Vertical Living as a Solution to Korea’s Dense Urban Fabric: The Story Behind stpmj’s Five Story House
Seoul, similar to numerous large cities across the globe, are characterized by land scarcity, overpopulation, staggering real estate prices, and urban segregation. These living conditions forced architects and urban planners to pursue alternatives, (re)introducing new models of co-living, low-cost housing in suburban areas, and mixed-use developments. However, proximity to work, educational, commercial, health facilities, and public transportation, as well as optimized infrastructure and better governance have sustained living within compact city boundaries desirable. Tucked within the busy streets of Gangseo-gu, Five Story House by stpmj is a project that explores the relationship between single-family housing and dense urban contexts beyond investment value and contextual constraints.
The neighborhood of Gangseo-gu is characterized by small lots with typical 2-storey residential buildings. Recently, the area has been redeveloped as a major R&D campus, with diverse cultural complexes, residential and commercial buildings, and public parks that attract a young demographic and families. Real estate in Gangseo-gu is considered as one of the most effective investment tools, where purchasing a flat is the most common way to increase personal assets. And while Seoul’s typical residential typologies feature a flat with living room, kitchen, dining, and bedrooms all on a single floor, Gangseo-gu’s dense urban fabric and the project’s small site obliged stpmj to design a ‘vertical living’ with different floor zonings.
Taking into account the local cultural norms, the economic value of flats through redevelopment, and the familiarity of living infrastructure, a vertically stacked house with a small floor area is considered as a provocative and questionable residential solution. Due to the nature of the small site and building area, when construction conditions in the downtown area are not so practical and require the use of special construction technologies, construction costs often rise, making it a better idea to purchase a detached house with one or two floors in a larger site.
Five Story House / stpmj
The additional costs caused by constructing on such a small site, attempting to increase the area of the interior and exterior envelop, ensuring that each floor gets the required amount of sunlight, and receiving complaints from neighbors within this dense urban fabric were all some of the complications of developing such a house. However, upon completion, vertical housing became a need amongst people who had grown up in flats of the 80’s and 90’s, and were looking for diverse spatial qualities which cannot be found in typical flats. It is now possible to own a building at a low selling price, focusing on personal life rather than communal life within the city center.
As a solution, Five Story Building was designed as a moderation between high-rise apartment buildings and single-family residences that offers various types of living environments within highly dense cities. The vertically-stacked project stands on a plot with less than 100 sqm of property area, restricted by mandatory setbacks and parking regulations. Although it is small in its uniform morphological characteristics, the architecture presents small tweaks by ‘arching’ on major elements that define the building. The ‘arch’ from the cantilever above the parking, as well as the sloped wall at the 4th floor which expands towards the entry and openings on elevations, reveals the structural identity of the vertical single-family house and expresses its unique appearance.
The house is created for a five-member family; a husband, wife, and their three kids. Along with the typical functions of a house, the project also features a private furniture-making studio for the husband, as well as a multi-play room for the 10, 8, and 6-year-old daughters. Within the maximized volume formed by the regulations of setbacks and the parking, required programs are laid out in vertical zonings. The girls’ multi-room is located on first floor with an expanded north deck for them to spend time in between school and after-school-activities. The furniture-making studio is placed facing the south-side street, adjacent to parking to facilitate the husband’s in and out commutes. The common areas such as living room, kitchen, and dining are all assigned on the second floor, whereas the master bedroom and the youngest girl’s room are placed on the third floor with a mini library and closet. Each of the first and second-born daughters have their own floors; The eldest girl’s room is assigned on the fifth floor with a panoramic view of the surroundings, whereas the fourth floor is dedicated to the middle child, featuring a bedroom, a bathroom, and a second gathering space with a terrace.
The building’s exterior is clad with locally-produced red clay brick; A typical 190mm x 57mm x 90mm brick used on the orthogonal geometric surface. On the curved surfaces and scooped volumes, the parking space on the ground floor, and the terrace on the 4th floor, broken brick with irregular sectional surface are used to create different textures of the building. Big and wide openings are replaced with skinny windows to provide lighting and ensure privacy from the adjacent buildings. To further ensure privacy, a brick screen is applied on most of the openings except the southern side. The interior is finished warm wood floors and panels, along with white paint finishing on some surfaces.
This feature is part of an ArchDaily series titled AD narratives where we share the story behind a selected project, diving into its particularities. Every month, we explore new constructions from around the world, highlighting their story and how they came to be. We also talk to the architect, builders, and community seeking to underline their personal experience. As always, at ArchDaily, we highly appreciate the input of our readers. If you think we should feature a certain project, please submit your suggestions.
We invite you to check out ArchDaily’s comprehensive coverage of the curated selection of 2021 New Practices. As always, at ArchDaily, we highly appreciate the input of our readers. If you want to nominate a certain studio, firm, or architect, for the 2022 New Practices please submit your suggestions.