Communal Learning

A steel-and-glass library unites local communities, regenerating a forgotten park in Seoul

Hannae Forest of Wisdom is testament to the power of listening. Located in Seoul’s Nowon District, the library project also acts as a community space — a place for neighbours of all ages to come together. The work of experimental practice Unsangdong Architects, the project has also taken home a bevy of awards for its design that sees this once-abandoned patch of turf in Hannae Neighbourhood Park now filled with people both young and old reading books, drinking coffee, taking part in craft classes or simply relaxing.

The project began when the Nowon District Office listened to what the community had to say. They wanted a community library, as well as a children’s nursery and a cafe run by volunteers.

‘It’s a high-density and relatively poor area,’ says Jang Yoon Gyoo, principal at Unsangdong, professor at Kookmin University and director of Gallery Jungmiso. ‘The area lacked a space where kids can get together to learn and play. It lacked a place for the elderly to relax in as well.’

Unsangdong began by organising informal sessions with the local community, listening to their desires and needs for the library space. ‘Our goal was to create a space which invites the different ages within the community to come together and have a good time,’ says Jang.

The result is a series of spaces that feel cosy and approachable, both inside and out. Layered, gabled roofs lend a friendly, homely feel, while calling to mind the Chinese character for ‘people’. Floor-to-ceiling windows invite both natural light and visitors inside, while skylights overhead encourage young readers to tilt their gaze upward and daydream.

The building is made of reinforced steel and concrete with wooden bookshelves that follow the lines of the gabled roofs, creating a sense of continuity overhead. The bookshelves presented an attractive way of concealing the building’s many structural walls, while also creating ‘a labyrinth that flows through the space, connecting and disconnecting continuously,’ according to Shin Chang Hoon — Unsangdong’s other principal architect. ‘It stimulates the imagination, creativity and pleasure of children meandering through the library.’

The bookshelves also neatly solve another problem: how to separate the space so that it would serve the different needs of the community’s children, parents and elderly. The bookshelves create natural dividers between the library, the corner cafe, and the school where children can learn and take part in extra-curricular activities. There’s also an area devoted to community classes, where local residents can participate in programmes on everything from reading to crafts and flower arrangements.

Says Shin: ‘We love the fact that the building helps members of the community interact with each other.’

Text / Tamsin Bradshaw
Images / Sergio Pirrone