French Embassy in Seoul

Reinterpreting a piece of modern Korean heritage

PCA-STREAM was invited to participate in the competition for the modernization of the diplomatic campus of the French Embassy in Seoul. The firm designed a functional project for the grouping of the embassy’s diplomatic services by magnifying and reinterpreting the original buildings, which had been constructed by Kim Joong-Up, a disciple of Le Corbusier and a pioneer of Korean modernity. PCA-STREAM follows his steps in bridging the divide between contemporary architecture and traditional forms while preserving the unique oasis landscape of the site.

New challenges for the French Embassy

PCA-STREAM won the competition for the restructuring and expansion of the French Embassy in Seoul. The ambition was to modernize and consolidate its various establishments in the utmost respect of existing architectural heritage and with an aspiration for environmental excellence. The cost constraint, both in terms of construction and future operations, was significant and furthermore, grouping all the diplomatic services on the historic site of the Embassy proved quite challenging given that the original plot of land was being downsized. A significant degree of densification was therefore necessary. The project was nevertheless to preserve the unique architecture and landscape of the original design, the Hap Dong campus being a part of the history of Franco-Korean relations. Indeed, it was built following a competition initiated under De Gaulle in 1962 and was built by Kim Joong-Up, a former collaborator of Le Corbusier, and represents one of the major works of this pioneer of Korean modernity.

Following on Kim Joong-Up’s work

At the head of an international team, PCA-STREAM pursued Kim Joong-Up’s work in bridging contemporary architecture and traditional forms. In particular, it reinterpreted the spatial organization of traditional Korean houses—Daemun, Maru, and Madang. The architectural style also follows the traditional construction process, with a stone base, a hollowed-out section, and an imposing roof. The firm favors the use of local materials and techniques, which explains the use of bricks, glazed terracotta, and Chang-ho lattice patterns. The cladding materials also originate from local construction practices but are reinterpreted in a modern way to make procurement and construction more manageable. Finally, PCA-STREAM proposes to restore Kim Joong-Up’s original sequence of three buildings.


The architectural sequence

PCA-STREAM offers a simple functional composition that brings together all the functions that do not require an in-depth access toward the confidential services of the Embassy at the entrance of the site. A building on the street side, which is inspired by the traditional shape of Korean gateways, governs the access to the garden level of the diplomatic campus via a footbridge. It offers the French permanent representation a symbolic presence while limiting the density of the built fabric on the “hill.” The Chancery and its services are kept within buildings B and C, which have been partly deconstructed and then restored to their original condition. Finally, a rational and versatile administrative building is somewhat withdrawn from the original architectural sequence. The management of flows and site security are facilitated by this layout, while the vertical structures that are layered on each level ensure a perfectly restrained design. All the building choices were dictated by cost control considerations, both in terms of operating costs and maintenance.

A unique landscape composition

PCA-STREAM extended the challenge of preserving the site to its outstanding natural environment, which forms a green oasis at the heart of the Korean capital. Protecting this unique landscape is a major expectation of Korean authorities and local residents and it had to be accommodated despite the transfer of nearly one third of the land and the densification of the campus. Implementing a large part of the program on the lower part of the plot minimizes the built-up density in favor of the garden. The entire project thus occupies areas that were already constructed and retains the majority of the site as an open ground that is free from any construction. Some parking spaces have even been transformed into a pleasure garden/reception area. The integration of the new wall of the diplomatic campus also preserves the landscape by structuring the outlook from within the complex and from the public space around it. This organization spares the existing vegetation, which presents several high-quality individuals, and confirms the preservation of Kim Joong-Up’s composition, in which nature was an integral part.


Client Department of Foreign Affairs and International Development
Program Rehabilitation and design of offices and reception spaces, creation of a new gateway to reorganize the campus
Location French Embassy, Hap Dong Campus, Seoul, South Korea
Status Competition (2016)

Caption(s) image(s) from the page header

  • Embassy reception garden © PCA-STREAM