|The couple's house is close to the old Seoul City Wall near Dongdaemun in Seoul. /Courtesy of Choi Min-wook|
Thirty three square meters of land doesn't seem big enough to build a house on. But architect and educator Choi Min-wook designed a five-story residential building for himself, his wife and their cat on a tiny plot of land in the heart of Seoul.
The couple settled there in March last year.
|Choi Min-wook, right, with his wife Jayne Jeong pose with their cat, Conti, for a photo during an interview with The Korea Times on Monday. /Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong|
This year, their house won the best architecture award conferred by the Seoul Metropolitan Government.
The Korea Times visited the couple's home to talk about their experience.
The tall tiny house sits on top of a hill next to the old Seoul wall close to Dongdaemun. One side of the building faces the wall and wide glass windows offer a panoramic view of both the wall and the nearby park.
"Everything came together, I think. We were planning to get married and needed a place to stay," Choi said as to what motivated them. "I had a long interest in building small houses and we thought of one for ourselves."
There was also another factor.
"We have a good friend who is living under huge financial pressure after buying an apartment with a big mortgage. Looking at him, we figured there would be no life under the same kind of pressure. We weren't sure if we could live like that. We decided to find our own solution."
They set out to look for a small area of land within their budget. They had one important demand in selecting the land: having greenery in the neighborhood. The current location offered the best option.
The couple initially wanted to have space on the roof where they could enjoy the sun, but it wasn't possible because the city government had construction restrictions in place near historic sites. The couple also had to follow the city government's regulation for the structure to be white.
Construction started in March 2018 and progress was slow.
"Because it was a small project, the construction company didn't care so much about our house. I had to pressure my husband to call them," Cho's wife Jayne Jeong said. It took one year to finish the construction.
Each of the house's five floors were conceptualized to have a unique purpose: The first floor for parking, the second floor for reading, the third floor for cooking and dining, the fourth floor for sleeping and the fifth for bathing.
The building made them local celebrities. A local TV station featured their house on a show and local newspaper journalists wrote stories about it. A New Zealand news media outlet also ran a story about their building.
"Neighbors say the area has become younger and more vibrant thanks to us. They see their neighborhood on TV and more people visiting the area. They like having us here," Choi said, adding that he also received lots of positive feedback on the internet. "Many sent us support. Some applauded us for the initiative and wished us good luck."
However, some criticized the design saying that all the stair climbing would be inconvenient.
"We were surprised by the negative feedback. We were sad to learn that many people judged our home in reflection of their own situation," the wife said. "This house offered a solution to us, not them, and I don't think they are in a position to make any judgment."
Nevertheless, the tiny house gives hope to those struggling to find a sliver of space to live in the densely populated city of Seoul.
"I think the city gave us the award for providing a solution." Choi said.
Skyrocketing housing prices in Seoul have made owning a home a distant dream for many people.
According to recent news reports, apartment prices in Seoul have reached an average of 1 billion won ($844,800).
"Having your own house for 300 million won is not considered possible in Seoul," Choi said. Choi spent 100 million won on purchasing the land and just under 200 million won on construction.
The tall tiny house represents an alternative to the common apartment buildings which account for 90 percent of housing in the capital. According to 2019 statistics, of the 2.95 million registered dwellings only 315,566 were detached houses.
Choi, who now specializes in designing small houses, is running his own architecture business. He said that when he was designing his family home, tiny houses were not so common in Seoul but these days more and more are popping up. He is currently working on two small house projects.
To see more pictures of the house, please visit www.smallerarchitects.com