BIENNALE ARCHITETTURA 2016 – NATIONAL PARTICIPATION OF KOREA

Republic of Korea - Biennale Architettura 2016

"The FAR Game: Constraints Sparking Creativity"  2016.05.28-2016.11.27

1. What are the Rules of the Game?
The FAR(Floor Area Ratio) Game is predicted on the demand for precious floor space in hyper-dense urban conditions, where architects are challenged to balance the desires of consumers, controllers, and suppliers of which they are a part.

The FAR Game works across all building types and scales from miniature houses to super tall buildings and vast apartment complexes. Building sections in red indicate how building volume and spaces are extended outward within the city.

The FAR Game consists in the interactions of three players: the consumer demanding suitable living/working space, the supplier attempting to deliver it through maximizing floor area, and the controller restricting it based on the dictates of urban building rules.

2. How is the FAR Game played?
The 36 buildings showcased illustrate how constraints can spark creativity, and turn a craving for quantity into a desire for quality.

The models for the 36 buildings showcased in this exhibit exemplify the unique vision of Korean architects seeking to maximize FAR while providing a sense of spaciousness and freedom. The geometrical and compositional inventiveness gives a distinct identity to an ever-densifying city.

The front line of the architectural battles waged in Korea inexorably runs through its capital city of Seoul. Korean architects may think they have the vision of field generals, but when handling their missions in Seoul, they are often asked to operate more like foot soldiers.

The Korean urban architect works under the constant pressure of two opposing forces. One comes from Seoul’s hyper-density; the greater Seoul metropolitan area, representing 12% of South Korea’s land mass, is home to nearly half of the citizens of the entire country.

Hence plot prices are at a premium, and the architect is always under strict orders to augment useable floor area in order to maximize a developer’s and land owner’s profits. The other is an urban building regulatory system where strict and unyielding rules give public officials little discretion for negotiation.

3. What are the Forces at Play in the FAR Game?
A description of the background forces that govern the FAR Game, including hyper-density, land price, compressed growth, and characteristics of the urban fabric.

Korean architects must therefore always be prepared to perform a high-wire balancing act. Their endeavor to deal optimally with these opposing forces in the planning and execution of their buildings is known euphemistically as ‘playing the FAR Game’.

Facing this tug-of-war between private profit and public regulation, how is the Korean architect truly to ply his trade, and infuse his work with some form of aesthetic or socio-cultural considerations? The answer from today’s Korean architects, evidenced by the 36 buildings showcased in this exhibit, is to use the constraints brought on by the FAR game to spark their creativity rather than allowing those constraints to stifle it.

The main target is medium-scale multi-family houses or mixed-use buildings, which in earlier times would not have been on the radar of most architects. Yet, as this exhibit will show, these projects are now providing fertile grounds for creative responses to the intense high-stakes pressures of the FAR game.

4. Artist Perspectives on the FAR Game
Images of everyday life from the urban landscape, signals of FAR Game battles won and lost, as captured and portrayed by artists.

Kyungsub SHIN provides a macro view for each of the 36 buildings in the main exhibit with photographs from a distance, sometimes from the sky. While the backdrops to most of the buildings look fairly standardized and flat at first, a heterogeneous and chaotic fabric soon comes into view. More difficult is to actually discern the buildings designed by architects, those which purport to impose themselves positively on the cityscape. It underscores the breadth of the task ahead for today’s architects, who mostly play the FAR Game one building at a time, hoping to slowly transform the identity of the city.

Using fine calligraphic brushes, Seongeun KANG details the façades of multifamily houses, with a simple elegance that belies their banal designs. Star and flower patterns on the facades appear detached from the buildings, which exude the compartmented functionality that is often a consequence of the FAR game played haphazardly. Other’sHomecapturestheanonymitycreatedbybuilderswhodon’tfullytakeownershipoftheircraft,andreflectsaformofunconsciousthinkingthatstillpervadeslarge swaths of everyday life in the city.

Seungwoo BACK has photographed thousands of multifamily houses in Korea over the years. He often creates images that capture a tinge of the poverty that Koreans have tried to erase from their memories. While Seoul tries to measure up to the prestige other global cities, the awkward and disjoint appendages in these buildings mock such an endeavor, as they chronicle a disorganized and desperate search for additional living space. While the FAR game can result in the continuation of a cultural identity rooted in a difficult past, these photographs can serve as a clarion call to the next generation of Korean architects, who are tasked with reshaping the urban battleground to reflect the nation’s highest aspirations, even as they continue to be tethered to the reins of the FAR game.

Yeondoo JUNG’s BuildingRecollectiondocumentsfragments of streetscapes in an aging urban neighborhood. Images of buildings composed of a series of photographs seem frozen at first, but upon closer observation the images crawl slowly across the screen, as if to emphasize the plodding persistence of an impoverished identity. Monologues from residents reinforce the way residents identify with their homes, and in that way are also caught maintaining a stagnant sense of self. Here the FAR game is a context for the accumulated memories of their lives, which follow in lock-step the notion that desires for space and freedom will never fully be realized.

5. Why Does the FAR Game Matter?
The importance of the FAR Game to Korea and to architecture in general, as told from various perspectives including those of curators, architects, planners, researchers, developers, land owners, and nameless local builders.


“The FAR Game is a powerful lens into the current frontiers of Korean society as expressed by the scale of buildings in the cities and the urban fabric.”


“Korean architects creatively absorb hyper-density by crossing over from quantity to quality, and turn the motivation of short-term individual profit into the realization of long term public benefits.”


“The FAR Game in Korea has gone through changes with the decline of large-scale demolition and reconstruction projects. It fosters a slow but resilient form of urban regeneration on a smaller scale within sub-blocks.”

Credits: Story

Commissioner: Arts Council Korea
Curator: Sung Hong KIM
Associate Curators: Eungee CINN, Keehyun AHN, Seungbum KIM, Isak CHUNG, Da Eun JEONG

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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