New York–based Meier Partners, known as Richard Meier & Partners from 1963 up until June 2021 when its founder retired at the age of 86 and the firm underwent a major leadership restructuring plan, has unveiled its first completed project: a contemporary art museum in Gangneung, a major city on South Korea’s eastern coast. With a pared-back design language inspired by Korean Confucianism that emphasizes simplicity of form and an innate connection with the natural environment, the new Sorol Art Museum is built from glass, stone, aluminum, and a trademark material of the reorganized firm’s Pritzker Prize–winning namesake: exposed white concrete.
While other projects, such as 2022’s Stuttgart Residences in Germany have been completed since Meier’s formal stepping down (which came several years after five women leveled allegations of sexual harassment against the architect in an explosive 2018 New York Times article), the Sorol Art Museum is the first project to be wholly commissioned, designed, and completed after the firm restructured and rebranded. Designed by a team led by partner and longtime Meier office vet Dukho Yeon, the museum will debut to the public in February with dual opening exhibitions showing works by Lucio Fontana and Quac Insik.
Photos of the musuem exterior blanketed in snow ahead of its February opening. Photos by Yongbaek Lee, courtesy Meier Partners
Described by the firm as an “immersive art center where art and architecture are conceived of as one,” the 336,500-square-foot museum campus is spread across three main volumes—a glazed entrance pavilion housing the main lobby and café, the cantilevered north wing, and an opaque skylight-crowned central exhibition space dubbed “the Cube.” That volume also contains administrative offices oriented around a central courtyard, a signature feature of traditional Korean architecture. A sculptural ramp connects the three-story museum’s above- and below-grade levels and serves as a main conduit between its indoor and outdoor—of which there are many—spaces.
Perched atop a wooded hilltop site within central Gangneung’s sprawling Gyo-Dong 7 Public Park, the museum grounds, which are accessible via scenic pedestrian paths that branch off from a winding road, include outdoor exhibition spaces, gardens, and a large reflecting pool that showcase the sylvan, mountain-framed beauty of the area. As noted by the designers, there is a “constant interaction between the interior of the building and the landscape that surrounds it” with the circulation taking “an extroverted approach, with open views of the park embracing the visitor throughout.”
Yeon, who was joined by associate principal Guillermo Murcia and Sharon Oh in the role of project architect and manager along with a four-person project team, adds: “The design vision was to create a modest but lyrical composition incised into this spectacular landscape that would become the perfect backdrop for art and remain forever memorable to all who visit.”
Rendering of the Sorol Art Museum including an aerial view of the building and grounds (3) and a view from the east showing the large sculptural ramp (4). Renderings VISE, courtesy Meier Partners
In addition to being the inaugural completed project by the firm in its post-reboot era, the Sorol Art Museum is the first work from Meier Partners in South Korea, where several diverse commissions are in various states of progress. All located in Seoul, they include the integrated Children’s Dream Center and Children’s Eco Museum, the Palace 73 residential project, and Kiwoom Finance Square, a “landmark” commercial high-rise. Outside of South Korea, construction has kicked off on the Richard Meier Tower in the seaside resort town of Jesolo, Italy, while a new residential project by the firm is under way on Hanalei Bay in Kauai, Hawaii, which was announced late last year. Further out, Meier Partners has projects on the boards in Dubai and Barcelona.