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Bold designs in Jeju architectureA look at three internationally designed projects
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승인 2009.09.04  17:40:49
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▲ Casa Del Agua is the newest jewel in Jeju's luxury resort crown. Located adjacent to International Convention Center Jeju, it will offer the latest in accommodations for conventiongoers. Photo by Park Woo Jin, Suryusanbang

The afternoon sunlight illuminates a long corridor, painted in pure white and deep terracotta; warm rays slide between the long coral pink slats that form the ceiling, creating strips of light on the rough-textured walls, strips that move with the journey of the sun to highlight new angles and new convergences of colour that were not obvious mere moments before.

This is Casa Del Aqua, or ‘House of Water’ situated on the island’s south coast, a new and extraordinary neighbour to Jeju’s ICC centre. Each and every aspect of this building is designed to present a new perspective on its form depending on the position of the viewer and the movement of light.

It is an extraordinary architectural achievement but one that most Jeju people are not aware of, even nearby locals. Casa Del Agua, is the brainchild of Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, whose passion for light and surface and unsurpassable ability to combine new and apparently oppositional cultural aspects has earned him a reputation worldwide as Mexico’s finest architect.

▲ Casa Del Agua designer, Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta and his son Ricardo Victor. Photo courtesy Legorreta + Legorreta

Casa Del Agua

Currently Casa Del Agua houses a gallery offering two exhibitions. The first is “White,” an exhibition emphasizing and celebrating Korea’s tradition of using white. It has long represented purity and many traditional robes and ceremonies make use of it. The exhibit features a display of carved white jade, hanji paper and silver.

The second, and permanent exhibit is the architectural work of Legoretta himself. The second floor of the building shows off his vision, combining the theme of “White” with the bold colors of his native Mexico. The interior currently available for the public to peruse is actually only 15 percent of the finished structure, which planners hope will be complete by May 2010. It will contain the gallery and a number of condominiums and holiday villas.

The uniqueness of Casa Del Agua comes from Jeju Island itself. Legoretta was invited by the ICC chairman to visit Jeju with a view to starting a project and found inspiration from Jeju’s natural elements: wind, stone and light.
He was able to combine these aspects with Obangsaek or the five colors referring to five directions: black for north, red for south, blue for east, white for west, and yellow for the center. These vibrant, bold colors combined well with Baekja, the white porcelain whose design originated in the Joseon dynasty, which is also displayed in the gallery.

▲ Jun Itami's 'Two Hands' gallery exhibits photographs depicting life in North Korea. Photo by Cat Lever

The deep terracotta red of the interior walls was inspired by the color of Jeju’s soil, the meditative white spaces inspired by Jeju culture and the deep mauves and pinks Legoretta’s own colors taken from traditional Mexican culture. Natural materials are used to make objects for everyday living, such as a wooden bathtub and Jeju’s own volcanic basalt as flooring which absorbs the sunlight and retains heat even in winter.

Around the building a shallow pool lined with pebbles gives the impression that the entire structure is floating and seems to link Casa Del Agua with the Pacific Ocean, which is clearly visible from the second floor.

Podo Hotel
While unique in its design, Casa Del Agua is not the only structure on Jeju built by a world-class architect. The island’s exclusive Pinx golf course at Andeok is home to the Podo Hotel or “Grape Hotel.” Designed by Korean-Japanese artist Jun Itami, it incorporates unique Jeju-inspired features into its design. Its gently undulating titanium roof, which resembles a bunch of grapes when viewed from the air, mirrors the shape of Jeju’s oreums.

▲ Quiet and cosy: the Podo Hotel offers the perfect place to relax after a hard day on the greens. Photo courtesy Pinx Podo Hotel

Inside, the hotel displays a level of refined simplicity that highlights a strong Japanese influence. Jun combines this with traditional Jeju materials such as Jeju stone, wood and even one of the island’s traditional cloths which is used as an interior wall lining and creates a cosy atmosphere as the diffused lighting seems to make the textured surface glow. The Podo hotel is accompanied in the Pinx resort by several Itami Jun galleries based upon and inspired by the Jeju elements of wind, stone and water.

The wind gallery’s innovative design allows visitors to stand inside its wooden frame during strong winds and listen to the music made by the wind as it rushes between the wooden panels. Nearby, the stone gallery houses many thought-provoking photographs hand-selected by the chairman of the Pinx complex, the entire room lit purely by natural light. Jun’s third gallery undertaking celebrates Jeju’s relationship with water and in this case it is in fact the gallery itself that is the work of art. It is a circular shape, with an open roof that allows rainwater to fill a disk lined with pebbles.

▲ Left: Innovative natural-light effects are the key to Legoretta's creative vision. Photo by Cat Lever. Right: The contrasting clean lines of the 'White' exhibition housed on the gallery's ground floor. Photo by Park Woo Jun, Suryusanbang

Agora clubhouse
While Casa Del Agua and Podo Hotel can be found on Jeju’s southern side, another unique work can be found on the east coast, in Seopjikoji. The Agora clubhouse in the resort of Phoenix Island was built by Swiss architect Mario Botta in the shape of a pyramid.

At the top of the pyramid hangs a seven-meter sphere of stainless steel that brightens the interior by reflecting rays of sunlight inside the glass shape. The ultra-modern style of the Agora clubhouse is meant to contrast with and complement the beauty of Jeju’s Seopjikoji landscape, especially when compared with the timelessness of Sunrise Peak nearby.

Casa Del Agua is adjacent to Jeju’s International Convention Center in Jungmum. For an appointment to view the gallery at Casa Del Agua call 064) 739-0012. It is a good idea to take a Korean-speaking friend along. More information can be found at

A free shuttle bus runs from Jeju airport to Phoenix Island daily. More information can be found at
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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