I can’t quite put my finger on it, but food has always occupied a rather idealized place both in our imaginations and memory. Whether it conjures the nostalgia of the dining table, flanked by family on Sunday evenings, restaurant hangs with friends, or the swirling euphoria of candle-lit tables for two, tucked in the corner of some restaurant –the name of which you’ve long forgotten, food, in much the same manner that it fills the belly happens to do just the same for the soul. It is certainly this distinct brand of nostalgia that South Korean credit card giant, Hyundai Card, aimed to evoke with a building they call their Cooking Library.
Situated in the affluent Yeoungdeungp-gu district of Seoul, the library is a foodie cathedral to all things analogue, its spaces custom-tailored to reinvigorate memories of a time when the world was that bit more curious, searching, and one that moved to an analogue beat. The Cooking Library is the fourth and, perhaps, most ambitious instalment in a series of buildings that Hyundai Card have recently commissioned. Each building is inspired by and captures a different aspect of life as a central motif, with each fashioned as museum-cum-leisure centres to travel, music, design, and-of course- cooking, respectively.
We take a tour of Hyundai Card’s Cooking Library’s five, thematically tied floors- whilst navigating this multiverse of all things food, to see Blacksheep’s masterful blending of style, texture, tone, and form to bring the Hyundai Card’s abstract wishes for the space into beautifully concrete reality.
The Ground, Up
The Cooking library experience begins from the very moment you enter the building. On entering visitors undergo a cleanse ritual, delivered through a traditional, cast iron water hand pump and cast concrete bowl, all this set on a brass plinth. Like all things in the Cooking Library, there is a method to this. Texturally mirroring the brass plinth, lettering in solid brass poetically tell of ancient wisdoms:
‘Through water came life, through life came love.’
Cleansed and inspired, you’ll soon find yourself within striking distance of the café, bakery, deli and shop, all located on the ground floor. This area is open to both Hyundai Card members and the general public, offering an intoxicating first taste of the architectural feast to unfold. Blacksheep fashion much of the open-planned ground floor as a sophisticated and upmarket reimagining of a provincial, turn of the century European factory. True to this ethos, it is a hive of activity wherein guests immerse themselves in the space’s interactive and retail outlets. Certainly, so as to make the sale on this look whilst still retaining the Cooking Library’s luxurious stylings, Blacksheep had to distil foundational visual elements of the vintage factory, injecting these elements with a sense of play so as to retain their old-world character whilst still being modern and refreshing.
Certainly, these foundational elements came together to form a beautifully minimalist space. Like the factories of old, the ground floor does away with frills, on the contrary finding beauty in structural elements and the sheer utilitarian stylings of the space. The ceilings are particularly telling of this. Set high and lined with corrugated metal pattern, they act as a somewhat mimesis and tip of the hat to bygone industrial buildings. Suspended from this is a labyrinthine network of lighting fixtures, imported from Europe and a network of fans belonging to the building’s air conditioning system. These are confidently exposed to accentuate the space’s function, factory feel. The entire section is toned in dark grey and black hues, whilst, again, keeping with the thematic arc, also visually mute these elements so as to maintain an air of visual discretion. The basic, lattice-like geometry of the frames featured on the ceilings are similarly assimilated into feature walls- in doing so, marrying the space’s vertical and horizontal elements. The black, silhouette-like look of the metal work, designed so that it naturally patinas over time, elegantly contrasts the searching white-grey notes of the plaster walls. Blacksheep were equally meticulous regarding their selection of flooring. Locally sourced stone, styled in a herringbone pattern, stand in homage to the courtyard stylings of historic, European factories. This is gorgeously played against a polished concrete found as you work your way inwards- a tonal and textural counterpoint to the herringbone stonework whilst keeping within the stylistic parameters of all things old-school industrial.
Though Blacksheep’s factory motif is somewhat rigidly adhered to in the space’s foundational touches, the ground floor is nevertheless boasts a seamless plurality of visual dialogues, drawing inspiration from across the globe as well as various time periods. Take the communal dining area, for example. A clean-cut, Calcutta marble counter is paired gorgeously with four Afteroom bar stools and a spherical, pendant light designed by Michael Anastassiades. United by a common inquiry into uncomplicated, rudimentary forms, they introduce a notably Scandinavian touch into the broader industrial rhetoric of the space. Around the corner, a large cast concrete dining table rests flanked by Mattiazi Solo chairs designed by Nitzan Cohen. Constructed from solid oak, they inject a certain rusticity to the cold, clinical metallic and stone touches that run through the space. Paired with a large print of the Dutch countryside, the wooden textures similarly provide an earthy, homelier feel to the space. Like the coffee bar, the dining table offers a similarly bold inquiry into form, sporting shapes that are playfully explorative, yet tasteful.
The bakery is a true feast for the senses. Blacksheep switch gears here a little with their juxtaposing of styles and forms, injecting a quirkiness and theatrical charm to the space. Herringbone tile and the splendid rusticity of the tables and workbenches on which elaborate displays of artisan breads are set, tell of the spaces notably Parisian influences. Blacksheep took special measures to personally source these items themselves. Set in extremely close proximity to the sharp geometries and stony textures of the coffee bar, the two styles dynamically clash and play against each other in all the right ways. Cylindrically formed, brass pendant lights by the Swedish brand Folc, match with the Corten bands, their radial arcs and golden-hued brass notes similarly play against the right-angles and monochromic greys of the space.
Innovation, by the book
The library, located on the first floor of the building, is nothing short of an analogue playground. For the most part, it keeps to the vernacular established in the Cooking Library’s lower decks, working within the minimalist-industrial visual arc. Blacksheep nevertheless subtly shift elements to delineate that you are in a new domain. The floors are particularly striking. Blacksheep worked closely with British timber supplier Broadleaf to source the end-grain timber from which they achieved the striking, chessboard-like design; the pattern also reminiscent of a traditional butcher’s block. Against this, skeletal shelves, coolly industrial with their blackened steel forms, configure the space into a dizzying network of lanes. This space is home to approximately ten thousand titles, selected by Hyundai Card so as to cover all there is to know about all things food. Running somewhat parallel to the shelves, lanes of modular lights, similarly finished in a cool black, train light to catch the books from an array of angles, heightening the space’ sense of drama and dynamics.
At the Heart
The old cliché goes that, at the heart of every home, is the kitchen- and certainly, with a name like the Cooking Library, this holds true here also. More than a cliché however, the third-floor kitchen of Hyundai Card’s Cooking Library is a wholly dynamic space. Seminars and book signings by the industry’s who’s who can be conducted here, where guests can also dabble in and out of the Recipe Room to collaborate, share, and practise their love for cooking. With so much happening, there were naturally logistical demands as to the functionality of the kitchen that Blacksheep had to address. Paired with a bold visual style manifesto- this is a balance that, we believe, they’ve struck with tremendous grace.
Tucked away on the basement level lies the Hyundai Card Cooking Library’s subterranean powerhouse- a professional kitchen that is every part the one you’d find in many prestigious restaurants. High tech yet timeless, the whole room is encased in Crittle reeded glass panels. White tiles, sourced from the British tile suppler, Gestec, pays a homage to the archetypal French kitchen, packing a metropolitan edge with the look’s subway references also. The motif of antiqued metals is nevertheless present; adding an historic depth to balance this space’s unapologetic modern look whilst, again, marrying the kitchen with the rest of Hyundai Card’s visual arc. The kitchen’s underground location makes it a perfect place for the storage of wines, for which Blacksheep embedded oversized displays to the rear wall of the storeroom, encased within the space.
The Cooking Library is a space that is tremendously hard to pin down, tough to neatly compartmentalise. This is chiefly due to Blacksheep’s diligent attention to detail in the composition of its spaces, allowing the Hyundai Card Cooking Library to transcend singular discourses of it being immediately functional, or professional, or artistic. Simply put, it does all – and very well. One final example of this philosophy is Blacksheep’s incorporation of artwork, which runs through all of the Library’s spaces. All levels boast blackened steel sanitary war and specially commissioned artwork by British artist David Shirley, who Blacksheep were drawn to due to the tremendous wit, humour and wry invested into his work. Whilst adding to a somewhat human feel to the Library, it similarly drove home its focus on all things analogue, in this sense giving the pieces a more vibrant, philosophical role as opposed to merely art for art’s sake. Shirley created five works that interacted with the spaces that they are presently installed in; these include phallic bronze sculptures, set behind glazed walls in the basement toilets and others likewise work, set in other locations. Hyundai Card also feature a balcony art piece from Art Basel on the Library floor.
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All photos courtesy of Hyundai Card’s Cooking Library