ACC Cultural Center Gwangju City international design competition
Client: Gwangju City, South Korea
Design: Monolab, team: J.W. van Kuilenburg with T. Iwashita, J. Pena, U. Rathgeber, B. Heijnen
Year: 2005


…an open, permeable and neutral environment


If a big movement like the Gwangju Democratization of 1980 can bring democracy, the large flows of citizens and visitors of this 145.000-m2 program can bring us the concept at the scale of this cultural center. We designed this ACC with only three levels (city floor, interface and roof), flat in volume and covered by a peaceful landscape. To avoid a building with divisions, it is designed as an open, permeable and neutral environment with a network of five co-operating systems, delivering one democratic cultural field. To construct a real open, accessible, democratic, communicative, transparent, decentralized, interactive, adaptive, developing and easy-to-build ACC, we made our design as neutral and simple as possible. The design has no direct representative symbolic shape. Its value is embedded in the way it operates, by the freedom to experience culture. A transparent and humble architecture facilitates this project with openness and clear visibility of its cultural production, exchange and marketing.


The project is generated as a hub for Gwangju in three ways: it links to Gwangju by its limited height, by the uninterrupted pedestrian network connecting to surrounding streets and by its interior, an open environment with smooth clusters of pebble shaped rooms that resemble the Gwangju urban typology of city blocks with dense clusters of smaller volumes. It is linked to Korean Culture by the use of the five colors of Taoism and by the unity and decomposition of a city block (mosaic of building parts) at the same time. It is linked to neighboring countries by the four peaceful and natural Asian gardens on the roof scape.


The center of the complete project, its heart, is made into a public square. It becomes part of the pedestrian network that connects to the existing Gwangju street system. By reserving circular open spaces, the nine cultural assets are integrated within the public square, which gives them unique positions and strong relationships, a condition that intensifies their importance. We programmed Sangmookwan to be the Visitor’s Service Center. A glass tube brings the visitors to the foyer on +1 level. At the same level we propose to make a connection passing the square, through the Police Administration Main Hall and Public Service Center. We also propose to take out the floors and roof of the Main Hall of the Police Administration Building. The void could then serve as an impressive (ceremonial) space with glass roof and a big public stair to the park on the roof. The Public Service Center of the Police Administration Building can serve as a monitoring room with Supporting Facilities.


The project is simultaneously a composite whole and a mosaic of parts. Connections and interactions are of vital importance. The three levels together make one open communicative environment:
1. The project consists of parts at ground level (city floor). It is permeated by the existing street pattern crossing the site. The parts are made by pedestrian streets that are accurate continuations of the existing Gwangju street pattern.
2. The first floor (interface) is an active floor field that makes the major connections between the levels. It is perforated with atriums that follow the pedestrian street pattern.
3. The roof (vegetation) is a continuous surface as well. It is warped a bit and perforated with many voids to bring light and fresh air into the rooms below. It is a natural public park, a roof scape with four different gardens in each direction. A Korea garden with a botanical tree plantation for the children to the North, A China bamboo garden to the West, A Japan pebble garden to the East and an Ocean garden with shiny bleu solar panels to the South.


Five dedicated systems work together as one network and take care of flow and links within the complete ACC:
1. Wild Cores and Elevators. All departments have at least one elevator. The wild cores, rooted in the city floor like old trees, connect all levels with stairs and services (ventilation ducts, pipes, cables). The differently shaped cores are meant to deliver structural stability, efficient connections (stairs on inside and outside) and architectural identity.
2. Interface. The +1 floor connects the three levels by voids and by ramps (parts of the floor that are flipped up and down as sloping connections).
3. Circuit. A simple ring shaped circuit around the square serves the +1 level with visitors and experts in culture, marketing and entertainment. From this ring, radial paths connect into the departments.
4. Children Museum Loop. It is suspended on the +1.5 level and defined by a bright orange-coloured epoxy coating and glass partitions. Children are the future, we planned the Children Museum to be one of the most important parts of the ACC. The Children Museum Loop runs as one dedicated circuit connected to all departments. It also connects to the roof where we planned the big outdoor space and a botanical plantation of Korean trees, to be planted and maintained by the children. The Loop is big and exciting, behaving like a snake and bringing children through and along all different departments. Along the Loop, dedicated rooms in different departments can open up glass screens to invite the children of various ages for events like mini exhibitions, presentations, discussions, games, recreational activities, etc.
5. Park. A free flow organization gives the park at least one dedicated link to the center of each department. A big public stair through the Main Hall of the Police Administration Building connects the square to this park.


The floors are spread out like urban fields and the interiors are quite deep. For this ACC, programming is not a standard issue like organizing rooms along corridors. Instead we organized program by spreading the rooms in clusters. As a result, rooms are positioned in an open lay-out, like pebbles in the streams of visitors and officials, like flocks of birds, shoals of fish or clusters of cells. We gave most clusters of rooms one or more important key rooms as center. These key rooms are also part of the circulation space are equipped with glass windows or patios in the roof that bring daylight in the darker parts of the floor fields. The free height over the main floors is around six meters. Mediating in-between floors are suspended for the smaller and lower rooms. To achieve maximum openness and transparency, all vertical surfaces and facades are made of different types of glass (anti-reflective, slightly coloured).


The structural stability of the complete project can be handled in a very simple way because of its limited building height. The ACC consists of eight buildings made by the street pattern. All parts take care of their own stability, sideways held by the wild cores (strong lines) and vertically by the 12-m spaced columns. Connections between the buildings are detailed like bridges with sliding connections between floor fields. In this way the project can easily resist earthquakes.


Services (all ducts, pipes and cables) are transported horizontally within the 1.25-m floor zones. Vertically, services run through the wild cores that are over-dimensioned to hold escape stairs including service channels. Each of the eight buildings is supplied with its own energy cell / HVAC-unit in the roof gardens, like glowing colourful houses.


Instead of a building that takes space and creates rest space around, this ACC environment avoids obstruction. To maximize transparency, to make facades disappear visually, exterior and interior facades are made of insulated, respectively single glass sheets from floor to floor. The big glass sheets are mounted at top and bottom. The stability structure behind (horizontal blades suspended between the floors with diagonal spacers) is made of brushed stainless steel. The glass sheets are joined by simple black silicon seams. To close rooms visually, screens and curtains are used.


The 2 x 4-lane ACC ring road has two side lanes along the sidewalk in each direction, dedicated to busses, taxis, kiss & ride and for the entry & exit of the public underground parking. The parking at -1 level is simply connected to the existing one. The two entry points to the metro stations are integrated in the project.