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House? Boat? Iceberg?

Paul Smith’s latest flagship store by Kim Chan-Joong/System Lab, Seoul, South Korea

Rising up, iceberg-like, above its multi-storey basement, Paul Smith’s new flagship store in Gangnam, Korea, has quickly become known to locals as the Marshmallow, and it’s easy to see why. But just like the fashion designer’s own oeuvre, interpretations of this building work on many levels: is the shop a boulder, a drape, or a ship? ‘Who knows?’ says designer Kim Chan-joong, ‘you can call it what you will.’

Attracting the attention of Smith through the publication of a gallery design, also in Seoul, the challenge to Kim resided in technical and planning issues, with a large programme being proposed on a constrained site. So the morphed form is a response to local planningregulations that maintain strict plot ratios, building lines and rights to light.

Having chipped away at a notional rectangular volume, the resulting angles and chamfers were ‘smoothed out’ to remove what Kim describes as ‘traditional architectural chordlines’ - ridges, verges, parapets - to create ‘a more fluid and unified figure that is less building-like, and more ambiguous in character.’

How to shape this figure was the next challenge to consider, and once steel plate was eliminated on the basis of cost, the design team set about deciding how to cast a single skin, 250mm thick concrete shell. A traditional carpenter was the first option, employing tried-and-tested timber formwork techniques. He was keen to take the job, but eventually due to the complexity of the double curves, Styrofoam was the eventual choice. This computer aided process enabled the concrete contractor to use the designer’s digital files to programme their numeric value (NV) cutter. From this a series of Styrofoam blocks were precut, off site.

Setting the formwork on site presented the next conundrum, and extreme care was required to ensure that the steel reinforcement was set out correctly. Minimum concrete coverage levels were essential to maintain, and testing this process was only possible by working with the contractors on site with full size mock-ups. The next decision was to agree what release agent to use, to produce the best possible finish and to avoid damaging the surface of the concrete when removing the formwork.

Remarkably the team reverted to a low technology and found that conventional packing tape was the ideal release surface, with the humble sticky-backed plastic having precisely the right glossy quality to assist when striking the formwork. So, by simply taping up the pre-cut Styrofoam blocks, very little remedial work was required once the moulds had been removed. Following a light grinding back, a primer and paint finish completed the process, producing the cool-as-ice surface.

Internally, Paul Smith’s trademark colour and pattern prevails, with Smith and his interior designer Core Design adorning the billowing wall surfaces and curvaceous stair with pink and white stripes, picture frames and ornate balustrades. At the top of the building, Kim’s restraint returns in an attic-storey office, where a simple timber floor, pared back architectural metalwork and a constellation of portholes, provide a delightful backdrop for examples of Smith’s own furniture.

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