Moon Hoon describes himself as a doodler. From the age of 4, he says, he was constantly doodling. And he still is. Only now, alongside the complex, dreamlike surrealism of his sketches, he also makes buildings from them.
The South Korean architect’s houses are remarkable. Chunks of sculptural fantasy relating to almost nothing else in contemporary architecture, each one is a unique and highly personal exploration of form with little regard for convention or common sense. But they are also kind of brilliant.
It is difficult to know where to start with this peculiar architect. As every house is radically different from the last, perhaps the only way to do it is to take two. Oddly known as the Busan Times building (which makes it sound like a newspaper HQ, though it is a private house), this concrete dwelling was designed to resemble an owl.
It might be hyper abstracted, but it’s there: in the top storey with its big eyes and the chamfered concrete sides that look (a little, if you squint) like wings. Its interior is complex and slightly absurd, beginning at ground level with a glass door cut away at an unlikely angle and a library beyond, culminating in that owl-head observatory on top. Every inch of space inside is used, the stair landings are crafted into seating areas, the nooks into little libraries and holes are carved into the depth of the walls to become seats in the structure of the building itself.
Another house in Seoul’s (now rather famous) Gangnam district, is something very different. Sited on an awkward plot hemmed in by traffic on one side and a looming retaining wall on the other, the Dogok Maximum house is as much a piece of sculpture as it is a building.
With a basement photography studio and a reception room right on the street, the house tapers as it rises, the rooms closing in. Yet each is space characterised by a rich pattern of weird, angular openings just as its exterior is ornamented with a complex, seemingly random pattern of inscribed facets and criss-crossing diagonals. The interiors appear playful and wilful, almost outrageously fun. In treating the house like a game, the architect overcomes the exigencies of the difficult site and uses its limitations to create a memorably mad structure.
Eccentric, irrational and yet skilful, Moon Hoon’s buildings, like his remarkable drawings, create their own world. You might not want to live in a city full of these buildings (that would be a very bad dream), but scatter one or two about and they make the city almost magical.
Photographs and drawings: Namgoong Sun Moon Hoon; Shin Kyungsub Moon Hoon
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