KMD's Government Building Alights Like a Bird

Seongnam, a satellite city southeast of Seoul, South Korea, recently broke ground on a city hall that it hopes will symbolize the young community’s aspirations at a pivotal point in its growth. Chief among this building’s concerns is to sit lightly in its environment.

Seongnam’s new city hall
Seongnam’s new city hall
Images courtesy KMD Architects

Seongnam’s new city hall occupies a site in 250 acres of parkland at the center of town (top). KMD Architects attempted to convey lightness with its design by lofting the building on piers (above). Throughout the interior, garden atria will brighten and ventilate workspaces (right).

“Government buildings are so often heavy handed, saying, ‘Here I am. Everyone get out of the way,’” observes Ryan Stevens, a principal of KMD Architects, which won an international competition to design the structure. “We thought of the analogy of a bird landing gingerly in the landscape.”

Ordinarily, it’s difficult for an 800,000-square-foot, 130-foot-high, nine-story building to express lightness. KMD achieved the quality in this faceted, gem-like structure by lofting the building’s bulk on piers above the landscape, allowing for a glazed curtain wall to enclose a ground floor. This strategy opens the municipal experience to visitors. Heightening the sense of transparency, expansive glazed walls on the north and south facade, and green garden atria throughout the interior, brighten and ventilate workspaces.

Two triangular sunscreens, fitted with photovoltaic panels, span the length of the south facade and reduce the building’s energy consumption. These sunscreens also allude to the image of a bird with its wings spread, a symbol that KMD worked with in the design process.

The building is located in a 250-acre park, formerly farmland, at the heart of the city. Older districts to the north are generally working-class; to the south, the Bundang district was founded in 1989 as a wealthy residential neighborhood. Seongnam hopes that its new city hall will help unite them, Stevens says.

Seongnam’s new city hall