interview with architect moon hoon
interview with architect moon hoon
oct 24, 2014

interview with architect moon hoon

interview with architect moon hoon
photo © kwon hyeok jae




seoul-based architect moon hoon, with his office moonbalsso, has developed a body of works which both visually and experientially differ from rigid and purely pragmatic norms in architecture. through the use of expressive formal composition, alternative material treatment, and actively playful program elements, he has produced many diverse small to medium structures that stand apart from the overall built environment. to get a better understanding of his approach and outlooks, designboom has spoken with moon hoon to reveal his influences, fascinations, and opinions, as well as his use of drawing as a tool for envisioning new architectural conditions.



designboom: how did moonbalsso begin?


moon hoon: it began in year 2001, I had worked in various architectural firms in korea and the US totaling about 4 years. mostly, I had good times, but I was getting tired of working for somebody, and I really wanted a studio space where I could have fun with my own projects. at the start projects were scarce, and I had quite a lot of time. so I would spend a lot of time doodling architectural fantasy. I was becoming a sort of a hybrid – architect/artist or artist/architect.

moon hoon interview designboom

‘k-pop curve’ combines commercial and residential program, while protruding a stage platform toward the street
photo by nam goong sun
see here for designboom’s feature on the project




DB: what has changed over the years?


MH: 14 years later, I have more work, mostly small and medium-sized projects from the private sector. I still doodle from time to time, and have had numerous exhibitions with my projects and drawings. currently, 40 drawing of mine are being exhibited in the korean pavillion at the venice architecture biennale, while a few drawings have been sold to tchoban foundation in berlin (architectural drawings only museum). I also have few books out on houses and anthology of my doodles called ‘doodle my way to the moon’. I have moved my office three times, current one having a gallery theme where a large space is given to drawings and architectural models. the previous one had a theme of korean shaman house, so everybody was sitting on the floor and working… a lot of red color.

moon hoon interview designboom

the ‘starwars house’ takes influence from the classic sci-fi trilogy
photo by nam goong sun
see designboom’s coverage of the project here




DB: who / what has been the biggest influence on your work to date?


MH: when I was a undergrad, the first architectural book was about richard meier and his white houses, I fell in love with them instantly and emulated his houses, but that infatuation only lasted six months. my interest turned to high-tech architects and then to louis kahn and ando. ando’s stairs I loved. I guess his early works were pretty influential. when I was in cambridge, boston, decon was in vogue. I was showered with liebskind, eisenman, zaha, tschumi, and ghery. daniels’s work was impressive then, especially his drawings. a little later on I came across a paper architect named lebbeus woods, his drawings were so beautiful and apocalyptic… and since my childhood was spent in a mining town, I could relate to his drawing as a real space. the abandoned mines had a similar spatial qualities of light and materials depicted in his drawings.


I can say that ando’s stair and lebbeus’s aged metal forms have been my primary influences, even though there have been many other great architects.

 moon hoon interview designboom

‘s_mahal’ elevates a prayer room above the main house for views out to the landscape
image © park chan woo
for more info on the project, see DB’s article here

moon hoon interview designboom

the ‘lollipop house’ distinguishes visual presence through its rings of alternating color
photo © nam goong sun
more on the residence here




DB: in what way do your drawings feed into your building projects?


MH: my drawings include some fantasy projects which I believe can be realized if we really want it. some drawings are add-ons to my built projects with the intention of bringing back and showing the compromised aspects of the projects. some are simply doodles without intentions which suddenly crystallizes into ideas or architectural forms. I even draw what I had for lunch in detail. so my drawing book is like sort of a diary. I guess my attitude is that everything can be thought in terms of architecture. if I write a little more seriously, I could say that my drawings are a test bed for expanding the notion of architectural possibilities to its outer limit without actually building them.

 moon hoon interview designboom

‘creative terrorism’, 2010
image © moon hoon




DB: to what extent is play an integral component to architecture for you?


MH: I believe architecture is inherently serious, with so many people, capital, and environment involved. I do know it is a serious business. but, we do not have to have a solemn face because of it. I try to take a more light hearted approach and attitude towards architecture. I want to have fun while I am designing, and that is shown through to clients who also enjoys the design. the lion cubs learn to hunt through playing with buddies. I believe attitude of play brings out much more creativity in a honest way because you are more relaxed. when we grow up we realize we have become less playful, we can return to our innocence by being more playful and creative.

 moon hoon interview designboom

a collection of expressive façades make up ‘rock it suda’, a weekend house for a korean rock group
image © kim yong kwan
see designboom’s coverage of the project here




DB: what do you consider to be the most interesting developments in architecture at present and why?


MH: since wang shu was awarded the pritziker prize, there seems to be renewed interest in  regional modernism… franchised architecture of international modernism like mcdonalds suffices minimum quality anywhere in the world, but it really is not about quality or character. I think reflecting its own culture, is a good way of enriching architecture by fusing innate cultural jewels and ideas which have evolved through long periods. about time, when some windows can have decorations around it with out being sinful… most people need some kind of decorations and spices where their emotions can relate and attach…

moon hoon interview designboom

a slide and wide staircase provide an area for play in the ‘panorama house’
photo © park young chae
see here for designboom’s article on the residence




DB: what are your thoughts on generalization vs specialization?


MH: generalization has its merits in forming a kind of standard which most people can adapt comfortably. but I think, even though most of us are grouped as masses, deep within us we want to be special, we do have special and specific desires and needs. architecture of apartments would be like living in a generalized architecture, where inhabitants are treated as masses. architecture of eccentricities would be about specialization, where so called strangeness, idiosyncrasies, and perversions are accepted as inspirational tools for architectural creatives.


like automobiles, interior space evolves into four way temperature zones. architecture has a long way to go, in order to make all inhabitants and individuals feel special…

moon hoon interview designboom

the stairwell of the ‘conan (toy) house’ features display cases for sci-fi figurines
photo © moon hoon

moon hoon interview designboom

‘conan house’
photo © moon hoon
more here from designboom’s feature of the project




DB: which architects working today do you admire most?


MH: all the young and energetic architects… I applaud their youthful energy and daring attitudes…


DB: personally, what are you currently fascinated by outside of the profession, and how does it influence your work?


MH: I really love sci-fi movies, I also love speed, so I like driving fast when it is opportune… I went to germany recently and drove around 4500 km worth of autobahn, experiencing top speeds… I also like planes and trains…. and space ships… I have quite a collection of RC cars in my office. I am also interested in erotic imagery…


all these current interests trickle down into design process and form, I think this is quite evident in the final forms of my designs.

moon hoon interview designboom

the ‘SAI project’ infills the space between two buildings in seoul, and is envisioned as an urban greenhouse
photo by nam goong sun
see designboom’s coverage of the project here




DB: what advice would give to students and young designers?


MH: if you enjoy, keep at it… if you don’t, leave for a while… if you miss it come back, if you don’t leave… never take a bad situation personally, if you persevere a little more you will be out of it soon enough. architecture profession is more about tenacity and perseverance than talent alone…. I think patience is the winner!!!  I have seen many extremely talented colleagues leaving the profession… maybe they were too smart!!!

moon hoon interview designboom

‘roll house’, a large façade masks a slender site
photo by nam goong sun
see DB coverage of the project here




DB: what is your personal motto?


MH: enjoy life and do your fantasy, it can become a reality!!!

moon hoon interview designboom

‘ring ring’, 2011
image © moon hoon


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