The Sorol Art Museum opened its doors this January in Gangneung, South Korea—a city approximately 100 miles east of Seoul on the Korean peninsula’s east coast. The contemporary art museum was designed by Meier Partners; it marks the first built project by the New York office since it restructured after its founder Richard Meier was accused of sexual assault by former employees in 2018.
Richard Meier & Partners Architects formally became Meier Partners in 2021. Despite the name change, the Sorol Art Museum is endemic of much of the office’s work since its founding in 1963. The contemporary art museum has a gleaming white facade, tall glass windows, and a signature long ramp that pays homage to Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The building materials are white exposed concrete, aluminum curtain wall, aluminum composite panel, glass, and stone.
The architects sought to create an immersive experience for visitors that starts in nature, and ends in a “cube” crowned with a skylight. This central space takes inspiration from traditional Korean architecture, namely the central courtyard of historic homes.
Around the courtyard there are three main volumes: the north wing; a large, cantilevered pavilion; the “cube” which houses the museum’s offices and a gallery; and a transparent pavilion where the main entrance, lobby, and cafe are sited. Thus, circulation follows a T-shape, the architects said, to provide seamless movement between floors and interaction with the outdoor gardens and reflecting pool. Its signature ramp creates a sculptural element that connects two levels.
Around the cube, modestly-sized windows were specified to frame views outwards to the sea and mountains. Each gallery space is unique to give curators a variety of spaces to work with for particular exhibitions.
“The concept behind the Sorol Museum was to create a serene and simple yet memorable space that presents a harmonious blend of art, architecture, and nature,” said Sharon Oh, a project architect and manager at Meier Partners. “We envisioned the museum to beautifully exemplify the continuous dialogue between interior and exterior elements, creating tranquil exhibition spaces that serve as a neutral backdrop for the art. We are grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this unforgettable project and believe the Sorol Museum will be a destination that captivates visitors.”
The building anchors Gyo-Dong 7 Public Park at the center of Gangneung, one of the most scenic regions in Korea. The architects leveraged the area’s undulating topography by situating the museum itself on the highest plateau, over 200 feet above sea level, complete with panoramic views. But the building is surrounded by other landscape elements that similarly embrace the site, like gardens and paths for both walking and hiking.
Exterior view (Yongbaek Lee/Courtesy Meier Partners)
The design, architects said, is inspired by “the heritage of Korean Confucianism,” namely the philosophy’s approach to art “expressed through simplicity of form, materiality, and composition and through a harmonious relationship to nature.” In line with this vision, the galleries are minimal and introverted, with controlled natural light for exhibiting world-class art.
“The design vision was to create a modest but lyrical composition incised into this spectacular landscape that would become the perfect backdrop for art and remain forever memorable to all who visit. It is a true collaborative effort, and I am extremely proud to be part of our incredible project team,” Dukho Yeon, design partner-in-charge, commented. “We are grateful to the city of Gangneung, Gyo-Dong Park Holdings, KoRICA, and the curators who will take care of this museum.”