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An abandoned warehouse becomes a gallery in Jeju-do, South Korea

South Korean design studio SF Lab has repurposed an abandoned warehouse into an ultra-modern, “awe-inspiring” coastal gallery.

An abandoned warehouse becomes a gallery in Jeju-do, South Korea

In a former industrial site bordering the shoreline of South Korea’s volcanic Jeju Island, SF Lab (Space + Form Laboratory) have conceived Gongbech, a gallery encompassing two repurposed concrete buildings.

Located in Dongbok-ri, a beachtown on the northeastern side of Jeju-do, the two warehouses were left abandoned for years and had started to decay. Nearby vegetation grow sideways, almost parallel to the ground, thanks to the site’s exposed, windswept setting.

The exterior concrete building of Gongbech at dusk, with warm light emanating from the windows.

“When I first came to see the ruins of what used to be a cold storage unit constructed in 1982, I was consumed by the feeling of loneliness emanating throughout this site,” says lead architect Choi Moo Gyu.

“I wanted to cling on to the emotions prompted in me by the ruins,” he adds.

A pathway between the concrete buildings of Gongbech, towards the water.

SF Lab redeveloped the unused site into a multipurpose cultural space, cafe and bakery with the client, GONGBECH Corp, requesting the studio embrace the uninhibited size of the galleries to create an “awe-inspiring” space.

Choi delivered on Gongbech’s brief. Almost half the walls except for the structural frame were demolished, visually extending the already significant space and creating a greater connection to the exterior. A lengthy, low opening along the longitudinal side of the building mirrors the sea’s horizon and allows light in, while the high facade opening reaches towards the sky.

The white walkway through the centre of Gongbech gallery with an illuminated white strip overhead.

Acting as reminders of the building’s former abandoned state, a tree that had unexplainably grown into the concrete floor remains, untouched, along with the roof trusses and the ruptured slate roof. The thick concrete walls remain untouched, with slightly deteriorated edges.

“This location’s exposure to rain and sunlight, and the distant sound of waves, despite the lack of a seascape, could be used to retrace the sense of a desolate ruin,” says Choi.

A tree grows in between the building's spaces, a remnant from the abandoned days of Gongbech.

New additions to the space have been imposed over the existing structure, bringing revitalised energy to the project. A wide white pathway leads straight through one building and is echoed by a white strip directly above it on the ceiling. A metal-edged glass box that holds art inside has been placed at a divergent angle to the original crumbling walls that surround it, a well-lit and ultra-modern contrast to the original building.

A large illuminated glass box placed at an angle among crumbling walls in Gongbech.

Using an analysis-prediction model, Choi interpreted how tourists – the gallery’s main audience – were travelling around the island and the expectation of how the location would develop in the future. From his research and his goal to embrace the emotive atmosphere of the fragmented buildings, Choi settled on creating a narrative around the project that focuses on self-discovery within a ruin.

“The experience of continuous self-contextualisation, as one which goes through a sequence of changing backgrounds,” says Choi.

Reflective glass is used in various parts of the gallery to make the audience reflect themselves upon the background as part of this narrative. The glass is paired with artificial lighting “in order to allow for adjustment in the reflection, transmission and overlap effects, according to the surrounding brightness”.

SF Lab carefully considers location, client and users to effectively repurpose this under-utilised space into an enticing gallery.

SF Lab

Roh Kyung

A blue-tinged glass box placed at an angle among crumbling walls in Gongbech.A white staircase in Gongbech leading up to an exit with a person standing looking out towards purple dusk clouds.Exterior concrete of Gongbech at dusk. 

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