Álvaro Siza’s Mimesis Museum in South Korea is a modern art gallery for a collector and art-book publisher.


The museum in Paju Book City, a remarkable new town 30 km outside of Seoul dedicated to the publishing industry (icon 057), is a concrete building with a sinuous two-winged plan that curves around a courtyard, with sheer, almost windowless walls facing the surrounding cherry trees.


“In general it’s very closed, most of the light comes from the roof,” says Siza. Paju Book City was originally masterplanned by Florian Beigel and the Architecture Research Unit in 1999, and is already known as an architectural showcase.


No doubt a building by Siza is a welcome addition to this landscape, but it does present its own difficulties: “I didn’t have as much context as I would like with which I could create a dialogue, I only had a site plan, so I had to concentrate on creating an atmosphere for the building,” says Siza, referring to the problem of building for a new town where your neighbours haven’t even been designed yet. 


This might partly explain the inward character of the building, but how did Siza determine the form? “I wanted a kind of courtyard, but I didn’t want to make a quiet court, so it became a continuous, round form. You look and see one buil Álvaro Siza’s Mimesis Museum in South Korea is a modern art gallery for a collector and art-book publisher.


As point of entry, the courtyard introduces this sense of tension, diminishing in width as visitors approach. With a low-level cut-out creating a covered route to one side, visitors are forced to veer away from the pinch point where the internal sweep turns in to meet its tightest radius. Unreachable until you finally enter, this turn becomes the fulcrum of the plan, creating a punctuation point between spaces and levels and providing orientation for visitors.


On the ground floor the radius is glazed to reveal the neatly clipped courtyard, a view previously denied by the lobby’s freestanding screen wall. Above this it rises as a solid convex face, pressing tightly against the orthogonal balustrade of the mezzanine lobby, before finally achieving more liberty as a prominent form within the first-floor gallery.


On this level the architects originally hoped to reconnect the large temporary exhibition space with the generous foyer below, using a balcony that would peel away from the central wall. Unfortunately fire regulations wouldn’t permit it, so Siza and Castanheira devised the exhibition platform into which they set a single glazed lay light.


‘There are a lot of stories like this in Siza’s work – a balcony that becomes a podium that becomes a light well,’ says Castanheira, quickly adding: ‘but of course, there is never really anything accidental in his work.’ The ground floor is a space for arrival and distribution, areas for temporary exhibitions and a café/restaurant with all necessary back up.


Administration areas, staff circulation, area for the administrative archive and staff toilets are located in the mezzanines. The top floor is for exhibition space. Light, always light, so carefully studied. Both natural and artificial is seen as essential. Allowing to see without being seen.






Location: Paju Book City, Korea

Architect: Alvaro Siza

Project: Alvaro Siza + Castanheira & Bastai Arquitectos Associados + Jun Sung Kim

Project Coordinator: Dalila Gomes

Collaborators: Chungheon Han, João Figueiredo

Structure: Gayoon ENC

Mechanical Installations: Hansan Engineering Co.

Electricity: Jung-Myoung Engeneering Group Co.

Construction Coordinator: Young-il Park

Construction Company: Hanool Construction Co.

Year: 2010

Client: Open Books Publishing Co.

Photographs: FG+SG– Fernando Guerra, Sergio Guerra

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