Seoul, South Korea
6,400 SQM

International Design Competition Finalist (3rd Place)

The camera is, by definition, a space. Through its circular lens, a framed reality is projected onto a rectilinear medium – a dark room. In the same way, our proposal, like the photographers tool is a vessel that frames and captures our material world. Formally and poetically, the building is the camera. Camera Obscura is a building that is both sculpture and precision. Between the laws of physics which govern the form of the camera, and the enigma of human artistry, this building will allow for the framing, filtering, and projection of fine photographic art.

Exterior Rendering

Morphology Diagram

The building form is derived from a series of elemental moves, beginning with the maximum extrusion. The elliptical form of the adjacent Robot Science Museum strongly impacts the building, resulting in a dramatic sweeping curve. The building mass is carved at the public and service entry points. The southeast corner is lifted to increase connectivity at the ground plane. Finally, the path of the sun, as well as the key sightlines, result in a new apertures that further connect the Museum to its surrounding environment.

Urban Context Diagram


Exterior Circulation Diagram

The Seoul Photographic Art Museum will be a place of arts, culture, and discovery for Chang-dong Sanggye City and beyond. As such, it considers the wider scale of connectivity to the Seoul Metropolitan Region by virtue of nearby Chang-dong station. Complementary cultural facilities, as well as the Seoul Arena Theatre, will bring many to this site. The building promotes fluid pedestrian movement at the ground plane, and a smooth transition between the Seoul Photographic Art Museum and its immediate neighbours, creating significant public green space in-between.

Master Plan

The visitor circulation experience is a principle influence on the interior. Simple spherical subtractions form unique spaces within. As a central feature, a sculptural stair distributes to the Exhibition spaces above, themselves pure rectangular spaces that offer maximum functionality and flexibility for curation. This sculpted and dynamic movement also continues in the exterior stair to the roof terrace. The public atrium is a sun-filled and animated space, with a sculptural staircase at its terminus. Natural light and greenery contribute to its uplifting yet calm atmosphere.

Main Lobby

Museum Circulation

Education Circulation

Staff Circulation

This sculptural stair is the central spine of circulation that connects directly and seamlessly to all Exhibition and Educational programming of the Museum. Staff circulation works independently of public circulation, in a manner which is highly efficient in its support of public programming. The impact of the sculptural stair is pronounced. Efficiently stacked program maximize the size and impact of this Atrium space, and render it the ‘nerve centre’ of the project.

South & West Section

South & West Section

Gallery View

All the exhibition rooms should be as flexible as possible, to allow for the free curation of work, and for the greatest possible control of the spatial and lighting characteristics of specific exhibitions. These spaces are of pure volume and clean lines, where the pleasure and provocations of photographic arts can play out. 
Lighting will play a big role in maximizing flexibility for curation purposes. The ceiling plane is a source of uniform ambient lighting, as well as precision spotlighting.
The system is flexible, wireless, and offers digital control of colouration and dimness. Reflectivity of convex surfaces evenly distribute light.


As a transition from the monolithic appearance of the Museum, the building reveals its dynamic and uplifting form. Its presence is heightened by sharply converging lines, while its fluid interior welcomes and draws in visitors. The overall presence of Camera Obscura is both foundational and innovative. It establishes a new cultural hub for Chang-dong-Sanggye City. Its physical presence is solid yet porous, calibrated yet expressive, monumental yet embracing.

Project Credits:

Lead Design Architect – AXIA Design Associates
Architect-of-Record – SEOINN Design Group (Seoul, South Korea)

Project Team:
Taymoore Balbaa, Chris Wong, Leisdania Reynoso, Michael Good, Justine Houseley, Eric Reid (Architectural Renderings), Emma Kulcsar (Diagrams)