Seungjae Han + Yangkyu Han + Hanjin Yoon

10.31 2016 INTERVIEW DATE

FHHHfriends, Architects

Seongsan-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul

On Ne Sait Jamais, Sous Le Gui, Bean Brothers Starfield branch, TWL. There's a common fact among these popular hot spots on SNS; they’re all works of an architectural firm run by young and jolly architects, FHHHfriends. It was founded by three ambitious friends, Seungjae Han, Yangkyu Han and Hanjin Yoon and is in the limelight of today's architectural scene in Korea. At 11am in their office, located in Seongsan-dong, Mapo-gu, filled with loads of stuff found in the streets like a junk shop, the three sleepy-eyed men went back and forth from dreamers to goofy old boys throughout their ping-pong-like interview. Looking back, we didn’t realize then how rich it was with insight. Here’s their story.

Hyemin Gwon

First of all, how did the three of you establish your architecture firm  FHHHfriends?

(FHHH) FHHHfriends(http://fhhhfriends.com/) is a young firm composed of three architects who had worked for the same architectural company in the past called DMP. As we became close, we all agreed to leave the company just after 3 years of our employment. But it was more like a naïve, half-joke vow—nobody took it seriously. Then one of us really walked out the door, which sparked the remaining two to make the same choice. We setup our firm in 2013 so that makes our office 4 years old now.

 

Which is an appropriate term to introduce FHHHfriends, considering that your practice spans in the fields of architecture and interior?

(Hanjin) An architectural firm is the right expression.

(Yangkyu) Where great architecture is made upon sincerity and good sense of freedom.

(Hanjin) We have to be good at what we do. And ‘being good’ has a number of meanings. We don’t do it just for the money. We focus on being good and creating excellent works so that we can receive compliments rather than the sole aspect of making money.

 

Do you mean money is not the goal? Then how do you run the firm?

(FHHH) The expensive design fees make it possible to run.(laughs) Seriously, it’s important that we receive large amounts. It motivates us to work hard. But most of the time we work so hard that we later find out that a huge chunk of our design fee has vanished. If we did it for the money, we never would’ve faced any financial difficulties we've had along the way.

FHHHfriends is an unusual but fun name for an architectural firm.

(FHHH) We realized that work had conquered our lives, leaving us with exhaustion only, so our initial aim was to simply ‘have some fun’ when we founded our firm. Good friends, just about to start something up—how much more exciting could it get? Normally, it’s common for people to convey their philosophies or core values when they name a firm, but we lacked those from the start. We were just concentrated on having fun while working. We came up with a number of names and decided to go by the majority. We also loved how the English version ‘FHHH’ gave this structural solidness visually. In the beginning it was just ‘FHHH’ but one of us kept arguing that it was too light-hearted and straightforward so we added the ‘friends,’ which made everyone happy.

 

We can imagine the fun and loose atmosphere since it’s bonded with friendship. Can you describe a typical day?

(FHHH) We start the day at 10am and end work at 6pm. We have this ‘law of absolute trust.’ No matter how late we come to work, say noon, we don’t bother each other as long as the work is done smoothly. But to be frank, we actually come to work at 10am, hang around until 6pm and start working at home until 3am. We usually hold meetings, interviews at the office during the day, eat out, have ourselves some coffee or drinks and oh, we also take walks outside pretty often. The ‘law of absolute trust’ applies to all of our employees at FHHHfriends.

And you have other employees as well?

(FHHH) There’s the three of us and a manager who’s currently on vacation. We recently recruited two employees who are waiting for their first official day. So that makes seven of us in total.

 

How competitive was your first recruitment?

(FHHH) The rate was 25 to 1. We had received a great number of excellent portfolios which became a burden for us to choose from. Our standards of recruiting were grades from college, design and personality and we wanted a staff that topped all three.(laughs) We asked all applicants to submit architectural essays in replacement of cover letters, which should’ve been a unique experience compared to other companies. The essay enabled us to learn better if the applicant was a good match with us or not. After numerous and thorough reviews, we hired two employees.

Now our question goes to your office space. Is this your first office?

(FHHH) It’s our third. The first one was near the Mapo-gu Office station, at a guest house in a tiny room that could barely fit a single desk. From there we moved to a rooftop room at a studio building called Rainbow Cube in Mangwon-dong. We managed to enlarge the size of our office in three months. The rent was cheaper but we considered it as a big step forward. And we moved to this current office last year in September. It’s our first to use the whole space for ourselves only.

 

We see chairs with waste disposal stickers on them. Do you plan to throw them away or are those picked up from the streets?

(FHHH) These are all from the streets and we’d probably never get rid of them. The frames are all picked up stuff as well. Oh, we bought a pair of speakers from the junk shop. Those are the only items we paid for. There’s no grand reason behind it. We’re just simply drawn to those. We pick up things that catch our eyes while we’re on our casual walk, and as we started to compliment on each other whenever any of us bring something valuable, we’ve fired up this competition, to see who finds better stuff.

Who was FHHHfriends’ first client?

(Hanjin) It was my mom. It was a project for a new cafe building called ‘Mud Wall’ in Kimhae. It used to be this strange cafe built in cheap sandwich panels, located next to a national highway. My mom asked us to build the same kind of strange, ironic building but we couldn’t allow it for our first project. Mom was a bit skeptical but she tried to leave it all up to us. She had always been the one who believed that children grow upon trust. She discussed the overall size and structure but never intervened on the design. But due to its appearance, people began to misjudge the place as a Korean restaurant, which eventually made mom to start over with Korean food. It gives her a hard time everyday.

Looking at commercial places such as the On Ne Sait Jamais or Sous Le Gui the interiors are very unique. Where do you get inspirations for those?

(Yangkyu) The land itself on site tells us what to do. We are architects that design according to what the land has to say. (Everyone laughs while he’s still serious)

(Hanjin) To elaborate on that, we think architecturally. Many seem to focus only on the decorative side when designing interiors. But in our case, we begin by looking at the city. If a city is beautiful, its streets and alleys should be beautiful as well. And also the shops in them. When you’re on your way to a certain place, it doesn’t just pop in front of you out of nowhere. You get there through a certain journey. So in this way, it’s important to view with a larger scale. On Ne Sais Jamais also begins with a story of its street in Hannam-dong. We wanted to provide a place people could just casually perch on amongst this narrow alley hiding behind the busy area. As for Sour Le Gui, it was located in a very spooky street. And we wanted to bring that spookiness into the space with plants, and not just plants in pots but with live wild flowers. And in order to make it happen technically, we had to implant a new drainage facility. We also used bricks with high moisture transmission ability and layered on top with soil so that dandelion seeds stuck on your shoe can root anywhere it lands. Bean Brothers at Starfield also has the same approach. We eliminated the boundary of the façade and flooring in order to render the feeling as if the whole space expands out to the inner plaza of the Starfield shopping mall. We made new plans for the table as well. We imagined how poetic it would be when only the coffee cups exist on top of the wide table while conversations are kept private. It becomes an interior that carries the sole dialogue of the act of drinking coffee. We think that the space itself is capable of providing people a new kind of emotion. Sometimes those are more important aspects than practicality.

The descriptions on your website is very casual and fun. Most of all, it uses vocabularies easy enough for those without knowledge on architecture. We feel that you explain your spaces in a whole different way from others. 

(Seungjae) We try to be as sincere as we can on our practice. And that enables us to write thoughtfully. We don’t purposely make it entertaining but we do try to write with honesty. A writing should enable readers to feel the same emotion the writer has felt, which we define as a good writing. We write with such intentions and I think that’s what helps people read with better understandings.

As architects, what are your perspectives on Seoul? What do you think of the city?

(Seungjae) I was born in Hwagok-dong and now live in Yeonhui-dong. Seoul is a very attractive city. And it’s also a great city to make money because it lacks sincerity. The city is a mess so there’s still a lot we want to put our hands on and bequeath to the society. And we want to do them right.

(Hanjin) I think Seoul is a bit absurd. Too many impossibilities take place. Old cities in Europe or the New York City has this consistency. You can draw up a map of those cities inside your head. But you can’t draw anything of Seoul. It feels like there’s been an absence of a progressing stage. We have all those famous places but it’s hard to imagine your way to it. I think Seoul focuses only on a single matter, like hot places. I believe the city, the alleys and the stores and shops must exist in solidarity in order to become a more attractive city.

 (Yangkyu) I like Seoul. When I first set foot in Seoul from Gwangju, I hated the high density. But as soon as I avoided the rush hours in the morning and the end of the day, it felt like a nice city to live. When I visit the parks by the Han River or the ones near the World Cup Stadium in Sangam-dong, I feel peace.

RECOMMENDED PLACE

Mangwon Flood Reservoir Park

190 Worldcup-ro 25 gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
6 Mapo office
02-324-7800

“It’s filled with memories of the three FHHHfriends.”

 

A place where the water is thought to ‘play,’ it becomes a pond after the heavy rains in summer and an empty plain when it snows in winter. It is usually crowded with people playing soccer or basketball. What used to be a reservoir of rain, it was reborn into a sports complex after a new public sports center opened in 2015. It is consisted of a sports field, exercising facilities, trails and children’s playground and stretches out to the Han River park through an alley where there’s a number of nice, hidden eatouts to enjoy.