Architecture Research Unit

Saemangeum Island City 2008

ARU is an architectural design laboratory primarily concerned with the exploration of ideas about space. These ideas are tested in live projects. ARU is a significant international leader in the definition and practice of design as research.

The enhancement of the public realm at all scales in the city is the starting point for ARU. Architecture as City is an idea of architectural space that makes a house into a (small) urbanism, i.e. the space is similar in character to the space between buildings on a street, a square, in a mews, both in the intimate and more public parts. This idea has been developed further by ARU by introducing a differentiation between the infrastructural and the inhabitational spaces in architecture. This design approach is applicable to large and small architectural scales.

Prof. Florian Beigel (Director of ARU) and Prof. Philip Christou (Co-Director of ARU) have worked together since 1985 as key researchers with a team of Design Research Assistants and the design studio of ARU is located at the CASS. Design research projects carried out by ARU are independent from the projects carried out by students at the university, although there is a close link between research and pedagogy, and ARU oversee a degree studio and supervise PhD by Design students.


ARU team

Professor Florian Beigel - Director
Professor Philip Christou - Co-Director
A team of Design Research Assistants (see ARU website) 

ARU website

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Thinking about Architecture as City began as early as 1985 with the design of the Half Moon Theatre in London – ‘a theatrical street with a roof over it’. This lead to the Architecture Research Unit (ARU)’s prize-winning international design competition entries for larger urban landscape design projects in Japan, Nara Mats (1992), and the Sky Mat, Yokohama Port Terminal (1994). Research into landscape infrastructure was taken further with international design competition projects that were built in Germany. Large open-cast coal mining landscapes are being transformed into a city landscapes of lakes and new settlements, Brikettfabrik Witznitz (first prize, 1996), Kunstlandscaft Cospuden (first prize, 1997-2001). Following this, a large area formerly used as military training grounds was to be transformed over decades into a new city district on the southern edge of Berlin, Stadtlandshcaft Lichterfelde Süd, Berlin (first prize, 1998).

In these projects the dimension of time and the idea of designing for uncertainty became drivers in the design research process. Experiments with the concept of architectural infrastructures in the city were played out here, where the inhabitation could be designed by others. We began to question the notion of the master plan.

These large German urban projects led to ARU being invited to develop the Urban and Landscape Concept Design for Paju Book City, Korea, (1999-). Paju Phase 01 (completed in 2007) with over 300 buildings built by individual clients and their architects. Paju enjoys a unique sense of civility which can be experienced in a special public realm: an urban wetland that unifies the entire site; and a number of cultural building clusters that offer views of the Han River landscape and the nearby Simhak Mountain. ARU will be involved in the design of an urban block in Paju Phase 02 during 2014. ARU has completed three publishing houses at Paju Book City: Youl Hwa Dang Publishing House 01 (2003), Positive Thinking People Publishing House (2007) and the Youl Hwa Dang Book Hall Building (2009). These buildings sit next to each other on Bookmakers’ Street, forming a city cluster in Paju with a generosity of spirit and sense of civility. Each building is an essay about architecture as an urban figure, beginning with the abstract almost pictogram quality, to a pair of dancing figures forming a little public space, to an enquiry about the architectural language of continuity and public decorum.

“...implying a redefinition of planning, designed not to anticipate the final picture, but to make possible or rather to stimulate development processes, creating guidelines that allow us to interpret land as a medium for laws of change and transformation that is not the project’s concern to predict or specify.”
Iñaki Abalos, 2001

Based on the strength and public influence of the Paju project, ARU was invited as one of seven international design research teams to make an urban design proposal within a 400 square km site on the South-West coast of Korea. The ARU Saemangeum Island City (2008) anticipates a city of approximately 600,000 people to be built on land reclaimed from the sea. This project is a compilation of the design research concepts and strategies that ARU has developed over the past two decades. The highly figurative and enigmatic Urban Folly Gwangju, Korea (2011) is playing out these themes at the scale of a small building within the public realm of a busy Korean city street. It is much loved and appreciated by the local citizens acting as a shrine to commemorate the Gwangju Democracy Movement and public massacre in 1980, and marks the position of the former city wall and eastern city gate.

Research projects

Book by Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, with contributions by Dominique Boudet (Consultant Editor), photo essay by Kang Woon-gu, and conversation with Ellis Woodman.

This exhibition is presenting three architectural projects each typologically situated between Landscape and City.

ARU was selected as one of seven international design teams to make an urban design proposal for a new city, on the basis of designing the urban landscape of Paju Book City in Korea.

Although it is intentionally not designed for any specific function, this little tower has many uses and meanings.

The extensive floor plate (approx. 1400m2), has been liberated by moving the existing service core that was located directly in front of the main lift and staircase lobby, to a position along the north wall of the building.

This is the third building in the cluster of three cultural buildings designed by ARU along the Bookmakers Street, Paju Book City in South Korea.

ARU’s Translations is the first event of the exhibition series called ‘Spatial Positions’ beginning at the Swiss Architecture Museum, Basel in May.

Book by Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, with contributions by Dominique Boudet (Consultant Editor), photo essay by Kang Woon-gu, and conversation with Ellis Woodman.

An architectural design laboratory in The Cass, pioneers of 'design as research', lead by Florian Beigel and Philip Christou. ARU is an architectural design laboratory primarily concerned with the exploration of ideas about space.

This exhibition is presenting three architectural projects each typologically situated between Landscape and City.

ARU was selected as one of seven international design teams to make an urban design proposal for a new city, on the basis of designing the urban landscape of Paju Book City in Korea.

Although it is intentionally not designed for any specific function, this little tower has many uses and meanings.

The extensive floor plate (approx. 1400m2), has been liberated by moving the existing service core that was located directly in front of the main lift and staircase lobby, to a position along the north wall of the building.

This is the third building in the cluster of three cultural buildings designed by ARU along the Bookmakers Street, Paju Book City in South Korea.

ARU’s Translations is the first event of the exhibition series called ‘Spatial Positions’ beginning at the Swiss Architecture Museum, Basel in May.

ARU related content

Philip Christou

Teaches on Professional Diploma in Architecture - RIBA Parts 1 & 2

Professor Florian Beigel

Teaches on Professional Diploma in Architecture - RIBA 1 & 2

Studio 1

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