Gathering space: a new cultural centre opens in the South Korean city of Gwangju

Glass-fronted building looking onto a patch of trees
The South Korean city of Gwangju celebrates the arrival of a new cultural centre – the Forest of Light, designed by American firm Kyu Sung Woo
(Image credit: Tim Hursley)

The Forest of Light (also known as the Asia Culture Centre) is the latest addition to the flourishing South Korean city of Gwangju by award winning US architecture firm Kyu Sung Woo.

The spectacular civic space – situated in the heart of Gwangju's historic centre – aims to play a crucial role in supporting and nurturing culture in the growing city, forging its new identity through a series of new programmes. It also stands as a memorial to the events and victims of the Gwangju Uprising of 1980, which took place on the same site.

Being a central project in Gwangju’s ongoing initiative for development and regeneration, the Forest of Light will act as a catalyst to South Korea’s national economic plan to develop seven new cultural districts across the country.

The architects have employed concepts of light and transparency to weave their design into the surrounding urban fabric. Both these elements relate strongly to the meaning of the word Gwangju, which literally translates to ‘City of Light’.

The chosen material palette, form composition and mechanical systems were all tailored to fit the local climate. The building’s green roof and its geothermal and solar energy systems make it a shining example of eco-efficient design.

The steel and glass complex totals 143,000 sq m and is composed of five central facilities; the Cultural Exchange space, archive and research, children’s areas, a ‘creation’ room and a theatre. These are laced together with a forested park, family play areas and a series of generous civic spaces. The green areas provide some much-needed 'breathing space' for Gwangju's densely built city centre.  

Huge glass windows flood the atrium with light

Light and transparency played a crucial role in the design, also referencing Gwangju's translated reputation as the 'City of Light'

(Image credit: Tim Hursley)

Large white space with full-length windows

The building is composed of a series of long volumes and houses five departments, which span the subjects of humanities, arts, and science and technology

(Image credit: Tim Hursley)

Exterior of the building with areas of greenery

Light enters all areas of the building through a strategically positioned series of external courtyards

(Image credit: Tim Hursley)

Large covered walkway with solar panels

The building was optimised to work with the local climate; it features a green roof, and geothermal and solar energy systems 

(Image credit: Tim Hursley)

Walkway between two buildings

The building will also act as a memorial to the events and victims of the Gwangju Uprising of 1980, which took place on the structure's site

(Image credit: Tim Hursley)


For more information, visit the Kyu Sung Woo website

Photography: Tim Hursley