One ocean

Text: Boris Kostadinov Fotos: SOMA

Contemporary architecture has to be a mediator. Today, a building is remarkable when we get to admire its form. At the same time, architecture is a way to conceptualize global problems of society and the environment.

One realization recently provoked professional debate, critical acclaim and great expectation of the audience. The project was created by soma - an Austrian practice founded in 2007 by four partners - Stefan Rutzinger, Martin Oberascher, Kristina Schinegger and Günther Weber. They operate offices in Vienna and Salzburg. soma engages architecture as an ongoing inquiry and speculative experimentation. The studio’s field of activities ranges from the development of contemporary design strategies and innovative realization methods to theoretical research. They understand architecture as thinking in concepts, that deploy their potentials in spatial, physical and sensuous experiences. Thus a design does not necessarily entail unambiguous, fixed geometries, but remains mutable and individually interpretable.

soma has won the first prize to design the thematic pavilion at the Yeosu EXPO 2012 in South Korea, which is set to be one of the event’s major and permanent facilities. Its exhibitions will give visitors an overview and introduction to the expo’s theme - “The Living Ocean and Coast”. For this large-scale implementation the architects found the instant impact of architectural language. First we admire the perfect shape of the building, the beauty of lines, dynamic proportions, harmony with the environment. Then we think about the function of this building. It should be a place for serious exhibitions but also should offer entertainment and relaxation for visitors. Adaptability of the project to all of these goals is unique. The concept of the pavilion is in close contact with the great theme of the event EXPO 2012. Since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea went into effect in 1993, the ocean has emerged as an important element in resolving various problems humankind faces, including those related to resources, food, space and the environment. However, industrial activities have damaged the marine ecosystem and subsequently reduced fish stocks. As a result, the ocean faces severe crises. A damaged marine ecosystem, global warming and natural disasters are not limited to a certain country or region, but are issues that have global implications. Thus, EXPO 2012 - Yeosu, Korea themed “The Living Ocean and Coast”, will pave the way for reaffirming global effort to resolve such issues. Only with sustainable use, in other words finding the balance between production and consumption, while preserving diversity of resources, species and cultures, can the ocean and coasts continue to live.

The Yeosu Expo will provide an opportunity to enhance the international community’s perception of the function and value of the ocean and coast, share knowledge and recognize the need for cooperation in the marine sector. It will also serve as a venue to learn about the achievements of and future models for the marine sector and offer a valuable chance to promote the marine science and technology. The exposition will present a role model for transforming the declining port and its neighboring area into a new space for living. It will be a chance to induce and urge cooperation and joint efforts from the international community. In particular, the Yeosu Project will offer a golden opportunity for resolving imminent ocean-related problems developing countries are facing. Participants will be able to experience cutting-edge marine science and technology for the future. The event will mobilize state-of-the-art technology to offer visitors an opportunity to experience a futuristic exposition.

The building of soma is named One Ocean and it will be erected in a former industrial harbor along a new promenade embracing the “Big O”. Bridges will connect the pavilion to the EXPO site. After the exhibition and the aspired improvement of water quality the promenade will be transformed into an “urban beach” offering leisure activities to the public. For its pavilion architects share: “We experience the ocean mainly in two ways, as an endless surface and in an immersed perspective as depth. This plain/profound duality of the ocean motivates the building’s spatial and organizational concept. Continuous surfaces twist from vertical to horizontal orientation and define all significant interior spaces. The vertical cones induce the visitor to immerse into the Thematic Exhibition. They evolve into horizontal levels that cover the foyer and become a flexible stage for the Best Practice Area. Continuous transitions between contrasting experiences also form the outer appearance of the pavilion. Towards the sea the conglomeration of solid vertical cones define a new meandering coast line, a soft edge that is in constant negotiation between water and land. The opposite side of the pavilion develops out of the ground into an artificial roof-landscape with gardens and scenic paths. The topographic lines of the roof turn into lamellae of the kinetic media facade that faces the Expo’s entrance and the Digital Gallery.

The main entrance of the One Ocean is situated on Ocean Plaza, which is partly covered by the pavilion to achieve a shaded outdoor waiting area. The space boundaries of the open foyer are defined by the twisting surfaces of the cones. The interstitial spaces between them frame the view onto the Ocean and create niches for the visitors to take a pause from the exhibition. The sequence of pre-show, main show and post show is spatially modulated: lingering through the first two small cones with a ceiling height of 6 m. people arrive at the main show, a breath-taking 20 meter high space of 1000 sq.m. After the show people arrive again at the lower and more intimate post-show that leads to the café and a swimming island in the open water, where they can relax and experience the movement of the Ocean. Visitors with a deeper interest can take the escalator to the second level, where the Best Practice Area, an open, flexible day-lit space is located. Here institutions will present their research in fields like renewable energies or marine technology. From the foyer or the Best Practice Area visitors can take stairs or lifts up to the roof top garden. The roof-landscape functions as a third exhibition area, which invites people to relax and enjoy a 360-degree view over the EXPO site. Roof gardens will be covered with plants of the local coast. To leave the pavilion people stroll down a meandering ramp with panoramic views onto the surrounding ocean and the islands. Service functions, like offices, technical and storage areas are located underneath the landscape part of the building. After the period of the EXPO the building will house public and educational facilities.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of the building is its moving façade. As a counter part to the virtual multi-media shows of the Thematic Exhibition, the kinetic facade like the overall architecture of the pavilion evoke sensuous experiences through analogue means. Besides their function to control light conditions in the foyer and the Best Practice Area, the moving the lamellae will create animated patterns on the façade. The choreography will span from subtle local movements to overall waves effecting the whole length of the building. After sunset the analogue visual effect of the moving lamellae is intensified by linear LED bars, which are located at the inner side of the front edge of the lamellae. In opened position the LED can light the neighboring lamella depending on the opening angle. The bionic principle of the lamellae produce a consistent effect: geometry, material, movement and light are seamlessly interrelated. The longer the single lamella - the wider the opening angle - the bigger the area which is lit. As a moving, emotional experience the kinetic façade combines the sensation with the sensational while communicating the EXPO’s theme in an innovative and investigative way. The foyer and the Best Practice Area are naturally ventilated. Therefore the interstitial spaces between the cones were orientated towards the prevailing wind direction to create air nozzles. In the large vertical exhibitions, air will be infused through the floor to reduce the amount of conditioned volume. During daytime the kinetic lamellae are used to control solar input. They will be operated by energy gained through solar panels on the roof. The building’s performance was analyzed by detailed simulations to reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency.

Looking at One Ocean, we think about the fundamental challenges of contemporary architecture. Architecture is more than ever becoming a metaphor for our desire to summarize the present and future. A mini kaleidoscope of our ambition to be explorers, but to be inspired by natural forms. To create innovative models that have all the content of our knowledge of natural forces.