Sulwhasoo flagship store in Seoul, South Korea by Neri&Hu
The literal and mythological meaning of the lantern is highly significant throughout Asian history — it leads you through the dark, showing you the way and indicating the beginning and end of a journey. Neri&Hu’s radical transformation of an existing five-story building in Seoul, South Korea, into a grand flagship store for leading Asian skincare brand Sulwhasoo is inspired by these notions of the lantern. The building was designed by Korean architect IROJE and built in 2003. Celebrating the roots of the brand, Neri&Hu wanted to develop a concept with strong connections to Asian culture and traditions, ultimately allowing customers to discover the wealth of Asian wisdom that underpins Sulwhasoo's ethos.
The concept originates from three key points that were defined at the very start of the project — Identity, Journey and Memory. Neri&Hu aspired to design a space that appeals to all the senses, which captures the customer immediately as they approach the building and creates an experience that continues to unfold during the journey through the store, leaving a strong impression with visitors long after they have left. This is what led to the lantern concept, where a continuous brass structure is the element that ties the whole store together, guiding customers as they explore the full extent of the space.
In creating a series of voids and openings in the building, visitors fully experience the structure as it moves through the space and envelops the different programs. Mirror volumes are inserted into a wooden landscape to reflect and amplify the seemingly endless structure. The delicate building rests upon wide solid timber floorboards that occasionally rises up to form wooden counters with inserted solid stone blocks, on top of which Sulwhasoo’s products are displayed as precious objects. While it is primarily a guiding mechanism, the lantern structure is also a source of light, hanging within it are customized lighting fixtures that allow the structure to frame and highlight the products on display.
Navigating through the five floors, customers experience changes in the atmosphere. The basement spa, with its dark brick walls, earthy grey stone treatment rooms and warmly crafted wood floors, gives a sense of intimacy and shelter to visitors. Moving up the building, the material palette becomes lighter and more open, inviting visitors to interact with the space, culminating finally in a roof terrace, its free-flowing brass-structure canopy framing vast views of the surrounding city. The journey is a constant contradiction between two counterparts: enclosed and open, dark and light, delicate and massive. The holistic approach to the lantern concept — from space-making and lighting to display and signage — gives visitors a sense of endless intrigue and urges them to explore the spaces and products with passion and delight.