Typically, companies move their headquarters into big cities. Daum, a Korean IT firm, is doing just the opposite. After years of being stationed in Seoul—the South Korean capital with a population density twice that of New York City—the company commissioned a new corporate campus in a decidedly more picturesque locale: an island called Jeju located off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula.
Mass Studies, the sustainability-minded Korean architect studio responsible for the headquarters, describes the company’s self-exile as a "utopian gesture." Jeju, traditionally known as a hub for tourism, has enough open space to allow for companies to spread out and develop workplaces that foster creativity and independence. The aim is to attract more tech companies to the island, establishing a sort of Korean Silicon Valley. Daum’s striking new headquarters seems like a pretty good advertisement for the opportunities that leaving the city can afford.
So far, only phase one of the new headquarters is complete—some 350 out of the company’s 1,500 employees are now stationed on the 132,000-square-meter island site. But creating something that could be adapted over time was part of Mass Studies’ vision. Minsuk Cho, a principal at the studio, explains, "The idea is that we did not want to deliver a completed design of a building but rather provide a system of structures, like a set of puzzles, so that it can grow with variations—sometimes simple, other times complex as needed—and eventually become a long linear building/campus. The design is more about the organic process than the completed result, and this first completed building was to demonstrate that possibility."
The defining characteristic of that organic growth—and something that can’t be achieved in the bustling metropolis of Seoul—is a headquarters that can expand horizontally instead of vertically. The rise of skyscraper business culture, Cho says, is something his studio actively worked against in designing Daum’s new spaces. "Office towers were relevant for the 20th-century Taylorist work organization, [but] I think we have moved beyond that now. In a way, the premise for this project resonates with Silicon Valley-style work culture and lifestyle . . . [albeit] explored in specific, Korean context."
Part of creating that type of work environment means building a headquarters with a diversity of spaces. In this regard, Cho says, Jeju was created like a village—not in the sense of high-end shopping malls or subdivisions, which just try to evoke a different era with some superficial aesthetic touches, but instead by offering a range of places for Daum employees to meet and work. There are indoor and outdoor spaces, porches, theaters, and more intimate places in which to collaborate. And yes, like any good Silicon Valley aspirant, there does appear to be a ping-pong table.
[Hat tip: Designboom, Images: Yong-Kwan Kim and Kyungsub Shin]