The Busan Cinema Centre is a landmark that serves as a multifunctional urban hub of cultural and entertainment programmes. Additionally the centre stands out for its ingenious architecture and astute use of technology and therefore, but naturally it also hosts the annual Busan International Film Festival (BIFF).
The project, Coop Himmelb(l)au’s first in South Korea, is a confluence of contradictions – it is both open and closed, and public and private spaces alternate effortlessly here. The innovative architecture not only allows this flexibility, but also celebrates it with abandon.
Although the buildings support different functions such as theatre, indoor and outdoor cinemas, convention halls, office spaces, creative studios and dining areas, the mix of sheltered and linked indoor and outdoor public spaces unify making it a homogenous whole.
The two large roofs of the centre present an arresting picture and simulate a tantalising sense of flying – one of the roofs measures 60 x 120 metres (the size of a soccer field) and cantilevers for 85 metres. It is evident that Coop Himmelb(l)au has worked its magic, exploring the theme of the roof as a central architectural element.
Wolf D.Prix, the Design Principal of Coop Himmelb(l)au, explains the thought that went into the roof’s design, “Already in the Renaissance and the Baroque era the roof is transformed into a cupola, thereby achieving a particular significance. But it was Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier, who defined the roof not anymore as a mere element of protection, but as a frame for the most diverse concepts.
In Niemeyer’s house in Rio de Janeiro, the roof does not follow the floor plan, but frames the view of the surroundings and nature. The roof of the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille developed by Le Corbusier is itself a landscape through its sculptural articulation.”
Inspired by these ideas, the Busan Cinema Centre showcases its own interpretation of a column-free ‘flying’ roof. During the annual Busan film festival, there is a heightened visual experience with computer programmed LED lining the outdoor ceiling surfaces. Artistic lighting created by visual artists and displayed across the ceiling in full motion graphics, double up as a communication platform.
The imposing roof aside, the urban plaza is a maze of overlapping zones – the Double Cone, the Cinema Mountain, the Urban Valley, the Red Carpet Zone, and the BIFF Hill.
The Double Cone marks the grand entrance to the centre, connecting the Cinema Mountain with the BIFF Hill. On the ground level is a public café with outdoor seating, while the upper level links to a restaurant, bar and lounge overlooking the river beyond. During the film festival, it works as the Red Carpet Zone or as a pre-staging pace for VIPs to then transfer to the outdoor cinema stage.
The Cinema Mountain is where the core of the action lies – it has a 1000 seat multifunctional theatre and a three-screen multiplex. One of these is a 400 seater while the other two accommodate 200 seats. The theatre design is breath-taking with world-class features – optimal sight lines and adjustable acoustics across its two levels and a flexible proscenium type stage with side stages and fly-tower that can be tailored to different events (theatre, musical or any other).
While the Cinema Mountain takes care of the indoor experience, the Urban Valley with its flat ground surface and large stepped tribunes has the stage set for a 4000 seat outdoor cinema viewing experience. Both the indoor and outdoor performances share the backstage facilities that support the accommodation of projection screens, stages, loudspeakers and lighting arrays.
The BIFF Hill encompasses a multitude of functions related to the film festival – a convention hall, BIFF-centre, offices and a visual media centre are all housed in this building. But the main focus is the tribune seating space of the outdoor cinema and the concourse.
Although its nomenclature indicates its specificity to the film festival, the BIFF Hill can be easily customised for day-to-day usage because of its flexible layout. For example, although the Red Carpet Zone is created specifically during the festival, it operates as the symbolic entryway into the Busan Cinema Centre complex in non-event periods.
Finally, there is the Memorial Court which facilitates a grand entry to the Cinema Mountain. The column-free sheltered roof above envelops a trendy public plaza – a perfect placefor crowds to gather around in either a formal or informal setting.
All the elements – media, entertainment, architecture, technology and leisure – come together in the Busan Cinema Centre to deliver a top-notch experience for the avid connoisseur of cinema and theatre. With impressive onstage and offstage facilities, and an architecture that challenges conventional thinking, Coop Himmelb(l)au has created the perfect place for both artists and audiences to commune happily.
Text By Ramya Srinivasan
Photographs ©Duccio Malagamba