Common Ground - World’s Largest Modular Shipping Container Shopping Mall Complex, South Korea

COMMON GROUND is South Korea’s first and the world’s largest shipping container shopping mall complex built with 200 shipping containers. It redefines the conventions of retail platforms by reinterpreting the role of culture, and focusing on connecting people for the sake of creating meaningful value for all involved.

Floor Plans / Drawings
Brand Development, Brand Design, Visual System Design
About Urbantainer
About Office 53427

ProjectCommon Ground
ArchitectUrbantainer, Office 53427
Area5300 sqm
Structural EngineerPAN Structural Engineering Inc., Gaon ENG
BuilderKolon Environmental Service Co.Ltd.
LandscapeLIVESCAPE, Seungjong Yoo
LocationSeoul, South Korea

Description by architects

Common Ground is the result of an experiment of revitalising unused land in the middle of the city. By applying prefab methods, e.g. producing modules in a factory, transporting them to the construction site and assembling them on-site, it was possible to reduce the construction time of the 5300 m2 building to five months.

In order to maximise the usage efficiency of the elongated rectangular shaped land, the architectural form is based on a center square connecting two buildings.

At the traffic-heavy main street side, container modules were stacked to give the building exterior more impact and draw attention from passers-by. The mass on the opposite side has been kept open to naturally connect to the visitor flow of the surrounding environment and invite people in more easily.

The two buildings, STREET MARKET and MARKET HALL, are both based on container architecture but are designed with different characteristics in mind.

The containers of the Street Market are arranged in a protruding configuration, highlight the individual modules and give the exterior more impact. The Market Hall is made of 12m long-span container modules which are used as separated shopping booths. Same- sized modules as roof of the hall create a usable terrace area on the third floor.

Interview with architects

After the Nike project, Platoon Kunsthalle and Istanbul, you have carried out various projects using shipping containers. How did you become interested in the material of containers?

Baek Ji-won: container was the result of being immersed in the concepts of remix and hacking. The shipping container, which has been researched and developed by numerous engineers, has not only a low price but also perfect durability, so I thought it was the best tool for hacking by remixing it as a building material rather than logistics and expanding it to the city level. For thousands of years, architects have devoted themselves to leaving a legacy, but I believe that in order for mankind to survive on Earth in the future, it is necessary to pursue "Leave No Trace" concept for architecture.

Did you get any inspiration from overseas container construction works?

Hundred of course broadly speaking, Shoreditch Box Park in London, England, Restart in Christchurch, New Zealand, built with the will to rebuild after the earthquake, and the Container Park Downtown Project in Las Vegas, built by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, to revitalize the city.

What is the biggest advantage of shipping container architecture?

One can say that the symbolism of the swan shape is strong. There is no one around the world who doesn't know about containers. So, when you build with this, everyone is amazed and happy. In the words of Team Leader Lee Hyung-seok of Urbantainer’s architecture team, the advantages of shipping container architecture can be explained in three stages: surprise, popularity, and possibility. Even when the early Kunsthalle appeared, it was more interest in the unexpectedness of a new type of building, a building made of containers. After the opening of Common Ground, this surprise became popular much faster than expected thanks to the client's massive marketing performance. Now, it is thought that the public or users are moving to the stage of possibility where they can imagine a variety of things just with the box shape of a container. Of course, the basis of these advantages is the modular nature of the container, the fact that it can be constructed after prefabrication, and the structural characteristics that can be used in various ways are inherent.

On the other hand, I think there are also disadvantages.

The biggest drawback is people's preconceived notions about containers, such as illegality, poverty, and temporary buildings. If I was to pick the biggest achievement Urbantainer achieved through Common Ground, I think it was the change of public perception into design. Urbantainer eliminates toxic substances emitted from paint or plywood by custom-ordering new containers for construction. In addition, in terms of waterproofing and insulation, we are conducting research with PhDs in architectural engineering, and we are continuously developing and supplementing structures and firefighting. Currently, we have two Korean patents and two US patents related to shipping container construction.

As I just said, Common Ground has become a kind of turning point in domestic container construction.

Jeong Yeon-jin: Common Ground was a project that took two years, and Urbantainer directed everything from planning to brand concept, BI design, architecture, interior, signage and graphic design with Kolon. As a single design company designed everything related to the shopping mall space, a consistent design could come out, and the blue container was able to instill the brand power of Common Ground to the public.

Originally, the Common Ground was requested as an extension of the Deokpyeong Rest Area operated by Kolon. If you look closely, you can make a great shopping mall in Seoul with that kind of budget. In this way, the project entered a new phase, and we came to the story of creating something that is neither a department store nor a shopping mall, overflowing with activities and entertainment centered on young people. What we thought of was a kind of cultural market. The most important point here will be the square space in the center. While establishing the brand identity of the space, we thought about what we could provide for our young friends, and as a result came the idea of this courtyard. You can ride skateboards, have flea markets, and have performances and parties. It is a project that contains the essence of space branding that Urbantainer has continued for 6 years.

Were there any difficulties during the process?

There was no major problem in the overall process, but the problem was the color of the container. To borrow the words of Team Leader Lee Hyung-seok, I thought that blue, the color of general marine containers, was suitable for the brand essence of Common Ground. After the opening, visitors showed an explosive response, and the controversy naturally disappeared. Also, since Common Ground is made up of only containers, some officials did not understand the concept itself at first. I thought it was only a temporary building, but after opening it, I realized that containers can function well as building materials.

Back then, the old people who were tired couldn't get used to it even after it opened (laughs).

Jung (laughs) That's right. To borrow the words of Team Leader Lee Hyeong-seok, an Instagrammer who went on vacation to Sweden took a picture of a small sculpture made of a blue container and posted it on Instagram and posted #CommonGround in the hashtag. We realized that coherent design integration has a great impact on brand awareness.

Actually, in order for an integrated and powerful branding to be expressed, various elements such as graphics and lighting are required.

In the end, I think the most important thing is curation. Curation, in my opinion, is the process of creating their own depth by selecting brands and suitable ones. After all, isn't the most important thing 'relationship'? We play the role of tying the first button in the relationship. To mix, blend, and wonder. It is our job to create a space that is new but not uncomfortable, and that is different but can be mixed. After all, I believe that 90% of a relationship is made by people who use it and work with it.

Is there any difference between Platoon Kunsthalle and Common Ground?

Back Platoon Kunsthalle is meaningful in that it is the first container-built building in Asia, but it was not enough to change the perception of the general public. I usually thought, ‘Oh, it’s an art center, so I must have tried something a little different’. Personally, I was a little sad about that. On the other hand, as I said earlier, isn't it meaningful that Common Ground made container architecture a more familiar material to the public?

The design of the shelter for the National Theater Company was also impressive.

The Baek National Theater Company is located at the site of the old military offices, and there was no ticket office or rest area until then. It was a project sponsored by the Naver Cultural Foundation, which felt sad that the audiences who came in winter had no choice but to suffer.

It was a project with many twists and turns. In terms of the number of years, it was held for almost two years. It had been delayed for a while due to site and space management issues. Still, when I was working on this project, Naver gave me a lot of freedom of consideration, so I was able to design quite freely. In fact, the architectural concept of the National Theater Company has been conceptually drawn since college days. At the time, I had a question about what a church made of containers would look like. Building a church is every architect's dream. Anyway, I decided to apply the church I was thinking of at the time. In particular, it was composed so that natural light falls very gently, which is completely opposite to the previous Platoon Kunsthalle, which emphasized the cold feeling. In other words, it gave a calm and comfortable feeling with soft light, but it neutralized the cold physical properties of metal with light.

In just a few years, shipping container construction has emerged as a global trend. Where is the reason?

Shipping container architecture is basically a high-conscious conceptual design. Recently, a group has emerged in Europe and in California, USA, pursuing a healthy lifestyle (vegetarianism, which has recently emerged as a hot topic), energy conservation, and prevention of global warming. I think that the attention to a light structure in the last Milano Expo was also quite symbolic. The unspoken message of saving the earth and living longer is spreading around the world. For those who pursue these values, shipping container architecture is a very ‘cool’ space. It is the largest space that can be built with little energy and cost. To build a concrete building even for a building of the same size, you have to start with mining with an excavator. It not only consumes a large amount of energy, but also emits pollutants. Container construction, on the other hand, is environmentally friendly and sustainable. In the end, as more and more people pursue a healthy life, it seems that a symbolic building that represents this has risen along with it.

What is the future of architecture in your opinion?

The shipping container construction follows a pre-fab process that is produced in a factory and assembled on site. So, in the future (even if it is not a container), a one-stop architecture that is produced in a factory and installed on site in conjunction with parametric design will emerge. In addition, all processes such as building permits, financing, and civil complaints are expected to be developed and commercialized in consideration of consumer convenience.

Floor Plans / Drawings

Brand Development, Brand Design, Visual System Design

About Urbantainer

From early on, Jiwon Baik worked on integrating design, technology, and culture. After university, he ran a one-man studio Renovista for eight years before he founded URBANTAINER in 2009. Under the mission “A fun container for the city”, the company keeps on exploring the potential of synergizing different design disciplines such as interior design, graphic design, architecture, and digital media, all with the vision in mind of creating enjoyable, fun urban spaces. Major works include the art direction for the Pyeongchang Special Olympics 2013, the architecture project management for Platoon Kunsthalle (32nd Korean Institute of Architects Award), the Naver App Square (IF, IDEA, Red Dot Awards), and Common Ground(IF, IDEA, Red Dot Awards), the world’s biggest container retail & lifestyle platform. 

In 2009, Urbantainer started out with the mission to fill a gap in Seoul’s design scene. Fueled by the concept of design as a weapon for infusing the city with a new kind of creative energy, the studio soon became an integral part of the emerging EDM club scene, early viral marketing campaigns and the steady rise of modular architecture. URBANTAINER has two main centers of gravity, ESB (Entertainment Space Branding) and MAP (Modular Architecture Platform). The ESB team is responsible for the company’s award winning pop-up shops and some of Seoul’s most successful EDM clubs. The MAP team specialises in modular architecture based on ISO container frame modules. In all of URBANTAINER’s projects business thinking, constant R&D and a deep design sense for vibrant urban spaces come together to turn great ideas into amazing, real spaces.

Address45-12 Jangchungdan-ro 8-gil, Jangchung-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Phone+82 2-540-6080

About Office 53427

Office 53427 was founded in 2009 by Kiwoong Ko and Jooeun Lee in Seoul, Korea. Office works through multiple scales and contexts of architectural and urban phenomena. It works not only to provide design solutions but also to develop design methodologies throughout the research focusing on social, economical and technological aspects of an objective.

Office 53427 aims to propose alternatives to the homogeneous Korean architecture scene suffering from monolithic design method and lack of material and technological research. Designs of office 53427 are produced through a flexible but highly organized and fundamental but highly advanced design processes based on explicit analysis of the constitutions, relations and interactions of elements of the pheonmena.

Address561 - 1 Sinsa-Dong Gangnam-gu, Seoul Korea (135-890)
Phone+82 2 512 3929

Common Ground - World’s Largest Modular Shipping Container Shopping Mall Complex, South Korea