hou de sousa + archotus' national museum of world writing proposed as songdo cultural landmark

hou de sousa + archotus' national museum of world writing proposed as songdo cultural landmark

hou de sousa, in collaboration with craig cook of archotus, have been awarded the second prize in an international blind competition for the design of a 230,000 sqft national museum of world writing in songdo, south koreathe national museum of world writing pairs two conditions at odds with one another: the first is the purpose of the museum — exploring the ancient universality of human communication in written form. the second is its site: the city of songdo, built in the past decade on a tabula rasa of reclaimed land.

the competition was hosted by the ministry of culture, sports, and tourism


hou de sousa‘s proposal for the museum addresses these opposites, creating a container for the study and exposition of writing as an ancient manifestation of culture, in a city whose culture is so new as to be undefined. in the process, the designers are writing this new city’s culture through architecture. their strategy addresses these conditions by proposing a form evocative of the very thing songdo lacks… a history. rather than employing stereotypical historic architectural forms, the designers look for places where the fundamentals of writing and architecture overlap – solid to void relationships, the trace of gesture on surface, the meaning in the depth of a mark, penetration, or extrusion.

café surrounded by lower level plazas and alleyways



the result is a museum one discovers as if by accident revealed in the earth as an archaeological site, its repeated modular geometries evocative of the ancient cuneiform writing system of marks cut into a flat clay surface. rather than a singular building, the museum reads as a below-grade, unearthed village. two levels down, visitors circulate on open-air plazas that connect the program components. the components are contained in a ring of circulation and support systems that is entirely below grade. the village components themselves are composed of 7m x 7m x 5m modules, each of which has a carved void element. these carved elements reflect the typographic maneuvers shared by all writing systems. it generates a ‘roof’ that is a ground plane of unexpected openings and penetrations that encourage investigation and discovery.

rather than a singular building, the museum reads as a below-grade, unearthed village



additionally, the voids of each module serve as light wells, clerestories, and small courtyards while simultaneously providing a means of partitioning spaces. it should be noted that as a design strategy, this porous modular system is highly reconfigurable and can be tailored to the specific needs of each program. the proposal reflects just one arrangement of nearly infinite possibilities. this design addresses several criteria of the brief in unique ways. the public can wander into the museum alleyways and open pubic program – the store, cafe, restaurant, and research library – without ever having to go into the museum itself. the roof functions as an element of the park, so no open area is lost, and views of the park are maintained.

the proposed auditorium



the iconic form of the museum becomes defined by its voids, rather than its solids, this makes a distinctive reading both at the street level, and from high elevations, such as the surrounding skyscrapers and google earth. above the museum is utterly unique, reading as a massive abstract hashtag. finally, the sub-grade character of the building allows for numerous sustainability features. substantive efficiencies are to be gained environmentally by taking advantage of the thermal mass of the surrounding earth and the green roof above, minimizing the need for the high powered mechanical systems needed in museum and archival settings. rainwater is captured within the roof and runoff is channelled into water features within the alleyways below.

permanent exhibition space

special exhibition space

this porous modular system is highly reconfigurable and can be tailored to the specific needs of each program

ancient writing techniques, movable type, analysis of hangul typography, porous modular massing strategy, embedded site strategy, and program diagrams

axonometric view of the site



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: lynn chaya | designboom

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