2020 06 Local by Design - design anthology
Local by Design - design anthology
Seoul-based design studio Z_Lab established its own series of boutique hotels across South Korea, called Z_Stay. We spoke design director Jung Hyun Park to learn more about some of the newest properties in their portfolio
Design Anthology: Who and what is Z_Lab?
Jung Hyun Park: We’re a design studio focused on creating brands rooted in place and space. With a focus on spatial design, we plan and design branding and programmes that allow spaces to be used more meaningfully.
What led you to establish Z-Stay?
We founded Stayfolio with Z_Lab when we first started our business in 2013. Whereas Stayfolio operates accommodations that have been designed by various designers and architects, Z_Stays is a portfolio of places we’ve designed ourselves and Stayfolio runs the marketing and operations. Stayfolio has Z_Stays in the same way that Netflix has its own content.
Can you tell us about two of the newer properties in Z_Stays’ portfolio, Nuwa and Waon?
Nuwa and Waon are both in locations that Z_Lab is most focused on in Korea. Nuwa is in a small alley in Seochon, one of Seoul’s most historical, traditional neighbourhoods where the alleys are intertwined like a spider’s web and are lined with hanok. Waon is located in Jocheon on the island of Jeju, at the very south of Korea. It’s geographically separated from the mainland and has developed its own local culture due to its unique climate and soil. The island is a famous tourist destination and Waon is designed impart the experience of staying in Jeju’s stone houses.
What unique features do each of the buildings have?
The first experience of Nuwa begins in the narrow alley, which is barely wide enough for an adult to walk through. The first glimpse of Nuwa is the round window that you see upon entering the garden through the main gate. Such round windows aren’t often used in traditional Korean architecture, but they’re found in some historic palaces and paintings, and so we tried to interpret the idea in a modern way.
On the other hand, Waon’s design is rather heavy, local and natural. The most unique feature of Waon is the natural plants in the garden beyond the main gate. A variety of herbs, basalt, bamboo trees and stone walls create a sense of harmony and a contrast between rustic and comfortable.
How much work was required to build, renovate or redesign each of the properties?
The most difficult part of designing Nuwa was that the construction vehicles couldn’t access the site due to the narrow alley. In addition, the structure of the house was very weak and required structural adjustments. With Waon, the original structure was built with crooked wood and piled up stone, so none of the walls were balanced either vertically or horizontally. These kinds of difficulties are common when renovating Jeju stone houses, and in this case, the spatial design required us to consider how to use empty spaces and variables rather than creating a perfectly accurate design.
What was your design philosophy for each of the properties?
The two spaces have different design concepts and approaches, but the most important philosophy of every Z_Lab project is locality. Whether it’s in the city or countryside, an office or a hotel, our designs all begin with studying the local environment and people, and then interpreting those findings.
Please tell us about some of the custom pieces or materials for the spaces.
For Nuwa, we chose Microtopping as the primary finishing material. Most of Nuwa’s design objects are made from wood, so we selected this concrete coating to complement the natural material. With Waon, basalt rock is an essential material since it’s so representative of the island. Here we used the stone, which can be seen all over Jeju, in rustic and sometimes contemporary ways.
What kind of traveller do you think Z_Stay properties will appeal to most?
Many of the guests at Z_Stay properties are locals who value experiences based on unique locations rather than visiting the more generic tourist destinations.