Visible Apartment, Invisible Life

Ordinary architecture often has less-than-ordinary stories, and this also goes for apartments, the most common and beloved dwelling type in South Korea. “Visualizing the invisible” at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), Seoul, presents the Yeouido Sibeom Apartment, a demonstration apartment in the Yeouido district, one of the city’s oldest built in 1971. At the most secluded spot in Zaha Hadid’s glamorous landmark DDP, the exhibition aims to express warm appreciation for the apartment; what started its path as a cutting-edge high rise, once desired, turned into a housing prototype and, finally, ended as an old building (again, this is old in Korea!) now slated for demolition.

With drawings, pictures, and paintings, eight artists and researchers disassemble the building’s diverse faces, from facades to kitchens, to depict the invisible trajectory of the apartment that accumulated and permeated urban life over decades. However, as ambiguous as its title sounds, and despite the efforts in documentation and reproduction, unfortunately, the exhibition barely visualizes ordinary life as it excludes the most important element of housing, and every architecture, people. Without images of the residents’ lives in and outside their homes, the apartment stays a building, a mere object, visualizing just what is already visible. Halls are empty, pillars are battered, and a lone rocking horse sits silently in the pictures. Even drawings with an almost microscopic level of observation, which illustrate traces of inhabitation seen in corridors, shopping bags, delivery boxes, home appliances, and plants, are flattened and desaturated in the black lines of the CAD drawing format.

Space is also a challenge for the exhibition itself. Monitors leaning against the curved walls indicate a curatorial struggle in Hadid’s gallery. The hanging fabric backdrops allow you to see through the paper edges on the backside. The show is meant to acknowledge the fifty-year-long intervention of inhabitants in these apartments to discuss a more sustainable vision of architecture. But really? It seems it has prematurely eulogized a residential building that is still very much alive and breathing.



Visualizing the Invisible

Dongdeamun Design Plaza, Seoul

South Korea