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American Bill Price Makes a Stir in Seoul

Perhaps I’m displaying my own design ignorance here, but I had never heard of American architect, inventor and professor of industrial design at the University of Houston, Bill Price. Subsequent web searches find two stories about him, one from 2001 in Metropolis and another from Architectural Record that mentions the former OMA researcher.

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My eyes are open now, after seeing two very compelling projects in Seoul, South Korea, last week.

The first, and most impressive, is the Air Dome at the Seoul Design Olympiad, a month-long design conference that closes on October 30th. Located on the track at the Jamsil Sports Complex, the main stadium for the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics designed by the late Kim Swoo Geun for his firm SPACE Group Architects and Engineers, the Air Dome hosted the Conference portion of the event.  Speakers ranged from Daniel Libeskind to Tom Dixon to Youngse Kim, but to my mind, the undulating, respiring cloud of a building was the star. 

The theme of the SDO was “Design is Air”, a directive the Air Dome took quite seriously. Made of durable plastic and stretching 97 meters from end to end, this igloo-like air structure provided the SDO with a bit of futuristic whimsy. Suggesting at once a giant caterpillar and a budget inflatable mattress, the temporary structure took a mere 40 days to put together from conception to completion—a process Price undertook with the aid of SDO Director General and colleague at the University of Houston Eun-Sook Kwon. 

Despite the fact that several super-inflated “ribs” support the structure and the north and south entrances seem to literally respire, slowly inflating and deflating to simulate human breath, there is no plan for the building’s future. 

My favorite element was, perhaps a bit perversely, the emergency exits. Comprised of tear-away portals, one literally rips a predetermined hole in the façade of the building to allow inhabitants to flee. Olympiad officials refused to let me test one, but assured me that they work.

The other spot I noticed Price’s work was at Mue, a posh clothing store in the trendy Apkujong neighborhood. The interiors are from 2003 by Minsuk Cho’s superfirm Mass Studies but Price is responsible for a number of roughly-textured, translucent “Ice Walls”. 


image courtesy Wooil Kim

Though the actual material is an accumulation of PVC pellets bonded with resin, the wall gives the effect of having been made out of compressed Turbinado sugar. They glow when lit from behind, but for me the sandpapery tactile experience was what I most enjoyed, especially when contrasted to shop’s very delicate clothes. Though Mue sells thoroughly expensively apparel, when it comes to the interiors, the Price is just right.

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