Role of Design: Assist Co-existence of People / Environment / Technology

The Seoul Design International Forum 2023 has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

Session 1. The City of Today: Urban Design Strategies for Seoul as an Inclusive City

Role of Design: Assist Co-existence of People / Environment / Technology

CHOI SO-HYUN, Head of Naver Design & Marketing

I am Choi So-hyun, and I am in charge of design and marketing, and space and architecture at Naver. After hearing the presentation of the two previous speakers, Thomas Heatherwick and Shigeru Ban, I could also feel the excitement and tremor as a designer. I would like to talk about the theme of ‘Design that aids in coexistence of people, environment and technology’. I am confident that instead of being fearful of technology we can use technology to resolve the issues that we are facing and design can also play a critical role in a rapidly changing society. I hope you will think about what sort of work you do and the perspective you have as you sit here. You are here as urban planners but you are also probably here as residents of the city. Why don’t we think about how you want to live? I think you may find different answers depending on the individual contexts. Let me continue my talk with these questions in mind. Now, I will introduce you to various spaces of Naver. I hope that these various spaces of Naver will be a clue or a solution when you are looking for your own answers in your respective places. 

Spaces of Naver

At Naver, Space is transcending the concept of physical space, where people simply gather together, to act as a venue that embodies the corporate culture and direction, where employees can experience things. Naver is a tech company with various services and technologies. Therefore, when we are creating space, we look deeply into the needs of the users and operational data as if we are designing a UX. As a result of implementing space that encompasses the way of working, the fundamental of the business and organizational culture, as we can see, we already have six different areas. Let me go through them one by one, from data centers that were made with a sense of a mission to training institutes that help employees to be immersed in what they do and relax, in addition to everyday work spaces.

Two data centers, GAK Sejong and GAK Chuncheon

First is the story about data centers. Naver is a company that values the social duty to protect the sovereignty of data. What is data? From the early stage of establishment, Naver was strongly confident that it should have a domestic element on top of the global search engine to be able to protect individual thoughts and diversity. In addition, Naver wanted to be able to pass on our data to the next generation. The spaces aimed towards this is ‘GAK Sejong’ and ‘GAK Chuncheon’. It has been 10 years already since GAK Chuncheon was built. GAK Sejong will be opening soon. Where did the name of GAK come from? 

It is named after Janggyeong Gak that protected the Triptaka Koreana. It is a representation that shows how important it is to keep a record from a long-term perspective that connects the past, present and the future. Janggyeong Gak stored the Triptaka Koreana using the unique nature of the environment and the construction materials, and it is a space with zero energy. We thought deeply about how to instill such wisdom of our predecessors in each datacenter GAKs. Our GAK is one that protects the data of various users and also the data of corporations. If so, how should we be using them? We thought a lot about the layout of the building and ways to use wind and light in addition to the discovery of safe stratum and implementation of the environment that can run rigidly even amidst various climate change situations. We were also the first data center to receive the LEED platinum certification in the world. As I said previously, GAK Chuncheon not only implements various technology for quick and stable service but is also maintaining eco-friendliness at a global level. Furthermore, GAK Sejong that will open in November of this year is the largest data center at a single company level in Asia. It has more than 6 times the capacity of GAK Chuncheon, and it aims to act as the brain center that goes beyond data preservation to create the future. 

Architecture of GAK Sejong is the convergence point of advanced technology and wisdom of nature. Geotechnical analysis was carried out to figure out the layout of the electrical room and server building, and the natural wind blowing from the base of Buyong Mountain was used to cool the server. You probably saw spaces using natural wind in the previous keynote speech. We thought deeply about how to embody natural wisdom in space. We also recovered different types of grass that used to grow at the base of Buyong Mountain, and we attempted this because it can be recovered naturally without requiring any special type of technology or energy.  


Naver training institute, ‘Connect One’ and Tokyo basecamp

Next is the training institute. It is located right next to GAK Chuncheon that I just introduced. Connect One helps employee become immersed and relaxed. This place does not only have grand architecture but also a remarkable natural landscape. Many employees who visit the space enjoy a good time here because we took great care into every single component of the space and the natural landscape. I also visit the place once or twice a month, and it has an orchard and a really great trail in particular. 

Therefore, I am always grateful that I can experience the changes of the four seasons in such a space. It has been more than 10 years since the training institute was built, and instead of feeling that it has become old, it feels as if it is aging well with nature. The name, ‘Connect One’, was taken after the meaning of a lecture hall where the scholars of the past explored, the nature and the value of Naver that ‘connects people and people, and time and space’. Three buildings are organically connected. Generally, training institutes consist of many spaces that convey messages unilaterally. Connect One hoped that employees would create new values by immersing themselves and relaxing while also having many discussions instead of having unilateral communications. Initial planning materials revealed many scenarios. We predicted scenarios about the appearances and the experiences that each employee would go through with the passing of the time and the passing of the four seasons, and it seems that they are all coming true.  

All accommodations are configured as single person rooms. This is surprising considering that it was ten years ago. I think it might have been a unique attempt then. This is a small space where the occupant can rest well, eat well and stay comfortably, and it is continuously filled and emptied. I really like the mattress here. Personally, I sleep very well here. This was the amount of detail that we looked into, and as for meals, we are providing healthy food through diet that allows us to coexist with the local region and food ingredients that were grown in the vegetable garden of Connect One. Tokyo basecamp is a space for employees on business trips and also a place that can be applied to by people working in Korea. There is always a line for the applicants that we have to draw a lottery, and the winners are so satisfied that they say that they must’ve saved a country in their past life when their name gets drawn.  

Workspace of Naver

Let us move to the everyday workspace. First is Naver’s first building, Green Factory. Many people visited this place because of the library that used to exist here. The branding was based on the consistent concept of ‘green’ in both online and offline spaces. It is currently going through a renovation so that the space can stay as a healthier place for a longer period of time. Previously, we heard about how we can throw less out and create a space to recover more, and we are trying to achieve that at Green Factory. We considered the environment from the design phase to have thoughtful designs from heat blocking to LED lights and even recycling rainwater, as it is the case for all spaces of Naver. This also received LEED platinum. We configured the space programs in line with characteristics of various employees and the working circumstances of the time. Naver was one company with various services when Green Factory was built, but these services grew and evolved gradually so that independent offices grew to become huge teams. We call ourselves ‘Team Naver’. Next, I will explain about the new platform of Team Naver, 1784. 

네이버 1784

Naver 1784

Naver 1784 is a tech convergence space that was established after pondering about how to break away from the image of green for ‘Naver’ to show its role as the next Naver platform. We wanted it to be a space where the employees could continue to take on challenges. The concept was grand but we had a task to solve and we questioned ourselves, ‘Can such a big building act as a testbed?’. As I am working, I am evolving and changing every day. I think I can tell you that 1784 represents ‘tech convergence’ to converge tech and design of Naver and it is also a ‘testbed’. 

1784 is the name of this place and also the year when industrial revolution started. We are hoping that values would be created here in the same manner that civilization and culture changed. Advancement of technology is not only putting pressure on Naver designers but also widening the scope of activities. Designers can go beyond the PC and mobile world to create the possibility of newly connecting spatial information, people and machine through smart buildings, robots, autonomous driving and so forth in the physical world. I told you that Naver is where tech and design are converged. Technology is more effective when it is connected through various points rather than existing alone. Space, technology, people and robot were closely connected and converged, and we made many attempts so that these did not stay only within the R&D centers but were also incorporated into daily lives. In Naver 1784, where there are limitless challenges every day, there are various technologies such as facial recognition devices, robot delivery and non-face-to-face order system. Building infrastructure is robot friendly. Robot services are people friendly. It means that it is for everyone. All services and infrastructure were also made through our own technology and design collaboration. 

The entire building is connected through a single app. Reservation, temperature, light adjustment and elevator calls can be configured very conveniently. Even without the company badge, just the face or the smartphone app can be used to access the office, make payments and even use various robot services. If employees want coffee while working, they can order through an app and robots called Rookie would deliver the coffee. All the UX is quite smooth so that apps would provide an alarm to let the person know that the robot has arrived and also to make the receipt process convenient. Currently, 100 robots are living with us in Naver 1784. In order to handle this many robots at the same time, robots would not individually have heads, but robots need to be implemented in a brainless manner. That means that a suitable cloud would have to be established well. Robots need to be designed to be operating in a people friendly manner but there should also be a detailed guideline on how the robots would move when they meet a static or dynamic obstacle while passing by even without having data input in advance or in the map.  

UX is important not only for users but also for service managers or providers. We adjusted the size, height and so forth so that people do not have to bend down too much or stretch their arms too far when moving parcels after receiving a delivery. Naver designers even made robot elevators. There are more than 300 patents in this building. The basic principle of the elevator is very robust. This is the case of resolving the issue of the service robot to efficiently travel vertically through UX, and many other issues are also being resolved at the moment. These are not only used as robot shuttles but when there aren’t too many people, robots also move together in elevators with people. 

Signage in the space was also implemented with the UX concept. We thought of it as a new space where people, robot and technology coexist. This space required a lot of efforts to enhance user experience. Uniform of people that could be humanware touch points and also indicators of space was designed considering convenience and usability based on the behavior by job group. It was made using renewable threads. We made goods using remaining fabric and it is appreciated by many employees.   

Consistent UX was implemented from face signs to parking lot payments in commuting route. A large number of teams cooperated. Next is about how internal teams of Naver meet for Naver 1784. I heard that new teams were configured every time new questions and solutions came up. It took 8 years to plan and implement, and it is still changing every day. A lot of people say that they are envious when they come for a tour. When I ask them what they are envious of, they say that it may be possible to construct a building, but they wonder about how much challenges, courage and decision-making points would have been required to implement attempts that had not been tried before. It would have required a certain level of manpower to implement such diverse aspects, and people say that they are envious of that. I defined Naver 1784 as a space that aims to respect all aspects of people and robot and also individuals and the groups. This is not where technology meet directly with the users but users come into contact with technology through the experiential touchpoints created by designers. 

The representative universal space is the barrier free area without any steps in all spaces. This allows not only robots but those with disability to travel around comfortably. We asked ourselves many times, ‘How can people and robots live together in the same space?’, and there were also other questions such as, ‘What can be done in a space that is different from this one?’ and ‘What would happen if we were to go outside or if more roots came in from the outside?’. We thought about how such technology could actually expand from the beginning because it is not easy to change the existing architecture. 

There is a partner room on the second floor that consists of three zones. Usually, partner rooms only have meeting rooms or are often somewhat removed. We made this space so that Naver employees can naturally encounter one another while moving and also so that the space can be used naturally as a lounge after finishing work. The space can be freely accessed using a QR code that was sent to the mobile device without having to go through the reception. Coffee delivery service provided by the Rookie is enabled even in the partner meeting room. Also, there are two cafeterias on the underground floor and the 5th floor. There is an area where the door stays closed and one area where the door opens. The door comes down when the area is not in operation. Thus, we thought deeply about how to use the space in idle time or how to serve the drinks in non-face-to-face sites. 

Next, I would like to share a few things about the architectural elements. The exterior of the podium used the perforated stainless panels and not painted ones to prevent eye glares. The front view is very close to the residential area, therefore, we had to work on resolving infringement of privacy. We also had to think about openness so people would not feel stifled indoors. We conceived of methods to resolve complaints that may emerge while also flexibly responding to the changes in space. Vertical louvers were used for the exterior unlike the horizontal ones for the podium space. Different rates of perforations was used depending on the facings considering the incident angle and the sunlight for the perforations of the vertical louver so that it could play contradicting roles of providing an outside view while blocking sunlight. Also, different heights were used in line with the user environment. 

How would we express the versatile colors of ‘Team Naver’ that go beyond the green color of Naver? Some say that plain buildings would have a side effect on the human brain. Naver 1784 applied the anodizing method that reveals the properties of the metals as is. 

Of all the buildings, the one using diagonal lines is the only one with 28 stories. It was to provide a sense of openness while maintaining a high ceiling that is more than 7 meters in height. Solar panels were attached to the outside on the southern side to raise energy efficiency, and the northern side was made so that natural light would flow in to enhance the atmosphere of the space. Naver 1784 consists of a large piece of land that is more than 3,000 pyeong in area, and it would have been stuffy if there was one large building. The land was divided up so that various types of nature could be enjoyed within the building, and also, an atrium was made to enable the path for people and wind flow. Many considerations were put into for the modularization of the work space through the application of radiant panels. All spaces were designed based on a 4.35m square module. 

Such modularization could show the effect of creating a meeting room with just two walls. Since location was precisely expressed, delivery to place, adjustment of temperature and humidity, and even intuitive recognition became possible. On the eastern side, we needed to make subtle considerations for the people in the residential complexes. We made countless mock-ups while thinking about how the residents could live comfortably inside the building in addition to making sure that the vision of residents would not be undermined through lowest reflectivity. Ultimately, 1784 used a low reflection glass with reflectivity that is less than 1.3%, which is lower than the usual 10~20% reflectivity of general buildings. 

At Naver 1784, partners from home and abroad enter and leave continuously. As a part of the program to live together with the region, two weeks ago, six grade students from Nulpureun Elementary School, our neighbor that shares our commuter lane, visited us. I heard that the students could understand technology better, and also became more interested in technology. In addition, some students also told me that they want to work in Naver in the future. Since Naver conceived of many methods to turn the traditional markets into an online store and also about educational activities while preparing for GAK Sejong, Naver 1784 will also continue such activities.


Era of possibility for a better city

Space created by Naver all received LEED Platinum except for Tokyo Basecamp. From this alone, I think you can understand how true to space we are. Corporate space is an element that creates a city and it can also be a connecting hub. Considering this, what sort of responsibility should it have? In the private space, we will have to enhance the experience of our employees so that better services can be created; in the semi-public space, we will need allow relationships to be formed while co-existing and living together; and in the public space we need to be a leading role model. Should designers only fear technology and be adverse towards it for people and sustainable future that surrounds people? I am sure that there would be much bigger roles. As I said before, I really hope that experiential touchpoints would be created so that technology would not exist just as technology. Of course, there would be more open concerns and burdens related to that possibility. There would be experiential design related to relationships that did not exist before and there would be considerations about convergence that did not exist before. I hope all of you will ponder about such things together with us.

Until now, we talked about cities, which is our sustainable home. If so, what types of mindsets should we have? Cities that are establishing relationships with the surroundings, with a clear reason for existence, or expanding towards other connection points. It would be more the case in a world where analog and digital are connected. This would be referring to cities that evolve while respecting individuals and cities that consider not just people but also the environment that surrounds people. I think various perspectives and citizenship are the most important. I wrote down a few of my aspirations in front of the large audience. People who make policies and work in institutions may find some gaps while connecting dots. I hope these gaps will be filled and I would like to ask you to do your utmost. I also hope that you will make choices that are not only related to the present but also related to the future as well. I would also like to ask designers and architects to create packed experiences in invisible areas in addition to the visible areas and also to work with us.

I started with the question, ‘What kind of city do you want to live in or create?’ I will end my presentation by saying that I hope this will be a starting point where you can start drawing a new picture. 

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