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Competition: Space Salim women's centre, Seoul

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has opened an international competition for a new £27 million women’s centre (Deadline: 7 June)

Planned to complete in 2019, the ‘Space Salim’ project will create a new 20,561m² facility for women and families on the site of a former US army base built during the Korean War.

The 8,874m² competition plot – formerly known as Camp Gray – is opposite Daebang-dong station and next door to the historic Seoul Women’s Shelter, which sheltered vulnerable women for more than 50 years.

Space Salim contest site photo

Space Salim contest site photo

Shut down in 1998, the shelter was replaced with the nearby Seoul Women Plaza, which is expected to connect to the new development. 

The former army base was also the site of protests in 2002 following the acquittal of two soldiers accused of ‘negligent homicide’ following the death of two teenage girls in a road accident.

The competition brief states: ‘This is a symbolic area where the tragic division of the Korean peninsula, and the poverty and hardships of women of the era is embodied – conveying the agony of modern Korean history.

‘It is the purpose of this competition to turn this gloomy and “deathlike” space into a place of resurrection, a Space Salim, which means a nurturing space that will foster the welfare of women and families.’

Promoting gender equality, encouraging more communication between family members and improving women’s economic influence within Korean society are among the project’s key aims.

The development is also part of the city government’s ongoing bid to boost ‘dignity and equality’ in its public buildings, and to stimulate the architectural service industry. Last month it launched an international contest for a £115 million cultural complex on nearby Nodeul Island.

The partially sloping site in Daebang-dong – where the local symbol is a snowy heron – is currently used for allotments and temporary parking. Nearby landmarks include South Korea’s National Assembly and Seoul’s main finance and banking district on Yeoui Island.

Site video

The new facility – which will be operated by a public-private partnership – is planned to feature both a family learning centre and an enterprise centre.

Focusing on managing communication and resolving conflicts, the learning centre will feature a small school, play area and museum of motherhood. Meanwhile the enterprise centre – intended to cultivate emerging businesses – will feature several workshops and retail units.

A food court, conference facilities, meeting rooms, café, 300-seat auditorium, accommodation for 60 residents and a 120-capacity underground car park will also be included.

Proposals must promote gender equality and create a unique, attractive and comfortable destination for women and families. Teams may include up to five participants and must feature at least one registered architect.

Judges include high-profile Korean women’s welfare campaigner Kumok Kim, University of Seoul architecture professor Sora Kim and Jean Son, president of local practice Ison Architects.

The winner – set to be announced on 30 June – will receive a design fee worth an estimated £1.2 million for the project. Around £60,000 of runner-up prizes will also be awarded.

How to apply

Registration deadline: 5pm local time 7 June

Submission deadline: 17 June

Contact details

Professor Sang-hyun Park

Architecture department

National Hanbat University Academic-industrial Cooperation


Tel: 82-42-828-8920

Fax: 82-42-821-1726 

View the competition website for more information

Women’s centre case study: Q&A with Patrick Lynch

The director of Lynch Architects discusses his design approach to the emerging building type 

What are the core requirements of a women’s centre?

Women’s centres are a relatively new urban programme, and so it is not yet clear how the various activities should be housed. Saying that, in the case of our East London Black Women’s Organisation project, there were similarities to a monastic settlement (ie the origin of hospitals and colleges is courtyard types – evolved cloisters). The religious connotations were especially relevant because the project refurbished and extended a Methodist chapel, and its use as a crèche during school holidays led to the need for a walled garden.

The design was also culturally specific to West Indian yard houses as well as directly related to its solar orientation, and this led to the concept of a deep threshold and stoop shaded by a line of deciduous trees – yard architecture. Budget constraints and our counter reaction towards the existing, introverted brick chapel also informed the design response.

Newham, East London

Newham, East London

Source: Lynch Architects

East London Black Women’s Organisation (ELBWO) community centre by Lynch Architects

How can architecture create a safe and secure environment for vulnerable people without feeling totally separate from the world?
I wouldn’t want to offer any easy answers, as I’m not convinced by the claims made for colour or bold signage - or worse, ‘organic forms’ - or any of the patronising clichés that crass architects throw at complex and difficult design problems. Participation is a key term in spatial design but ‘positive’ is a red herring, I fear, as it implies jollity or the redemptive power of certain materials or shapes.

People engage with buildings in more or less tacit and implicit ways, and the difficult task for an architect is to gauge how to deal with the more formal and explicit aspects of architecture, and also to make spaces that are available for appropriation. Sensitivity to the degrees of difference between these is crucial, but then it’s a central aspect of architectural thinking generally as well as a key aspect of human relations that often appears to be forgotten by architects.

Newham, East London

Newham, East London

Source: Lynch Architects

East London Black Women’s Organisation (ELBWO) community centre by Lynch Architects

How can you promote dignity in a space, and transform somewhere people avoid to somewhere they want to go?
I don’t think architecture can ‘promote’ anything, certainly not something as personal as individual dignity - but buildings can imbue situations with dignity. I’m not sure you can ever make anyone want to go to a place of trauma - but as the Maggie’s centres suggest, you can make something that is ordinarily a medical environment into something more domestic and civic.

These nuances are where designers’ talents really come to the fore. In part this is an ability to listen and interpret. But it is also important to propose and pare ideas down to something sufficiently robust to accept change and different points of view, while also retaining enough architectural identity to act as a common territory - somewhere recognisably not a home or a convent or a hospital, but a specific place.

My own inclination is towards accepting the presence of nature within urban environments while also accepting the vitality offered by a combination of communal and smaller rooms, and for a degree of openness to intimate spaces, and protection for the more public ones. But these are truisms, and applicable to almost all projects like this - albeit the ELBWO community centre brought a lot of these questions into focus for us, and hints at a way forward for ‘a new typology’ to emerge.

Newham, East London

Newham, East London

Source: Lynch Architects

East London Black Women’s Organisation (ELBWO) community centre by Lynch Architects


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