. Whereas, when the old bricks are broken, it gives a sense of earth. In Willow House, they were only used in the fence, in order to remove the role of the fence. Also intended to create a wall that blends in. I wanted to create the wall that exhibits different expression based on the angel of the sun shining.


Kim: Then what is the next material to experiment?

Jeong: I am extremely interested in how to use the typical material that we can easily see in our everyday life, differently. In Achiul House, the client was very concerned about the classical image of red brick. There is no bad material or good material. It depends on how you use it. I would like to provide varied uses of the materials, which are often neglected for being too common, based on that society and the time. For instance, materials like tile.


Kim: What is the material that you dislike? And what is the reason for?

Jeong: Rather than disliking, I become disconcerted to see materials that do not age. I used zinc roof in the early project Jeonju Jaundang. When I went there after 20 years, every material was aging except zinc. There is a frustration of not getting old. I wish materials get to age gracefully as time goes by.



Houses designed by Jeong Jaeheon are characterised as highly refined constructions of high completion detail. Even the depth of the brick joints are controlled in order to bring about a change to the texture of the wall.


Refining the Level of Construction and Detail
Kim: Your houses are characterized for being completed by a highly refined construction and detail. Even the depth of the brick joint is controlled to bring a change in the texture of the wall. It is also true that a considerably high construction cost is required to accomplish this level of fine construction. When enough budget cannot be afforded, how do you execute the level of perfection for your building?
Jeong: You can differentiate the material and construction method based on the budget. If you understand the construction mechanism and reduce the process, you will be able to reduce the budget as well. And you also need to have a clear understanding of the unit cost. Additionally, in my case, a few points are strategized. For example, I tend to meticulously design the space such as entrance or bathroom, or the doorknob where you physically encounter. It is like drawing a beak and a claw accurately when you draw a croquis of a chicken. It is like concentrating on the parts that I would like to reveal its expression.
Kim: What is the secret for such highly refined construction?
Jeong: When I was young, I used to live in the site. I went to the site more than a hundred times for every project. In the case of Toh Cheon Lilac House, I even thought about how to pile the bricks together. And it is important to work together with the construction workers with respect. In Japan, it is the most fundamental thing to respect and give consideration for workers, and the workers also work with a clear work ethic. In our country, there is not much young worker because workers have low self-esteem. What an unfortunate reality.
In order to elevate the level of completeness, the architect must acknowledge the construction process, and pinpoint the details and elements that the architect wants in advance. In my case, I clearly state in the specification where the mock-ups will take place. It is a way of making a decision through many experiments and mock-ups of the material’s size, texture, trimming method, pillion method, and color. I believe the construction site is a part of the design process. There is a part to be designed on the drawing, and a part to be completed through the use of mock-ups on site.

Kim: In a house, furniture is what completes the space. Rather than using the manufactured products, you personally design the chair and table or collaborate with the furniture designers. What is the direction in furniture design that you are pursuing?
Jeong: I do the interior designing for all the buildings. In order to create the space of atmosphere that I imagine, I must be in charge of the interior design. If I cannot manufacture the furniture piece myself, I show my drawings of the furniture design that matches the house. For Achiul House’s client, I sought out and purchased the furniture that will fit the house. The atmosphere of a house depends even on a single picture hanging on the wall. Because the architect builds half of the house, and the other half is finished by the people who live inside, so I try to give advice till the end. It is because it requires a training to find and select the correct furniture that goes well with space. Furniture that can become the background of a life is considered good. Furniture with good design is what does not emit its presence in usual, but what stays at the correct place when it is needed.
In that sense, I intend to collaborate with good designers. Parts that an architect cannot handle, such as landscaping, is built together with experts. It is especially hard to find the furniture brand that fits well with the domestic environment. I am working on collaborating with the designers who can make a furniture piece that goes well with the life of the users, instead of the so-called Expo furniture.

​Jeong Jaeheon
Jeong Jaeheon graduated from Sungkyunkwan University with a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering degree, then he moved to France and was taught by Henri Ciriani at Ecole Nationale d’Architecture de Paris-Belleville. After working at Michel Kagan’s office, he came back to Korea and opened an atelier in 1998. Currently, he is a professor at the Department of Architecture, Kyung Hee University. He is devoted to fostering architects who will be leading the next generation, in tandem with working passionately at MONO Architects as an architect to build people’s lives.
He won numerous architectural awards with highly refined projects, like winning Seoul City Architecture Award and Korean Institute of Architects Award (2015) with his project titled Toh Cheon Lilac House. His major works include , , , , , , and , . His publications include 『Mathematique Sentiment』 and 『Toh Cheon Lilac House』.