Dressing Up a Mall

Rogier van der Heide drapes a concrete box in dynamic light.

In an effort to dress their building as well as they do their customers, the owners of the Galleria West fashion mall in Seoul, South Korea, enlisted the Dutch firm UN Studio. The architects turned a drab, 1970s concrete structure into something reflective of the store’s present identity and location in Apgujeong-dong, Seoul’s upscale shopping district.

Inside the structure, UN Studio emphasized the couture content, installing a catwalk to connect a collection of high-end boutiques that includes Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton. When it came to the facade—which had to stand out in visually competitive Seoul—UN Studio teamed with fellow Dutch designer Rogier van der Heide, of Arup Lighting. His solution—4,340 glass disks mounted to a steel frame surrounding the existing building—transformed the Galleria from a blind box into a gigantic media screen. Shimmering by day and radiant at night, the glass is frosted on both sides to diminish sun glare and diffuse light produced by LED fixtures behind each disk, capable of generating 16 million colors. Because each light fixture is individually controlled by computer, together the disks act like pixels on a huge screen, displaying text, scenes, and color schemes that Van der Heide can change remotely via the Internet, up to 20 times per second. The mutable lighting scheme makes the building a perfect metaphor for fashion. “I wanted to make it fashionable, fluid, and short-lasting—an ocean of colors that vaporize,” Van der Heide explains. “It’s a new kind of architecture, a mall that’s constantly presenting itself differently.”

Since its September unveiling, the Galleria has become a destination for residents and tourists. “I love the interaction of people with the building. There is always someone taking a picture or watching the lights change,” Van der Heide says. “The design is about getting Galleria involved in Seoul’s society again, and vice versa.”

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