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A Playground Built with Books Hyundai Museum of Kids’ Books & Art

Giant pillars at the entrance of the museum. 

  1. Bubble Steps look like trees from the ground floor, where the different heights of the stairs generate maze-like pathways. 


Launched at the Hyundai Department Store in Pangyo, southern Seoul, in August 2015, the exterior of the Hyundai Museum of Kids’ Books and Art(https://www.hmoka.org/en/main/index.do) stands out with its 11-meter-tall pillars lining the façade. While gazing at the slick white surface of the pillars, which are made of fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP), children say they look like animal bones or metal chopsticks. Inside, there are various elements that stimulate one’s imagination and all five senses in every corner of the museum. The museum intended to draw kids to the museum by making the visual aspects of paintings more interactive, whether by touching, reading or directly looking at objects. 

The System Lab, which designed the space, planed the flow of the exhibition as a journey, with a specific focus on creating visual and spatial environments that kids can’t find in their everyday lives. The System Lab’s favorite concept of ambiguity played an important role in this project. Just like the analogies kids conceive of from the exterior pillars, the ambiguous design of the museum building leads visitors to wonder what the use of the building is.

Connecting the two stories inside the museum, the “Bubble Steps” that greet you as soon as you pass through the entrance have a different look depending on the angle you’re looking at them from. Looking up from the ground floor, you’ll find they look like huge trees, yet from the upper floor they resemble clouds where kids can sit and read. They’re both passages and lounges, or even small stages for performances or oral narrations of fairytales.



Bird’s eye view of the Bubble Steps, which resemble clouds or stepping stones.


Another passage that connects the two floors is the 100-meter-long corridor called Lamp. Also accessible to strollers, the slide is on the second floor, where sunlight streams in through the window, creating shadows by the giant pillars you see at the entrance. Due to the fact that kids love to jump, crawl and hang, the line of flow is designed in sequences so that it doesn’t control the behavior of kids.



(Left) The “Lamp”, a passage of light and shadow created by giant pillars.
(Right) Boys’ restroom.


At the end of the Bubble Steps, the Open Reading Room is filled with select picture books from Korea and around the world. In addition, this area reflects the tendency children have of hiding in narrow spaces. Based on the concept of a “Reading Forest,” there’s a cozy space beneath the Reading Room’s stairs that resembles a small cave. The different heights of the Bubble Steps create curved, narrow passages on the ground floor, which, interestingly enough, look like a maze to kids.


The forest-themed Reading Room


With the Education Room, its motif is derived from origami. Kids are free to draw on the floor and wallpaper here. Plus, anything and everything that a child might bump into with their head is covered with sponges, ensuring the overall safety of the room. Furthermore, the interior design is in perfect harmony with the museum’s concept of reflecting a child’s tendency of getting bored easily and wanting to touch as many things as possible.

Currently running is the exhibition Moongchi and Cancellina by Gyong-sook Go and No In-gyeong until July 3, 2016. The art pieces depict the emotions, problems and events of children in paintings. At the Open Reading Room, you can also read any of the 4,500 volumes that are all classified by 75 key words, like “family,” “adventure” and “promise.” Most importantly, the library does not require absolute quiet, as it promotes and encourages playing and laughing with picture books.




CEO, The System Lab (www.thesystemlab.com)

Chan-joong Kim


    I wanted somewhere  
  children could get away
      from their daily routines.  


The pillars on the façade are quite eye-catching. Where did you get the inspiration for them?

They support the glass wall on the façade. FRP materials are usually used for building boats, not as an architectural material. Their atypical shapes were not intended to create a special look, but for structural and technological needs. While it’s true that the entasis (convex curve) shape can best support glass, it’s equally true that ambiguity is our favorite theme. For instance, you don’t need a signboard for churches, hospitals or schools. The buildings speak for themselves. Our architecture is different, though. Our architecture’s ambiguous shapes and properties arouse curiosity in the architecture, and you become involved in the architectural works as you try to infer their usage. In this case, the white glossy surfaces of the FRP pillars invited children to touch them and knock on them.


What was your top priority with this project?

I wanted it to be somewhere special that both parents and children could break away from their daily routines. We fine-tuned the density and scale of the space so that it gave visitors an impression of a wildly unique space. The 11-meter-high pillars and 100-meter-long lamps, not to mention the bubble steps of different heights, created a different scale from the perspective of parent and child, allowing for an odd yet intriguing spatial experience.


Did you need to conduct any special research to realize this architecture for children?

I felt kids would also love it if only I could make the space fun for me. (laughs) Adults often mistakenly try to read into what kids are thinking. The museum is not replete with colors. Due to the fact that I thought kids had a more sophisticated aesthetic sense than adults believe, I refrained from using too many colorful items. I love simulating my design plans because I can role-play as the end-user of my architecture. In this case, I visualized myself entering and leaving the space as a child and parent. Sometimes the design planning stage needs something other than an analysis of kids’ physical measurements or an architectural thesis. Rather, qualitative analysis might be more effective in the designing and planning stages.




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바이라인 : By Min-jung Kim, Photos by Jung-han Kim (Yea Studi
디자인하우스 (월간디자인 2016년 5월호) ⓒdesign.co.kr, ⓒdesignhouse.co.kr 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지