The Leeum Museum in Seoul
Studio Architetto Mario Botta
Designed by Mario Botta, universally recognised as one of the greatest luminaries of contemporary architecture, the architectural complex that houses the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul clearly illustrates all the distinguishing features of his work: a relationship in keeping with the local context and the “gravity” of the constructed mass conveyed by the solidity of the terracotta ventilated façade firmly rooted to the ground; a compositional study aimed at creating deliberate golden forms and primary geometric shapes; textured surfaces that shimmer with the slightest variation in natural light. It also reveals a meticulous study of the construction details, a knowledge and skilful use of materials reflecting the craftsman’s talent for selecting combinations, and the compositional role of zenithal light, which is captured and taken deep into the heart of the building where it creates highly appealing spaces … All these elements contribute to creating a project marked by Botta’s uniquely personal style.
Set further back and on higher ground in relation to the other new buildings of the complex, this museum becomes a dominant feature that is highly representative of the new urbanization plan proposed by the Samsung Foundation. The orographics and monumental impact of the building complex give the operation a strongly symbolic connotation: the building – completely closed, solid and compact – resembles a hilltop fortification whose purpose is to protect the new settlement.
The building, most of which is underground, is an isolated object rising from a green slope that connects the roads above and below it. The part of the museum visible above ground consists of two interlocking primary shapes: a parallelepiped coupled with an inverted cone that continues underground. The heart of the exhibition system lies in this second volume, which even in its abstract geometry fully expresses the purport of a figurative landmark. Inside, the visitor is led down through a central core, which is flooded with zenithal light, and on each floor encounters a circular corona that delineates an oblique path.
The exterior of the building is enhanced by the expressive language of the façade covering. The entire façade is produced using the ventilated wall technique with an outer facing in extruded terracotta. Installed using a mechanical clip system whereby the terracotta pieces are secured to the metal substructure, the cladding consists of smooth, flat terracotta tiles combined with special V-sectioned elements, again in terracotta, produced expressly to Mario Botta’s design. The spire shape of this element was designed to lend particular plasticity to the façade’s surface while at the same time using just a single system for the slanted, circular cladding of the museum building. The composition of the façade is created by the union of the two modules: in the parallelepiped the alternation of the two types creates a series of horizontal repetitions, while the spire-shaped element encases the conical volume, giving the surfaces an unusual shimmering effect.
The cladding materials, the study of the prototype and the engineering of the wall were handled by the engineering division of Sannini Impruneta, which specialises in the development of technologies for architectural claddings.