Architecture Research Unit: Architecture as City

Submitting Institution

London Metropolitan University

Unit of Assessment

Architecture, Built Environment and Planning

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Built Environment and Design: Design Practice and Management, Urban and Regional Planning
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Visual Arts and Crafts

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Summary of the impact

ARU is a significant international leader in the definition and practice of design as research. Buildings and realised urban designs are the main research outputs. The research is also disseminated with books, international exhibitions, international journals, television and newspapers. This research is having verifiable influence on the direction of architectural practice and education in Asia and Europe. Impact can be seen in the numbers of visitors such as: 800,000 people to the 2011 Gwangju Biennale ARU Urban Folly; 170,000 people to the 2010 Venice Biennale; 130,000 people to the 2008 Venice Biennale, and 471,000 page views to the ARU website between Sep 2008 - Sep. 2013. Florian Beigel was awarded the Grand Art Prize 2013, of the Academy of the Arts, Berlin, 18 March 2013 for the research works he has carried out with the Architecture Research Unit over the past three decades.

Underpinning research

Architecture as City is an idea of architectural space that makes a house into a (small) urbanism, i.e. the space is similar in character to the space between buildings on a street, a square, in a mews, both in the intimate and more public parts. This idea has been developed further by introducing a differentiation between the infrastructural and the inhabitational spaces in architecture. This design approach is applicable to large and small architectural scales.

The enhancement of the public realm at all scales in the city is the starting point for ARU. Prof. Florian Beigel (Director of ARU) and Prof. Philip Christou (Co-Director of ARU) have worked together since 1985 as key researchers with a team of Design Research Assistants at London Metropolitan University.

Thinking about Architecture as City began as early as 1985 with the design of the Half Moon Theatre in London — `a theatrical street with a roof over it'. This lead to ARU's prize-winning international design competition entries for larger urban landscape design projects in Japan, Nara Mats (1992), and the Sky Mat, Yokohama Port Terminal (1994). Research into landscape infrastructure was taken further with international design competition projects that were built in Germany. Large open-cast coal mining landscapes are being transformed into a city landscapes of lakes and new settlements, Brikettfabrik Witznitz (1st prize, 1996), Kunstlandscaft Cospuden (1st prize, 1997-2001). Following this, a large area formerly used as military training grounds was to be transformed over decades into a new city district on the southern edge of Berlin, Stadtlandshcaft Lichterfelde Süd, Berlin (1st prize, 1998). In these projects the dimension of time and the idea of designing for uncertainty became drivers in the design research process. Experiments with the concept of architectural infrastructures in the city were played out here, where the inhabitation could be designed by others. We began to question the notion of the master plan.

"...implying a redefinition of planning, designed not to anticipate the final picture, but to make possible or rather to stimulate development processes, creating guidelines that allow us to interpret land as a medium for laws of change and transformation that is not the project's concern to predict or specify."

Iñaki Abalos, 2001

These large German urban projects led directly to ARU being invited to develop the Urban and Landscape Concept Design for Paju Book City, Korea, (1999-). Paju Phase 01 (completed in 2007) with over 300 buildings built by individual clients and their architects. Paju enjoys a unique sense of civility which can be experienced in a special public realm: an urban wetland that unifies the entire site; and a number of cultural building clusters that offer views of the Han River landscape and the nearby Simhak Mountain. ARU will be involved in the design of an urban block in Paju Phase 02 during 2014.

ARU has completed three publishing houses at Paju Book City: Youl Hwa Dang Publishing House 01 (2003), Positive Thinking People Publishing House (2007) and the Youl Hwa Dang Book Hall Building (2009). These buildings sit next to each other on Bookmakers' Street, forming a city cluster in Paju with a generosity of spirit and sense of civility. Each building is an essay about architecture as an urban figure, beginning with the abstract almost pictogram quality, to a pair of dancing figures forming a little public space, to an enquiry about the architectural language of continuity and public decorum.

Based on the strength and public influence of the Paju project, ARU was invited as one of 7 international design research teams to make an urban design proposal within a 400 square km site on the South-West coast of Korea. The ARU Saemangeum Island City (2008) anticipates a city of approx. 600,000 people to be built on land reclaimed from the sea. This project is a compilation of the design research concepts and strategies that ARU has developed over the past 2 decades.

The highly figurative and enigmatic Urban Folly Gwangju, Korea (2011) is playing out these themes at the scale of a small building within the public realm of a busy Korean city street. It is much loved and appreciated by the local citizens acting as a shrine to commemorate the Gwangju Democracy Movement and public massacre in 1980, and marks the position of the former city wall and eastern city gate.

References to the research

We have selected 6 outputs listed in chronological order below. Each output generates the next.

1. International Exhibition at the Venice Biennale
`Critical Topic Paju Book City As Culturescape' (2008)
11th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia 2008, Korean Pavilion, Giardini, Venice, 12 Sept.- 23 Nov. 2008. Paju Book City was exhibited as the sole subject of the Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

2. Governmental Design Research Report
`Seamangeum Island City: Design Research Reports submitted to the Provincial Government of Jeollabuk-do (in Korean and English)' (2008)

Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, ARU, London, with contributions by Urban Economy Team from LSE Prof. Athar Hussain and Dr. Fran Tonkiss, Cost Consultants Davis Langdon & Seah Korea — Mun-Su Max Lee, Environment Consultants — Jonathan Cook and Hydrologist Dr. Qingwei Ma, Renewable Energies Network coordinated by Prof. Dr. H. Mueller, University of Dortmund, Germany and Video Animation by Neutral, London.

July 2008 Final Report, 181 pages, Economist Report, 102 p.

October 2008 Supplementary Report, 92 pages including animation by Neutral, London

3. Building
`Youl Hwa Dang Book Hall, Paju Book City, South Korea' (2009)
Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, ARU, London, with executive architect Choi JongHoon + NIA, Seoul, completed June 2009. There continues to be considerable international interest in the architecture and urban design of Paju Book City with an array of buildings designed by leading international Architects such as; Alvaro Siza (Portugal); Kazuyo Sejima (Japan); Alejandro Zaera- Polo (UK); Stan Allen (USA); Seung H-Sang; Joh Sung-Yong; Kim Jong Kyu (Korea).

"Its principal facade is a quite extraordinary piece of design — a free arrangement of myriad doors and windows bound together by the insistently figurative nature of their proportion. It is a project unlike anything I have ever seen and yet one that communicates a powerful commitment to an urban culture."

Ellis Woodman, Building Design, 18 Dec. 2009

4. Exhibition at the Venice Biennale
`Seamangeum Island City, Korea' (2010)
Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, Architecture Research Unit, London,
12th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia 2010, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Giardini, Venice, 29 Aug. — 21 Nov. 2010.

5. Book
`Architecture as City, Saemangeum Island City' (2010)
Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, ARU, London, Springer Vienna, New York, August 2010, 160 p. ISBN: 978-3-7091-0367-8. This book is a thorough account of the design process and methodology that ARU used for the urban design proposal titled `Saemangeum Island City'. The first edition print run of 1000 copies is now sold out internationally.


"This book is a contribution that requires maximum attention from the reader: design practice related to territory is still a discipline under construction; it will be crucial in the perpetuation of the figure of the architect in the coming decades."

Book review by Inaki Abalos, Arquitectura Viva, issue 133 p.83

6. Building
`Seowonmoon Lantern Urban Folly, Gwangju, Korea' (2011)
Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, Architecture Research Unit, London, with executive architects Ahn Jong Hwan, AN architects, Seoul, and Shin Young Eun, SA_RAM architects, Gwangju, building completed September, 2011.

The Urban Folly project forms part of an exhibition at the Gwangju Design Biennale 2011, "Design is Design is not Design", Seung H-Sang and Ai Wei Wei, Co-Directors, Gwangju City, Korea, 02 Sept. — 23 Oct. 2011. The Urban Follies will be maintained "forever" by the City of Gwangju.

"The more successful among them have a public generosity beyond the scope of their site; the least successful are nothing more than clumsy additions to the already cluttered streetscape. Of the former, the works by Florian Beigel and Philip Christou's Architecture Research Unit (ARU), Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Juan Herreros stand out as bringing more than the sum of their parts to unpromising locations." `Hello folly!', by Oliver Wainwright, Building Design, 04 Nov. 2011, p.10-15

Details of the impact

Paju Book City Seven international journals, two national journals, four books, five international exhibitions including 130,000 visitors to the 11th International Venice Architecture Biennale, 2008.

Youl Hwa Dang Publishing House, Phase 1 Three international journals, five national journals, four books, two international exhibitions.

Positive People Publishing House 1 international journal, 6 national journals, 2 books, 2 international exhibitions.

Youl Hwa Dang Book Hall, Phase Two 2 National journals, 1 book, 3 international exhibitions.

Saemangeum Island City 4 international journals, 6 national journals, 2 books, 3 international exhibitions (including 170 000 visitors to the 12th International Venice Architecture Biennale, 2010),1 national exhibition, 3 National Newspaper articles, 4 Korean Local Newspaper articles, three Korean Local TV Network programmes. Sales of the Architecture as City, Saemangeum Island City first edition print run of 1000 copies is now sold out internationally. During the first two years it sold in over 20 countries.

Seowonmoon Lantern Urban Folly, 2011 Gwangju Design Biennale
800 000 recorded visitors to folly, 3 national journals, 2 books, 1 international exhibition, 21 National Newspaper articles, 25 Korean Local Newspaper articles, 3 Korean Local TV Network programmes, 3 Korean Radio programmes

Significant practicing architects in Korea cite ARU design research projects in their work. Jong Kyu Kim's infrastructure design of Heyri Art Valley is influenced by the ARU Paju Book City and previous projects. Paju is a significant design reference for sustainable urban design internationally.

Research into architecture as city has led to a number of ongoing projects in the UK with exciting clients such Crispin Kelly (BayLight properties) and Niall Hobhouse — both exploring how to design homes and shared spaces with productive gardens as city fragments / city origins in the context of the English landscape.

Florian Beigel and Philip Christou have delivered 23 public lectures about ARU's architectural design as research projects at international public events and universities in the UK and abroad between Jan. 2008 and Apr. 2013.

A significant number of ARU research assistants and visiting professors have gone on to make valuable contributions of their own to the field of architectural practice and research:

Sang Soo Bae — Cottrell & Vermeulen Architecture, London;

Adam Caruso — Director, Caruso St. John Architects, London;

Martin Hsu — Director, Adrian Froelich & Martin Hsu Architekten, Zurich;

Daniel Mallo Martinez, Director, ec-architects, Lecturer, School of Architecture, Newcastle Univ.

Chi Won Park, Principal Architect, Smal + Partners, London;

Michael Casey — Director, Casey Fierro Architects, London with Victoria Fierro ;

Prof. Kim Jong Kyu — Director, M.A.R.U, Seoul, Professor, Korean National Univ. of the Arts;

Julian Lewis — Director, EAST, London;

Nina Lundvall — RIBA President's Silver Medal Winner 2002, Caruso St. John Architects, London;

Prof. Philipp Misselwitz — Urban Catalyst, Berlin; Professor of Urban Design, University of Stuttgart;

Seung H-Sang — `Artist of the Year 2002, Korea', Director, Iroje Architecture and Planning Ltd;

Peter St. John, Director, Caruso St. John Architects, London;

Prof. Wilfried Wang — Former Director of Deutsche Architektur Museum, Frankfurt; Partner,

Hoidn Wang Partner, Berlin, Professor in Architecture, University of Texas at Austin.

Florian Beigel and Philip Christou are supervising PhD by design students at London Metropolitan University. A PhD by design within ARU has proven popular with PhD students internationally.

ARU website
Approximately 117,000 visits with 471,000 page views between Sep.2008 and Sep.2013. Visitors have come from 155 countries with the majority from the United Kingdom, United States, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, South Korea, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands

Sources to corroborate the impact

- Building Editor of Building Design

- Architectural Critic of the Financial Times

- Former Editor of AMC Le Moniteur Architecture

- Director of Iroje Architects, Seoul, Co-director of Gwangju Biennale 2011

- Chairman of the Bookcity Culture Foundation & Cooperative of Paju Bookcity, Korea

- Gwangju Biennale press office

- Venice Biennale press office

"Beigel's practice is characterized by a strong concept with creative and intellectual rigor. He has served as an influential teacher in London who has inspired and shaped a whole generation of young architects. Together with a thorough and holistic thinking, Beigel has a distinct sense of style. ...His work is never ideological and opinionated, but precise and elegant. Beigel has made a significant contribution to the pan-European architectural discourse of the present and is a valuable force in making connections between academic reflection and the practice of architecture."

Matthias Sauerbruch, Selection Committee Chairman's statement when awarding Florian Beigel the Grand Art Prize 2013, Academy of the Arts, Berlin, 18 March 2013.