Mimesis Museum by Álvaro Siza,
Carlos Castanheira and Jun Sung Kim


Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

Portuguese photographer Fernando Guerra has sent us his photographs of this museum for modern art in South Korea by architects Álvaro Siza, Carlos Castanheira and Jun Sung Kim.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

Mimesis Museum has a flowing concrete form that wraps around a central courtyard, and was inspired by a sketch of a cat that Siza drew upon arriving at the site.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

The three-storey building has services in the basement,  gallery spaces and reception on the ground floor overlooked by a mezzanine with a cafe and staff area, while the first floor is entirely gallery space.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

The interior has whitewashed walls and ceilings, and marble and timber floors on the ground and first floor respectively.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

The exterior is pale grey concrete punctuated by steel-framed windows.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

All photographs are by Fernando Guerra.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

Here's some more from the architect:

Mimesis Museum, Paju Book City, South Korea (2006 - )

A cat has become a museum.

There once was a chinese emperor who liked cats a lot, and one day he called upon the most famous painter in the Empire and asked him to paint him a cat. The artist liked the idea and promised that he would work on it. A year passed and the Emperor remembered that the painter still had not given him the painting of the cat.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

He called him: What of the cat? It is nearly ready, answered the artist. Another year went by, and another and another. The scene kept repeating itself. After seven years, the Emperor’s patience came to an end and he sent for the painter. What of the cat? Seven years have gone by.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

You have promised and promised but I still haven’t seen one! The painter grabs a sheet of rice paper, an ink well, one of those brushes like you can only get in the East and… in an elegant and sublime gesture he draws a cat, which was not just a cat but only the most beautiful cat ever seen.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

The Emperor was ecstatic, overwhelmed with such beauty. He did not neglect (which is no longer the case nowadays) to ask the artist how much he would charge for such beautiful drawing. The painter asked for a sum which surprised the Emperor. So much money for a drawing that you did in two seconds, in front of me? said the Emperor.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

Yes Excellency, that is true, but I have been drawing cats for seven years now, replied the poor painter. The project for the Museum Mimesis, already under construction in the new town of Paju Book City in South Korea, is a cat. The client didn’t have to wait for seven years for his drawing of a cat, but Álvaro Siza has been drawing cats for over seven years now. He has never seen a Korean cat, because he has never been there.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

In one day I briefed him on the site, and brought along a small site model, showing the boundaries and the immediate context. In one single gesture, a cat was drawn. The Mimesis is a cat. A cat, all curled up and also open, that stretches and yawns. It’s all there. All you need to do is look and look again.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

At first the design team members could not understand how that sketch of a cat could be a building. I have in my days seen many sketches of cats, and am always overwhelmed by them, can’t get tired of them. I want to see more cats, more sketches of cats, for several seven years have gone by. In architecture, after an initial sketch comes the torment.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

The initial design, models, drawings, corrections to these, doubts, new drawings, new models, a presentation to the client, who had already seen other projects but could not conceal his surprise at this one. Once approved, we progressed the project on through the usual steps, which in Korea are shorter and less bureaucratic. The brief has not been altered, but it is necessary to make some adjustments as part of the evolution process.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

To think of materials, techniques, infra-structure, representational conventions, so that everyone understands, in an attempt to make everything work out. In the basement we will have the archives, the service area, maybe an extension to the exhibition area, as is becoming a habit in museums designed by Álvaro Siza. The ground floor is a space for arrival and distribution, areas for temporary exhibitions and a café/restaurant with all necessary back up.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

Administration areas, staff circulation, area for the administrative archive and staff toilets are located in the mezzanines. The top floor is for exhibition space. Light, always light, so carefully studied. Both natural and artificial is seen as essential.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

Allowing to see without being seen. Models and more models were constructed, some of which you could enter into.Also 3D images. Form will be given by cast concrete, light grey, the colour of a cat.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

Inside, the white of the walls and ceilings, of the marble, which we hope will be from Estremoz and also the honey colour of Oak. Timber for the internal frames, and glass. As for the external windows, timber, painted steel and crystalline glass.

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

Project: Mimesis Museum
Client: Open Books Publishing Co.
Location: South Korea, Paju Book City
Design Period: 01.2006 / 09.2007
Construction Period: 10.2007 /

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

Architects: Álvaro Siza with Carlos Castanheira and Jun Sung Kim
Project Coordinator: Dalila Gomes
Construction Coordinator: Young-il Park
Collaborators: Chungheon Han; João Figueiredo (3D)
Structure: Gayoon ENC, Jungang Constructural Engineering Consultant

Mimesis Museum Álvaro Siza

Mechanical Installations: Hansan Engineering Co.
Electricity: Jung-Myoung Engeneering Group Co.
Construction Company: Hanool Construction Co.
Model: Álvaro Negrelo
Photography: Fernando Guerra - FG+SG Fotografia de Arquitectura

See also:


NE apartment
by Yuji Nakae
National Museum
by Zaha Hadid
architecture stories

Posted on Thursday September 2nd 2010 at 12:17 am by Joe Mills. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • frompaulowithlove

    a cat becomes a museum???

  • john b

    Where'd they hide all the sprinklers? Amazing ceilings.

  • win


  • win

    i meant the photos and the building… not so much the cat bit.

  • antepostnow

    where volumes compete with the art there is no space – a wonderful sculpture on the outside and an act too much on the inside.

  • Miguel

    As an argument (the cat) it is a pretty absurd metaphor. Empty conventional beauty.

  • arquiteto

    the cat is grey.

    cats dont like water.
    cats dont like sprinklers…

    if the sprinkler were a splinter…
    it would be a big talking rat.

    but not a white rat.

  • The interior lighting has been used to good effect. It brings a “lightness” to an otherwise solid and heavy looking building.

    Well done.

  • mmm

    that's a sexy little cat

  • edward

    I like the severity of the volumes. There is little that is extraneous.

  • Lian Cronje

    Inspiring and beautiful!!.. Alvaro Siza, you're great!!

  • resolve-ution

    these photos are soooo tiny; they are hard to see on a monitor that wasn't made with a resolution before the year 2000….

  • Mr George String

    a shrine for a cat … I approve …. beautiful and so pure ..

    It 's a yes from me ..

  • kolohe

    never ceases to amaze me.

  • angel of beats

    Floor plans?? Sections?? anyway i like the position and the dimensions of the main facade openings. Adequate. Even in these small photos they give you a good perspective of the scale of the building.

  • "He has never seen a Korean cat, because he has never been there."

    This is not true. Alvaro Siza has been Korea at least once. Because I participated his lecture and took some pictures in Seoul Korea. He came to Korea for another project which is now uncertain to be built.
    And even though it is an elegant metaphor, I think the 'cat' no longer matters. What matters is the building itself!@@

  • good old alvaro

  • maya
  • marie_jeanne

    Why take breath as heaviness of concrete?…

  • chapmaniac

    Please publish a plan, I have to see a plan, NOW!

  • Peter

    For me, the best museum by Siza is the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Galicia… the master of section-!

  • dutilleul

    Congratulations to South Korea!!! Another powerful reason to visit it.