F or those unfamiliar with the Genesis vehicle brand, it may sound counterintuitive that the space that Eulho Suh and KyungEn Kim of Suh Architects designed to represent them in New York’s Meatpacking District would be described as an “oasis.” But for the long-time collaboration between the brand and the architects, a mindful, considered approach is always at its core.
After all, their purpose is to create a space of desire – and what could be more desirable in the heart of downtown Manhattan than a space to escape into the extended landscape of the High Line, and have each one of your senses thoughtfully catered to? In Genesis House – who presented Sotheby’s recent Design Week – Suh found a vehicle with which to introduce Korean hospitality to New York, and in doing so has developed a much-needed design language for the city.
The importance that this project places on a physical space for a brand brings to mind the OMA and Prada collaborations that began in the early 2000s: a heyday of recognizing how creative retail space can be. How do you approach the task of designing the inhabitable expression of a brand that – in this case – is typically expressed in the form of a car on one hand or digitally on the other?
We have had the benefit of creating opportunities to physically engage Genesis customers for several years now. We first started considering how to bring people and cars together with Hyundai Motorstudio in Seoul, as well as for their training center in Mabuk.
Since there is no actual driving involved [laughs] the visitor’s experience is much more about the idea of the particular car as a visceral, highly engineered object of desire, in addition to a means of mobility. In both projects, we proposed removing car displays from the first floor entirely in order to allow for some amazing video, sound and installation work. To the company’s credit, they agreed.
Suh Architects often explore not only these spaces for physical experiences, but also spaces for the intentional meeting of the physical and the digital. How does this become visible in Genesis House?
We have always been interested in how technology changes our experiences of physical spaces. Genesis House was able to build a three-sided LED stage like none other in the US; it literally envelopes the speaker in moving images, hosting events from fashion shows to car unveilings to Lunar New Year dinners. We created several of the main movies featuring abstract, animated versions of the latest models expressed in lines of light.
As far as the showroom spaces themselves, we focus on how each space can amplify each Genesis model’s attributes. Our infinite mirror creates a sort of visual “echo” by reflecting the car’s exterior into a kind of chamber, and flipping copper dots in the Genesis House showroom set the visitor’s tour to a soft whirring soundtrack.
“This raised pavilion … embodies Korean landscape philosophy that one’s garden is actually much vaster than the space surrounding one’s home – it is the ground and the sky, as far as the eye can see.”
I was struck by the use of the word “oasis” to articulate this space – and how perfect it is to describe the library area of the second floor in particular, which seems to transport visitors to an entirely different, exceedingly calm place. Was the desire to create a space of escape related to its location, in the center of the Meatpacking district?
It was. When we realized visitors would have panoramic views of the Hudson River while also having the views of the outdoor terrace facing the High Line, we knew where the tea pavilion [the second floor of the house] needed to be, and that it would be in the heart of the space. This raised pavilion feels both intimate and open with unobstructed views; it embodies Korean landscape philosophy that one’s garden is actually much vaster than the space surrounding one’s home – it is the ground and the sky, as far as the eye can see.
Now that the house is open, it really is humbling and gratifying to see people from all over the world gathering beneath our wooden floating roofscape enjoying great food and conversation together.
“The hanok … is actually incredibly flexible. In its adaptability to climate, its footprint actually expands and contracts with the seasons.”
How does designing for the exhibition of art and design come into play in your design process? I couldn’t help but think about John Chamberlain’s use of car parts as I took in the entry space of the house.
We connected Genesis with the Korean R&D organization Onjium from the onset of the project, in hopes they would be able to curate not only the restaurant but the tea pavilion’s Korean art, crafts, music library collection. We choreographed all the artifacts created by many of the Korean partner artists and artisans featured by using elevation studies, one-to-one mockups and renderings to ensure the balance of books to art would create the openness and privacy we wanted for the space
As for contemporary art influences, we have many as both of us are from art backgrounds! Realizing the project was not a commercial auto showroom, but more of a design and cultural destination in one of the most dynamic cities in the world, we knew we wanted to lure visitors in with the facade, rather than giving everything away at once. We sampled many textiles and finally settled on a copper metallic mesh whose drape and shimmer created a continuous sculpted curtain whose contours demand a second look.
In traditional Korean design, transitions and delimitations between public and private space, and indoor and outdoor space, can be particularly important in domestic architecture. Genesis House is of course not a true domestic space, but a sense of comfort and domesticity is very present. Were those transitions important to the design process?
We have many thresholds in traditional Korean architecture, both vertically in doorways with one or two steps, and horizontally as doorways are pauses for people to be given permission in, or to wait to be met at the entry. Though Korean society is still Confucian, and its architecture has always been quite insular and private to strangers, the hanok – our traditional Korean home – is actually incredibly flexible. In its adaptability to climate, its footprint actually expands and contracts with the seasons.
In Genesis House, the second floor’s zoning and roofscape in particular are inspired by the last Korean king’s family residence, Unhyeon Palace. It is a restrained, beautiful example of Korean residential architecture whose scale was perfect for the Genesis space.
The challenge in designing the continuous suspended roof was in maintaining the exact proportions of Korean roof slope and its tiles, while expressing its contours in a lighter, modern language. We came up with a vertical louver of white oak that was spaced to allow for light and views across the entire floor. We knew we had found a solution when we could see across to the Hudson but still felt protected sitting on the verandah of the pavilion or at a table for two in the restaurant.