Buildings shaped like animals aren’t generally known for their subtlety. More often than not, they’re gaudy and literal, serving as must-photograph stops along a tourist’s list of weird roadside attractions. But when architecture takes on abstract forms that merely suggest the body or head of a certain creature, maintaining some sense of aesthetic direction, things get a lot more interesting.
The abstract owl gazing out over the hills of Busan, South Korea isn’t meant to be kitschy. The client who commissioned famed Korean architect Moon Hoon to design the dwelling works in the security industry and wanted his home to reflect a sense of protectiveness and defensiveness. At the same time, the interior had to be full of fun spaces for his young child. Hoon responded with a vision of a home that “manifests their hidden identity” as superheroes in the form of watchful owls, its head turned to take in the most rewarding views. Private outdoor spaces are tucked behind the owl’s blocky wings, and a dramatic entryway made of faceted glass separates the space beneath its “feet.”
Each and every pane of glass is strategically positioned to gaze out onto the grassy hills in the distance while avoiding the intruding eyes of strangers. In Hoon’s rendering, the home maintains its defensive stance even as strange, towering new structures spring up all around it, reflecting an expectation of continued development in the area.
The various voids and projections of the structure create alternately shaded and sunny spaces both indoors and out, including glass-walled balconies on three levels behind and under the owl’s head. Elevating the yard to the second story improves the family’s views of the neighborhood, separates it from road pollution and makes it feel safer and more private.
The head of the owl contains the child’s bedroom and playroom, lined in pale plywood and packed full of built-in storage. Niches, cubbies and nooks provide lots of space for playing in the sun that streams in through the many windows. Most of the home’s common areas and bedrooms are found on the second floor. The lowest level contains a commercial space that can presumably be used for the client’s business.
You might expect a home that looks so unusual on the outside to be ultramodern inside, with lots of angles and gleaming white surfaces, but the architect strikes a tone that’s warmer and more comforting than that. It’s still dynamic, but not unlike many other suburban homes in Korea. The overall effect is one of a hard, protective shell enveloping a softer, cozier, surprisingly welcoming interior.
Moon Hoon has been called “the king of playful architecture,” and this four-story residence is just the latest example. It’s not even his first time producing abstract interpretations of living creatures. Check out Hoon’s surreal series of pension houses known as “Rock It Suda,” which includes a structure bearing gigantic golden horns.
Hoon believes that architecture is alive and should reflect the personalities of the people who use it. Nobody can accuse him of lacking a sense of humor — the tagline on his website is “MOONHOON THE HAPPY DESTROYER!” and his most conventional-looking creation is a house shaped exactly like a cruise liner. “Enjoy life and do your fantasy, it can become a reality!” he says.