Moon Hoon

by Gus Donohoo

In spite of recognizable modernist elements in his designs, Moon can be seen as driving something of a rear-guard action against the more sterilizing aspects of modernism.
“Basically, what I’m doing is crashing things, you know—crashing things.” Moon Hoon claps his hands together, “Different things, different ideas— that’s what the physicists are doing, crashing particles to discover new things. So I’m crashing ideas, I’m crashing forms, I’m crashing disciplines, I’m crashing cultures.”

Moon is a South Korean architect whose unusual designs have gained much popularity in his homeland, and—via the internet—considerable interest from abroad. His designs are wild yet considered, radical but familiar, or if reduced to one word: fun. “Actually, I’m quite serious about architecture,” says Moon, “but I’m also relaxed about architecture; meaning that when you try to hit a home run, if you are too uptight about it you’ll never get it. So you should be relaxed. That’s the attitude I have. So even though I’m playing I am able to do things that I think otherwise cannot be possible.”

In spite of recognizable modernist elements in his designs, Moon can be seen as driving something of a rear-guard action against the more sterilizing aspects of modernism. “Modern architecture became like putting ornament as a sin,” he explains. “It has become [a] very blank wall. So I’m putting back the window cornices, the gargoyles. A building can be fearful in the shadow. A Catholic church would be frightening in a thunderstorm, [but] not a box building—the box building will not make you frightened because it’s just bland. So I’m saying, ‘back to the emotional thing.’”

Given our dwelling and working spaces enclose the majority of our lives, it seems reasonable that aesthetic considerations should live in lockstep with emotional ones—yet this notion strays from conventional wisdom. “Let’s make architecture more playful,” Moon argues, “so people can actually laugh at it, or people can actually ponder about things because of architecture. It opens a new dimension of thought to the people who look at it and use it—not just as a utilitarian thing, but something that is more rich and giving more back to you.”

Moon perceives that by having fun with architecture—by treating it playfully and by blasting together the conventional with the idiosyncratic—he can move it in a more human direction. “We don’t have to say architecture is serious.” He explains, “It’s an inherently serious business because it involves a lot of money, regulation, structural safety... So it cannot just y away. A long time ago music was a very serious business. Everyone’s attire very calm and classical—it’s a great tradition. But pop songs come out of it.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 5.13.25 PMWind House, completed 2015. Jeju Island, South Korea. Courtesy the architect. Photo: Namhoong Sun.

No mere jester, Moon simply realizes that it’s when having fun that humans are at their best: “If I’m read as a humorous architect I don’t really mind. But I’m saying that architecture is something you can use to express some kind of profound understanding of the universe or the world—just never say that up front! If a kid doesn’t like having kimchi, what do you do? Chop it up, put some sugar in it and fry it. So that’s becoming playful and the kid is like, “Oh this is nice!” But it’s actually kimchi, it’s serious business.”

Sweetness, beauty, gravity—perhaps design should collide all these things, and it should be both our emotions and our eyes that shape our windows onto our landscapes—not merely our quest for utility: “There is a certain beauty in crashing because it cannot be designed with intention,” insists Moon, “when you see a car crash, you see curves there that are not designable because there are forces acting on it. Some people think, ‘You wrecked it!’ But me, I like it! If I get a tank and a big concrete wall I would shoot it to make windows. You would get really interesting windows I think.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 5.13.52 PMConan (Toy) House, completed 2013. Bangdong, South Korea. Courtesy the architect. Photo: Namhoong Sun.
Feature Image: “Seoul Free Zone” (2009). Pen and ink. 130 X 210 millimeters. Courtesy the artist.