Extreme Makeover: MVRDV Transforms A Drab Building With A Splashy Facade

An old commercial building in Gangnam, Seoul, gets a new lease on life.

The first time you heard “Gangnam Style,” its appeal was immediate though its lyrics were, for non-Korean speakers, indecipherable. What was Gangnam, and what is that dance? After dissecting the song into searchable keywords, you, along with the rest of the world, discovered that Gangnam was actually a place, a posh shopping district of Seoul.


Just a short time before Psy’s pop satire became a global hit, architecture firm MVRDV was beginning work on a project in Gangnam, a new facade for an unsightly commercial building. Nine months later, Gangnam-gu was on the map, and the architects’ glassy facelift was at the center of it.

The Chungha building, located just off of Apgujung Road, Gangnam’s main strip, houses several businesses, including French fashion label Louis Quatorze on the first floor, a wedding planner agency, and two plastic-surgery firms on the upper floors. The old facade was covered in natural stone that languished under “a motley collection” of signage, the architects say in a statement. They were tasked with designing a splashy new envelope for the building that accommodated the different needs of each of the businesses.

The recently completed facade features 18 oversize glazed screens haphazardly arranged in a push-pull manner. The portals are fixed to the building at different angles and project off of it like advertising billboards. Tenants can fill in the screens with their own signage, while those whose businesses require more privacy can obscure the glass panes with translucent posters.

Apgujung Road is lined with flagship stores of a number of luxury brands, each with their own distinct, specially designed street front. (Prada is next door.) Given the context, wrapping the Chungha building in more legible ads and putting them in the spotlight, MVRDV says, is a “more honest” strategy.

Even so, the facade is more than just ad space. The surface is finely textured with white tiles that, when observed up close, look like reptilian scales. Seen from down the street, the building’s skin glistens like smooth white stone. The tiles, which also pave the sidewalk and the lobby, are arranged in a tight, Voronoi-like pattern that’s replicated on the screened window panes.

About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.