Mehrdad Yazdani and Mark Hirons design flexible and collaborative spaces for an R&D lab in South Korea.
You researched the client and its company culture while preparing for the competition for this project. What did you learn and how did it influence your design?
Mehrdad Yazdani, Assoc. AIA, design principal: This is a 1.2 million-square-foot research and development facility on a fairly new campus to the south of Seoul, and the intent was to bring three divisions of CJ Corp.—food, pharma, and biotech—under the same roof to foster innovation and help turn emerging ideas into new products. The building has three elliptical towers, each housing one of the divisions. These are lab towers, designed with optimum flexibility and adaptability: We created what we dubbed “the new scientific workplace.” Unlike many laboratories where fixed elements and shelving clutters the space, here, everything is on wheels, so they can reorganize the laboratories for teams and collaborations. The towers are different heights and the first five floors are joined by a multistory atrium that becomes the civic focal point of the building. As we planned for the three distinct business units, we wanted to provide comfortable, light-filled, and, at times, fun spaces for the scientists to come together to find commonalities and opportunities to collaborate.
Mark Hirons, AIA, interior design principal: CJ really wanted this to be a living discovery center, and the environment reflects that with organic forms and natural light that carves and complements spaces. The building’s central atrium reinforces the circulation, and amenities are integrated around it, which encourages interdisciplinary engagement between the different groups of scientists. There are almost 50 different types of spaces in the building that respond to different types of behaviors—ones that connect people, like café and coffee areas; where people can meet, like seminar rooms; places for repose, like lounges and a living forest; and places for rejuvenation, like fitness areas. Having that broad spectrum of spaces helps people who are doing very intensive, focused work to have moments of balance in their lives. We looked at the workplace in a very holistic way, and wanted to create an environment that helps the staff feel like they are connected to each other as well as to nature.
These public areas seem almost more like hospitality spaces than the entry to a research and development facility. How did you differentiate them from the more serious work environments in the towers?
Hirons: CJ wanted a context that was innovative and creative, and the spaces and environment needed to be that canvas. What we wanted to look at, behaviorally, is the full spectrum of the different types of settings that would enrich their working experience. So there are huge seminar rooms and large media rooms that are more traditional, but we also needed to challenge the context. We wanted to make sure that no matter where you are in the building, it is creative and looks at things in a different way. The texture varies, from the small coffee shop, to the waiting area, to the large café where daylight comes in and bounces off of the tile and glass walls and creates a sense of engagement. A lot of the form has a neutral perspective, but we used bright colors that emerge in spaces where there’s a café or garden. The color becomes more saturated and experiential in those environments, and draws people to them. There are unexpected elements throughout that speak to the spirit of discovery and offer a sense of enjoyment—that’s really at the core of CJ’s mission.
Yazdani: And as we see in high-tech workplaces, when we are talking about people innovating and collaborating, it’s very important to create spaces and amenities that enable them to stay longer with ideas. We have sleeping pods that allow scientists to take a break, and gardens where they can get away for a bit and come back rejuvenated. There are no boundaries to how much time you need to stay with a problem in order to discover something new. So the more you can create spaces of comfort, the more employees can stay with a problem and the more discoveries are found.
A theme seems to be curves, both inside and out. What inspired you to make the project so curvaceous? Yazdani: The curves are a little misleading—the laboratory towers actually have regular column grids around central cores. The shape of the towers were inspired by the “petals” that reflect the three facets of CJ, and feature in their logo. As we began to try to connect the three towers into a united form, the curves began to reinforce that, certainly on the exterior and ultimately, through the interior expression as well.
What was the most challenging aspect of this design?
Yazdani: Probably convincing the scientists to go where we were going. While office environments have evolved and radically changed, laboratories haven’t. Equipment has advanced, lab benches have advanced, but in terms of their layout, labs really haven’t kept up with the world around us. So this notion of a new scientific workplace—where things can move and are meant to encourage teams of scientists and investigators to work together—was a fairly radical idea. The leadership of CJ was convinced, but it was a little more challenging to bring the scientists along. We had to provide substantial data and prove that it would work.
Project: CJ Blossom Park, Suwon, South Korea
Client: CJ Corp.
Design Architect and Interior Designer: CannonDesign, Los Angeles . Mehrdad Yazdani, Assoc. AIA (design principal, director of Yazdani Studio at CannonDesign); Mark Hirons, AIA (interior design principal); Yong Kang, AIA (project principal); Meg Osman (corporate interiors design director); Paul Gonzales (project manager); Myung Kim, AIA (project manager, interiors); Mark Whiteley, Steve Copenhagen (science & technology planning); Joseph O’Neill, Philip Ra, Nadine Quimbach, Mimi Lam, Assoc. AIA, Sepideh Nabavi, Manson Fung, Ellen Mulvanny, Yan Krymsky, Noelle Kinyon, Michael Tunkey, AIA, Henrick Borjesson, Roshanak Mostaghim, Jennifer Marckx, Melissa Cataldo, Frank Gartner, AIA, Daniel Niewoehner, AIA, Jigar Patel, Christopher Defosset, Robert Johnson, AIA, Mike Tillou, Gerry Horner, John Swift, Michael Smith, AIA (project team)
Structural Engineer: Arup
M/E Engineer/Lighting Designer: CannonDesign
Construction Manager: CJ Engineering & Construction
Prime Architect: Heerim Architects & Planners
Ventilation Consultant: RWDI
Size: 1.23 million square feet