Soaring house prices and rent fees have turned the idea of housing into property rather than a home, and having one’s own house has become a lifelong goal for young people. For ordinary people, a house with a yard sounds like an absurd dream. However, in 2011 the "Peanut House," also known as a duplex home, which can be built for the cost of the average rent fee in Seoul, hit the world. The architect who introduced the idea of the Peanut House is Lee Hyun-Wook, who majored in construction engineering in Gachon University. Lee is recognized as a representative next-generation architect through commercials well as through broadcasts. On September 27th, he had a special time with his department juniors at Gachon University’s Image Cultural Center. He presented the right direction of construction based on his stories of challenges and failures. Now let us absorb his challenge spirit and find the real meaning of ‘the house’.
1. What was your idea of architecture when you were majoring in construction engineering?
It was not my intention to enter this program, so I didn’t attend the class much in my freshman year. Then when I became a sophomore, I decided to try my best as it was my given situation. If I failed after all the effort, then I would change my path. After that firm decision, I stayed away from festivals and drinking, started to tie myself to the chair. While I was doing my best to try my luck, I became a junior and began to see hope in my future. I started to submit my pieces to open-exhibitions and I won a lot of prizes. Being approved by people made me fall into construction study. At the same time, through the on-field training at a construction company I learned and felt the difference between theory and practice in the field. Since then I naturally follow the path to become an architect.
My original dream was to become a movie director. Yet I realized that being an architect is almost the same as being a movie director. As a movie is made from a scenario with teamwork of lighting, camera, and other crews, architecture constructs a building based on blueprints with working crews.
2. What is the motivation that gives birth to "Peanut house"?
Many people have a dream that one day they would live in a detached house. Yet they have a prejudice that a detached house is cold in winter and hot in summer, and also maintenance is pricey. Furthermore, no one has ever tried to solve the problems, just they just say that there's no alternative. That is where I discovered the so-called blue ocean market. If I can solve that problem, then I can open a new market. With that idea, I began the challenge and finally thought of a "Peanut House," a detached house which is warm in winter and cool in summer for a normal rent price. These trivial thoughts really moved consumers. I used to consider constructing as a simple labor at first, but through these thoughts I realized that constructing can be a venture business.
3. You said you had a series of trials and errors creating the Peanut House. How did you overcome them?
Until the Peanut House was finally born, I had struggled with insulation, the size of windows and mold. However, I was never in despair because it was natural to have problems as no one had ever tried this before. When everyone was running for the 1% of the construction market, I looked the other way and went for the Peanut House. Since I was the front-runner in this market, I could keep my composure even when I fell down. I wanted to complete the Peanut House project, and finally I did it. Currently, construction is flowing in one direction. But I think this field needs various types of architects.
4. Compared with the apartment that can accommodate lots of furniture and is easy to manage, what is the strength of the Peanut House?
First, the Peanut House is a well-insulated house which is good for our health as it is a wooden structure. Since wood is a light material, we can build a house in month. Moreover, even when we demolish it, there’s no garbage. That's why wood has become popular these days as an eco-friendly material. The second strength is a yard and an attic in the house. A yard can function as a playground for children, and it encourages communication between neighbors. We can borrow what we need from our neighbors and children can get along with each other like siblings. An attic is also a space for children where they can get emotionally fulfilled. Third, the house maintenance fee is less expensive than that of apartment. There is a big misunderstanding regarding the expenses of house management, but the truth is a detached house is half the cost of an apartment in those terms.
5. What do think about the meaning of a house? And what is your idea of the ideal house?
There is a social tendency to encourage people to own large and fancy houses when actually the number of people in each household begins to decrease. I believe that’s just our greed and desire to show off. What is important in our life is not the size of our house but the quality of our life. Our Peanut House is far from the luxurious house, but for my daughter, playing around with the boy next door in the Peanut House yard, it is luxurious. The most important factor of a house is the comfortableness, not the spaciousness. Our yard makes my family and neighbor communicate and that is what’s important. As such, comfort and yard can make a house luxurious. I think we have to consider the quality of our life rather than the price of house when choosing our home.
6. Comparing before and after living in the Peanut House, I wonder if you have achieved your ultimate goal.
I believe children should run and play outside when they are young, and I always felt sorry for forbidding them from running in the apartment. On the other hand, in the Peanut house, every space ---including stairs, attic, and yard---can become their playground. When I first built the Peanut House I could spend my time with my children doing gardening and decorating, also spend more time with my wife as well. Which means my ultimate goal was achieved. However, after the Peanut House gained popularity nationwide, I became too busy and there was no time to spend with my family. This makes me feel so sorry for them in turn. I’m planning to cut down my work a little bit and spend more time with my family. I want to go back to the true meaning of the Peanut House again.
7. What kind of architect do you want to be in the future?
I want to be an architect needed by people, not the one who chases money. An architect who listens carefully to people’s needs and provides solutions in market. Actually that’s how the Peanut House was born. Currently I’m preparing for a movement of ‘Build One-Pyeong House’ for single person households---since the number of single person households is increasing these days. I want to prove that one pyeong is spacious enough to live in. Like this, the ways of construction is inexhaustible. A venture business is inspired by a simple question of ‘Can a person live in a one pyeong house?’ I’m also preparing for a ‘Young Korean-style House’ project. Although this won’t make that much money, I think this is a role I need to assume as a social architect and I will continue to follow this path.
Through the interview with him, we could listen to the interesting story about the Peanut House and his continuous challenges. We could also learn where the future of construction has to go. It was time to consider the true meaning of a house and communication with our family, which is really important for modern people who are accustomed to an apartment life. However, his Peanut House wasn’t built in a day. The Peanut House is a result of many trials and errors. I hope the Gachon University students to learn his spirit of challenge without giving up. If we try constantly without ever giving up, we could achieve our own Peanut House one day.
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