MUSEUM1 | Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
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MUSEUM 1_Beyond Time Leeum

MUSEUM 1_Beyond Time

Honorable geometry which symbolizes the power and roots of tradition

Mario Botta, who emphasized that museum architecture should stimulate sanctity and consecration in the way that church architecture used to do, employed this philosophy in designing MUSEUM 1.

MUSEUM 1 is a massive yet minimal hexahedral shape and is located on the slope of the Namsan with a view of the Hangang. An extremely simple hexahedral shape and reverse cone is a symbol of Mario Botta’s architecture. The large hexahedral shape that guards the Namsan, and a reversed-corn shape that is planted on the ground that crosses the southern path, together form a simple combination of volumes. The building’s skyline resembles the battlements of medieval castles. The trees on the rooftop of the building are a dynamic nuance suggesting war flags, such as on a citadel. Such elements of the building, which indicate Seoul’s legacy as a castled town, place the overall image of the complex somewhere between Rem KoolHaas’s horizontal platform (Samsung Child Education & Culture Center)and Jean Nouvel’s bulky mass, which begets the image of a hermit.

MUSEUM 1’s solid shape invokes a citadel or castle that protects the unchanging value of traditional and contemporary art. In particular, terra cotta bricks on the exterior wall, made of fired clay, symbolize Korean porcelain, which has been internationally acclaimed. These bald, geometric shapes and invincible exterior walls contribute to The Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art’s overall powerful image, displaying the power of tradition.

Architects - Mario Botta
Ground area - 2,333㎡
Foor area - 9,850㎡
Scale - F4, B3

Architect Tour

Materials of architectures

Terra cotta wall, with a subtle lighting contrast and a soft texture.

MUSEUM 1’s two masses of a reverse cone and a hexahedron are connected by a horizontal terra cotta belt.
Terra cotta bricks, made from clay, create a mysterious and delicate nuance in the natural light.
Smooth changes of colors, by tiles and light, soften the heaviness of the two bulky masses.
Furthermore, terra cotta bricks indicate that Korean porcelain, which is the subject of a major collection in MUSEUM 1, is made of the earth’s clay.


The heart of The Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, The Lobby of MUSEUM 1.

MUSEUM 1’s lobby, which is located in the basement of a mass of the reverse cone, is the heart of The Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art.
MUSEUM 1 and 2, and Samsung Child Education & Culture Center, are connected from the lobby; every activity starts and ends here.
The lobby leads audiences to the ramp at the center of Rem Koolhaas’s Samsung Child Education & Culture Center. The aisle of this ramp is Leeum’s first public gateway.


A comfortable and mysterious space in the lay of light from the ceiling.

MUSEUM 1’s reverse cone mass is “a circular hall with a round ceiling (Rotunda)” and is connected from the lobby in the basement to the ceiling.
The circular void space allows audiences to enjoy the full view—from the lobby to the upper floors—at one glance.
Moreover, the circular staircase, which winds above a circular void space, connects exhibition rooms in four floors.
The ceiling of the rotunda naturally connects inner spaces by delivering soft light to the basement lobby, where audiences are, and also provides an open space between exhibition rooms.
The rotunda, which absorbs soft natural light, allows audiences a unique experience that cannot be enjoyed under artificial lighting.

Exhibition Space

Exhibition spaces and cases, which reflect two individually characteristic shapes

MUSEUM 1’s exhibition spaces largely consist of hexahedral exhibition rooms, while the reverse cone exhibition rooms around the rotunda have no pillar inside.
Exhibition cases were manufactured by the collaboration with an internationally renowned German exhibition case maker company Glasbau Hahn, and were produced in two separate designs: full-height fixed cases which were installed on the walls of the hexahedral exhibition rooms; and square-shaped independent cases which were placed in circular exhibition rooms.
Above everything, individual cases in circular exhibition rooms were anchored on the ceiling to give the illusion of drifting in space.

Mario Botta

Modern architectural language from the classical architecture, Mario Botta

image of Mario Botta

"Someone in the city will be mesmerized by Leeum’s mysterious charm and will come in."

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Mario Botta was born in Mendrisio-Ticino, Switzerland in 1943, worked mainly in the Ticino area, and has since gained a world-wide reputation by strongly expressing a local identity.

"Architecture is the mother of all kinds of art."

After studying architecture in Milan and Venice, Italy, he gained experience at Le Corbbusier’s and Louis Kahn’s architecture firm, also learning from an Italian architect, Carlo Scarpa. Since then, he has opened and been working at his own office (Mario Botta Architetto) located in the central city of Ticino, Lugano. The structures in Ticino that Botta has designed since the 1980s have attracted the attention of the world, which has presented him with awards and fame.

Botta has designed a number of museums, recently attracting the world’s attention, including the Durenmatt Memorial Hall in Neufchatel, Switzerland, the Jean Tinguely Gallery in Basel, the Wata Leeum Gallery in Tokyo, Japan, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in San Francisco, USA.
As seen from his model for San Carlo Church, which celebrated the 400th year of Borromini’s birth at Lugano lake in 1999, Mario Botta’s architecture has its roots in classical European architecture, and is particularly deep in the tradition of the Romanesque church. He is interested in using materials from the nature of a region – unchanging materials like stones and soil – and in the dramatic effect of light on architecture. He reinterprets the tradition of a region in a modern way, through his structures, and expresses it through a solid sense of weight and intense geometric shapes.

he following ideas of Mario Botta shows us well why he is so seriously inquisitive into the reinterpretation of tradition and the sublime beauty of architecture.

"Good architecture helps us realize the problems of modern times and is a tool with which we can resist the degradation into staleness of our times. Architecture easily outlives human beings. It is a rare human action which is the yardstick measuring the sensitivity and sensibility of our times, while simultaneously witnessing our past."

Interview with the architect

Architect Interview

Mario Botta

This building is designed for a ceramic museum.
I wanted to create a mysterious form like an enlarged ceramic vessel, which will attract people with its wonderful shape, inviting them to enter.

Your architecture is characterized with unique geometric shapes and the use of natural materials such as bricks.
What meaning do those elements have?

Pure geometry has the merit that it can be interpreted simply.

A simple form is delivered to people directly, so they can accept it easily. Also, the reason why classical and traditional materials display global images is because they overcome the level of geometry or time and convey meaning to everyone directly.
What I consider first when designing a structure is if it belongs to the basics of geometry, if it’s natural, if humans and space want it, etc. The choice of structure of natural materials like bricks and stones are not just natural for the sake of it, but because they are wanted, instinctively, by humans. I believe this human instinct becomes the base which assigns value to the form and materials.

What is the design concept of MUSEUM 1? Please focus on its arrangement and shape, and your interpretation of light.

MUSEUM 1 of Leeum is a space created in mind of a ceramic museum.

When I first saw Korean ceramics, I was deeply impressed by its purity and modernity. Many of the works had a modern image like Picasso’s. Yet, their beauty was penetrated by neo-classicism. Neo-classicism is full of antiquity. This feeling is reflected greatly in my general plan. When I arranged it, I focused on the fact that it’s a structure on a hill. I had this building include a very closed shape and let people know that a major activity is happening under the ground. I created a mysterious shape like a gigantic ceramic vase so that someone may pass the city and be attracted to this mysterious figure and then enter the gallery. I had trees planted on top and appear like flags so that the leaves swaying in the wind and reflecting light can catch people’s eyes. Light is the basic element of a space. When I design, I try to use natural light inside a space.
In the case of Leeum, intense light, like the focal point of a lens, was put at the center of MUSEUM 1. It plays the role of connecting the surface at the center of the museum and the sky. Very strong light shines intensely. Mild light shines on the space for visitors’ movement and stronger light on the displayed works.
I can put it this way: nature, for humans drawn to this museum, is harmonized with the light drawn from the work.

Would you please explain the characteristics of MUSEUM 1 through your ideas on galleries or museums?

IIn galleries or museums, there are two spaces which should co-exist.

The first space is the one for the audience. Audiences should be able to feel that they are heroes/heroines themselves and recognize the location, light, and flow of movement across a space. The second is the space where a work becomes the main focus. Here, the building disappears and the work leaves a message. That is to say, one is a joint space for humans and the other is an internal and secretive space where an artist speaks to an audience. Leeum is small but very valuable.
We let audiences see the artworks in various ways. We considered not only the space between their eyes and the work, but also the works being displayed and their flow of movement – because they also move to another space. Audiences can see diverse works from a different spot. Display windows are connected to the surface and help people appreciate the art. They are also installed at different angles and spots so people can see or read them while moving along with the flow of human traffic. A museum or a gallery is a place for exchange, and an internal space. It has a value and message more worthwhile than what most people think. It’s a kind of temple delivering an opinion to humans. A museum helps audiences escape from their daily life and gives them a message, like a gift.
Also, it’s the place to pray in. For me, Leeum was an important experience and I quite enjoyed working on it. I had to find the moments of silence, peace, and tranquility in the chaos of today’s cities.

How can we explain the features of Leeum from the urban context of Seoul?

Urban engineering forms a space for the betterment of humanity.

It’s the mirror reflecting the history of a society. Seoul has been growing very fast. It’s the place where the trends of the recent 30 to 40 years are integrated best. There is not only positive energy, however, but some contradictions.
I’m often surprised at the tension and the strong energy in Seoul. The streets, where people are running are full of life and the environment of communities is very impressive. Yet, the hill where Leeum is located is a bit different from other areas. The skyline on the top of MUSEUM 1 demonstrates that. It marks that this is not a residential place but a gallery or a kind of public facility. Its unique look creates a mysterious impression. This signal attracts people. It creates an illusion that something mysterious will happen in it. However, the basic form lies under the ground. The center of geometric pressure lies under the surface. From the viewpoint of Leeum’s topography, both Nouvelle’s and Koolhaas’s boundary structure of galleries are in the process of becoming cultural heritage. I believe it will be a cultural and academic witness to Korean history.

Please tell me about your philosophy of architecture.

It’s very difficult and complex to arrive at a conclusion in philosophy, as I think architecture is a witness of the times.

An architect’s duty is to accept opposite opinions and find a testimony. I think architecture is the first impression of humans. Humans have to build their living space first. This space cannot exist just mechanically and functionally.
What is symbolic, metaphorical, and memorable should fit our times. Architecture also reveals an architect’s very life. So it becomes the testimony of an era for the next generation. I believe architecture is philosophical rather than aesthetic. In that respect, I hope many young people will be interested in Leeum, and in the ceramic works expressing our humanity.
I think we’re successful if young people come to Leeum.