NAMELESS Architecture, NYC/Seoul
A working couple performs a delicate balancing act that spans far-flung continents and disciplines.
In much of their work, Unchung Na, 36, and Sorae Yoo, 32, the husband and wife who founded NAMELESS Architecture in 2010, challenge themselves to express contradictions in architecture: take heavy stones and stack them so they appear almost weightless; design a building that seems both closed and open, at once strong and weak. Their projects initiate dialogues between opposites that question the nature of materials and the way we engage with the built environment. At their Triangle School, nearing completion in Namyangju, South Korea, for example, they respond to the different contexts around the building with a trio of elevations that range from mostly opaque to nearly transparent. And by carving out a rotated triangular courtyard from its center, they undermine the school's initial appearance as a solid form.
In other hands, such projects might come across as pedantic, but Na and Yoo have a light and witty touch. Their project called Circle, Triangle, Square at first looks like a bunch of simple geometric objects scattered across a lawn outside the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Gwacheon, South Korea. As you get closer, though, you realize everything is made of hay, and the installation is essentially a playground ripe for climbing on and jumping off. "We try to imagine how people will interact with our work, how it will affect their actions," says Na.
Although both partners were raised in South Korea, they met at the University of California, Berkeley, where they often sat together and collaborated on projects. After graduating, they moved to New York and started their own firm in 2010. With their penchant for contradictions, they named the firm NAMELESS, which also implies an ambiguous identity. Within a year, they had won the Architectural League Prize in New York for young architects and designers and got their first project in Korea, a small caf'. Today, they operate offices in both Seoul and New York, but most of their work is in Korea. (From 2011 until earlier this year, Kiseok Oh worked as a partner in New York.)
Collaborating with artists is an important part of the practice. "We're inspired more by artists than architects," says Yoo, who mentions Rachel Whiteread as one favorite. "On almost every project, we try to work with someone from a different discipline," says Na. For their installation Wind Chamber, they took data compiled by energy scientists and interpreted it in stone and metal. With Bubble Acts, a project that included 500 inflatable white mattresses, they worked with a choreographer to create a dance for about 20 performers. And on the Triangle School, they brought in a photographer to shoot the building throughout the process of its construction. At Berkeley, they took a photography class together, and their interest in the medium has only grown. For each project now, they tend to make a video, both to document and interpret their architecture.
In terms of architectural influences, they cite Buckminster Fuller and the 1960s Italian collaborative SuperStudio. "We like radical thinking, but also respect everyday realities," says Yoo. As Na and Yoo draw increasing attention from the press and their peers, they may remain NAMELESS, but hardly anonymous.
DESIGN STAFF: 5
PRINCIPALS: Unchung Na; Sorae Yoo
EDUCATION: Na: U.C. Berkeley, M.Arch., 2009; Hongik University, B.A., 2003. Yoo: U.C. Berkeley, M.Arch., 2009; Korea University, B.A., 2006
WORK HISTORY: NAMELESS, 2010-present
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: Circle, Triangle, Square, Gwacheon, South Korea, 2014; RW Concrete Church, Byeollae, South Korea, 2013; Wind Chamber, Jeju, South Korea, 2013; EPS Grotto, Seoul, 2013
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Triangle School, Namyangju, South Korea, 2014; Dongjak Cultural and Community Center, Seoul, 2015; DH Auditorium, Namyangju, South Korea, 2015