In Seoul, there’s a unique pavilion that looks oddly out of place. It’s only once you turn upside-down that you’ll realise what it really is: a rusty old ship.
While most ships go to die in a scrapyard where they’re cut up and sold off, Shinslab Architecture gave this vessel a second chance at life. They basically took its hull, flipped it, and turned its interiors into a beautiful and modern pavilion.
It’s a great example of recycling done right, and it also gets visitors to lament on our culture of waste. The building eventually won this year’s Moma Young Architects Program.
We had a chance to talk to Tchely Hyung-Chul of Shinslab Architecture to know more.
What was the inspiration for the pavilion? What made you decide to turn a rusty ship into art?
“First one was a comparison made by Le Corbusier between a big ship and architectural structures. This gave us the idea that the biggest industrial thing – such as a ship – is comparable and sometimes even bigger than buildings and monuments.
“Second one was Marcel Duchamp’s Readymade, which involves turning ordinary objects into art. For instance, turning a urinal into a fountain. Every urinal in the world is installed in the same position, but Duchamp’s version is reversed in a unique and surprising position.
“Everyone saw our boat with a size, comparable to a building, where they can go in and out. They were also surprised to see it in the center of the city and amused to see it upside down.”
We’re curious, where did you manage to find an old, unused ship?
“In our research, we knew that main shipbreaking sites were in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and China. We contacted a lot of firms in these countries. It was a real treasure hunt. But finally, we found our ship in Mokpo, South Korea, with quite the same dimensions and with a good delivery schedule.
“This ship was there to be demolished after 35 years of service.”
What were the challenges in creating the pavilion? What was the most difficult part of the construction process?
“One of the architecture’s main principles is to build for longevity. But the temporary installations in the Young Architects Program are only to be here for 3 months, so it was in contradiction with the principles.
“That’s why we didn’t want the material to be light or fragile because even for 3 months we wanted to do an architectural project. Even more, we wanted that our project appeared to have been here for a long time – even before the museum was built.
“Everything in the construction process was difficult because there was no firm used to doing the job. We had to be responsive to all situations and always be ready to improvise solutions.”
What message does this work of architecture hope to tell its visitors?
“There is no message. Like Le Corbusier said, architecture is ‘machine à émouvoir’, an emotion-making machine. We would like that every visitor will be touched by our project, each in their own way.”
Lastly, what’s your best advice to young architects out there?
“We are also yet young architects, but what we can say is that an architect’s main quality is to be aware, curious, and open to various fields.”