A new public realm

Arcloud is a large mixed-use development located at the foot of the Geomdansan mountain on the eastern edge of Seoul. The entire development – a mix of larger housing blocks, single family units, commercial, recreational, and educational facilities – is physically tied together by a string of large green parks, a green corridor that encircles and interlaces the site. The Arcloud shopping mall, its name somewhat deceiving, since it encompasses much more, is a modern hybrid city block, a stacked city that combines retail, housing, public facilities, underground parking, rooftop parks and a central plaza- aiming to become the lively centre of this new Seoul residential area.

Green community hub

When Carve was asked to design a green play and community plaza for the shopping mall, they soon realised that they should take the space for what it really is. They resisted the temptation to view it as a piece of nature within the shopping mall. Rather they saw it as a green urban central park plaza, serving the entire community. A unique space, conveniently located at the intersection of a network of green parks that surround and connect the whole new development. A new public realm that is inviting to all users, an attractive place that enables multiple ways of engagement: to take a break from daily routine, to spend time with friends and family, to socialize and to be enticed to go shopping. And as a bonus, it will attract new and reoccurring visits to the shopping mall.

A stacked city

The public plazas of the mall are located on street level, directly linked to the surrounding green corridor, offering easy uninterrupted pedestrian access from all sides. A surprising and welcoming exception in a city that is dominated by cars. Retail units and other public functions are placed around the plaza at different floor levels. The first floor is connected by series of stairs and escalators, while the main access to the lower level and the car park is organised via a large transparent atrium.

The lay-out of the public space, with direct horizontal and vertical access to a wide variety of functions, creates the experience of being in a dynamic, vertically stacked city. They counterbalanced this urban richness and density by introducing a softer layer that pays homage to the landscape and culture of Seoul. The hills and mountains of Seoul dominate the city, both in a geographical as in a cultural sense. They envisioned part of the plazas to have a similar green and rolling quality.

Three central core

The continuation of the surrounding landscape is brought into detail through the uses of plant and tree species found in the surrounding landscape, connecting the soft landscape back to the broader context. The local landscape story is shown in the public space greenery and materials from the direct surroundings.

The strategically placed hills – green knolls of lush indigenous perennials, shrubs, ornamental grasses and tall pine trees- form a rolling landscape and help frame and organise the entire space. They create two distinct plazas – one dedicated to play and the other for events – whilst respecting the need for clear sight lines and accessibility to the adjacent retail units. The third main public space is the atrium. Originally intended merely as a circulation space, they programmed and designed it as a place to spend time. The elevated floor in the atrium is part stairs, part performance stage or cinema and part playground.

Play and community plaza

In line with the brief, they envisioned the plazas of the mall to be the new public realm for the Arcloud community: attractive and inviting spaces, aimed at celebrating the constantly changing rhythm of daily life. The mall’s atmosphere is diverse, with a wide variety of spaces and activities and with noticeable changes during the day and the seasons.

The community plaza is surrounded by a landscape of green rolling hills. This simple gesture creates an open multifunctional event space, with a centre stage that can be used for performances, while the surrounding bowl-like surface can be filled with water, to be used as splash pool in summer.

Graphic paving design

A distinct floor pattern, inspired by the vernacular Korean wrapping cloth and art form Bojagi, contrasts with the softer hills and visually links the three main public zones. The strong graphic lines of the Bojagi pattern are integrated in the paving design making it appealing and together playful.

Arcloud: an interlinking and interactive sculpture

Floating above this varied public landscape, and at some points touching it, they conceived a lightweight and cloud-like structure connecting the main functional cores of the public space. It is a transparent, playable and interactive sculpture that will attract and engage visitors during both day and night-time, as it integrates an atmospheric lighting system.

The structure visually links multiple levels and is accessible from different floors of the shopping mall. It is a sculpture – amorphous on the outside, geometric on the inside – that connects people, places and activities. Rising from the atrium, it stretches outside the glass walls, going towards the two main plazas: it interlinks these areas while keeping one strong identity.

A part of the sculpture is accessible as play zone: from the parking level in the atrium children can climb up inside the structure using various climbing elements and relax on a suspended lounge net. This attraction makes the atrium much more than just a circulation space. In the Play Plaza, the cloud sculpture is supported by two large play towers. The two towers are interlinked via a routing through the sculpture, at approximately seven metres above the floor below. Children can climb up, find their way through the cloud and slide all the way down around the play tower on the other side.

The idea for the sculpture “floating” through the mall’s public space was developed from the client’s vast set of demands and functions to be hosted: ranging from a playground, a shading system and the idea to develop an outstanding unique element, while maintaining shop facade visibility.

Since the early stages of the design process, they went for the idea of rising one strong shape that could hold and tie together all the demands, instead of designing solitary solutions for each space.

The Arcloud has the appearance of a floating, amorphous sculpture even though it is built using a geometric construction, able to self-support on long spans. This structure has a great potential: It can be the perfect setting and carrier grid of an art installation or for an outdoor performance, involving light spectacle and even projections.

Seoul as metaphor

It is hard to pinpoint the essence of Seoul in a single work or even a sentence. It truly is a multi-layered and multi-faceted metropolis, simultaneously steeped in tradition and future oriented, densely populated but still reasonably green; its inhabitants as car loving as they are outdoorsy, and its geography varied, from the flatlands along the plains of the river Han to the rolling hills and mountains that surround the city. They took all these notions and observations into consideration when designing the play and community plazas, ensuring they created a public area – a neighbourhood hub – that would celebrate daily life, therefore echoing, and be as rich, layered and dynamic as the city of Seoul itself.

Project details

Design: Carve
Project Location: Hanam, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea
Typology: Public plaza, play zone
Design year: 2020
Built: 2023
Collaborators: Studio BLAD (landscape architecture), Walter Ryu, INPACT
Photo credits: © Hyeji Na (Daewoo), KakaoTalk



Carve is a design and engineering bureau that focuses on the planning and development of public space, particularly for use by children and young people. The ideas are translated to playable public spaces, parks, play elements and furniture. Carve has years of experience in designing skateparks and unconventional public spaces aiming at youth. Clients are local governments, architects, landscape architects and manufacturers of playground equipment. Since the establishment of the office in 1997 by Elger Blitz and Mark van der Eng the office has grown into a company with many employees. Carve is an office in which several design disciplines meet, from industrial design to civil engineering, architecture and landscape architecture.