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Architectural Review: Amorepacific headquarters, Seoul, by David Chipperfield Architects

The world has come to know South Korea, one of the most rapidly developed countries in human history, through its exporting industries, but none of the Korean-made products that first won wide international use — ships, automobiles, electronics — presented the world with much of an image of Korea itself. In fact, Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and the other conglomerates responsible for such a large chunk of the country’s impressive economy once took pains not to present themselves explicitly as Korean at all. Not quite so, however, with the Korean cosmetics industry, which has risen to global dominance, in part, on the back of the story of Korea’s distinctive beauty culture and set of natural resources.

No company has told that story as convincingly as Amorepacific, and its considerable success has afforded it the opportunity to hire David Chipperfield Architects to design a new headquarters in Seoul, not just a building but the realization of a vision. That vision comes nearly as much from the mind of Suh Kyung-bae, Amorepacific’s CEO and South Korea’s second-richest man, as it does from the minds of the architects. Having made the official decision to construct a new building in 2009, Suh reached out to more than 50 world-renowned architectural firms, and after many a meeting determined that DCA’s design, which started as three high-rises but evolved into a single cube with holes cut into its sides, best incorporated his preference for open, permeable space and addressed his many concerns about environmental sustainability.

Making a statement against the closed-off corporate high-rises inhabited by the aforementioned conglomerates, Suh insisted on a building open to the public on its bottom floors. There under its atrium, when the installations finish, they’ll find not just places to buy Amorepacific’s cosmetics, but shops full of flowers and tea (from Osulloc, the Amorepacific-owned prestige tea brand) and even, in the basement, the Amorepacific Museum of Art. Suh inherited not just the leadership of Amorepacific but an apparently true belief in the power of beauty — as manifest in natural landscapes and manmade works of art as well as on the faces of his countrywomen — from his father Suh Sung-whan, who had begun growing the company from a small hair-oil business run by his mother in 1945.

Read the whole thing at the Architectural Review (free registration required).