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ADS5: The Universal Campus

Inji Kang

Born in South Korea, Inji is an architectural designer based in London. After completing her Bachelor of Arts in Architecture at the University of Cambridge in 2017, she worked at Purcell and at Allies and Morrison on various projects in and around London. Her practice work includes master planning, mixed-use developments and historical conservation.

Sustainability and user-friendly design are Inji’s main interests. She enjoys exploring how spaces affect people’s behaviour and experience. During her studies at the RCA, where she spent her first year in ADS10 and her second year in ADS5, she became more interested in the role architecture plays in the future of cities.

Inji hopes to address societal and environmental challenges found in rapidly changing cities through design. She also hopes to contribute to making the world a more accessible and adaptive place to live.

Degree Details

School of Architecture

ADS5: The Universal Campus

A Flexible Machine for Living: Architecture in a Changing World

Unlike the natural world, which constantly changes and adapts to its surroundings, most built environments are static and fixed to predefined uses. This inflexibility is especially apparent in modern apartments where people need to move house because it is impossible to modify the space in which they live when their needs change. For example, some people prefer a large bedroom while others prefer a large living room with a small sleeping nook. Modern apartments cannot offer this level of flexibility.

The ability to change the purpose of a building without extensive effort is linked to the building’s sustainability because sustainability extends far beyond the building’s chosen material, construction method or energy performance. Social demand is rapidly changing the definition of building functionality, and it is becoming harder to predict the future needs of people. For instance, digital space is replacing physical space, and the COVID-19 pandemic has led to new forms of working and studying. As a result, when considering the type of buildings needed in the future, adaptability must become the key to sustainable architecture.

In ADS5, we initially designed buildings without a set programme because we believed that creating a timeless building should be based on a simple structural logic with clear architectural quality. We took an approach driven by pure intuition and the conversations we had about architectural spaces. By focusing on the essential components of buildings, such as proportion, form and composition, we worked on designs that satisfied core spatial elements and the intended experience and atmosphere we desired.

Studying at the RCA helped me realise that as an architect, it is vital to fulfil the client’s needs while also remaining open to a building’s design potential and its capacity to adapt to different needs. The buildings that remain resilient over time and retain their architectural integrity are the beauty we need to see in our cities.

Between the Two Screens - physical model

My project aims to develop a simple spatial system that allows for a certain degree of flexibility within the context of an uncertain future. Comprised of spaces with different levels of interiority, the light and airy building beautifully reflects the surrounding nature and stands in a spatial continuum that belongs to the air of the Universal Campus.

Trees behind the building are read through the layers of glass facades, but their presence remains ambiguous in terms of whether they belong to the interior or exterior. Tangible boundaries are intentionally blurred, and the building is freed up from being a solid volume. 

Empty skeleton
1:200 model
1:75 model
Typical plan
Core study
Core study

The proposed building resembles trees, to some extent. Two trees in a botanical garden. The trunk-like concrete core that runs through the middle of each building houses all the services, and the column-free main space provides a multipurpose area, which can easily be transformed to the inhabitant’s liking, without any heavy lifting. Within the core itself, I was also looking for a simple system that allows a certain degree of flexibility. It developed into the idea of having a series of intimate core rooms, immediately next to the service that runs along the centre of each core. The core rooms of different sizes provide necessities, like drainage, water points and integral services, to support the inhabitant’s living.

The design of the building initially evolved from two atlas:

  1. Fondation Cartier by Jean Nouvel - I was particularly fascinated by the openness and lightness of the space achieved by the use of transparency and play with nature and reflection.
  2. Renovation of Bordeaux Housing Estate by Lacaton and Vassal - In the new extension space, the boundary between inside and out becomes ambiguous. The two rows of concrete columns, which may appear excessive, create a sense of enclosure, while the drafts and cold coming through a thin pane of polycarbonate remind you that you are half inside and half outside.
Inhabited floors
Inhabited floors
Ground floor plan
Long section
Short section
Ground floor view
Buffer zone - balcony - Lee's bedroom
Yoga studio - staircase - Claire's meeting room

At this moment, my building provides live and workspaces in the campus. 1.8m deep trusses support the floors, and each unit becomes an open plan canvas for residents.

(refer to the plan)

Lee shares a flat with two of his friends. They each wanted an independent study and sleeping space and a communal living and dining space. To achieve a certain level of privacy, they are using the balcony as their corridor.

Claire is their next-door neighbour, running a small design practice together with her partner, Ian. They transformed half their flat into an office space, with a generous meeting room for occasional meetings, and the other half into a living studio, with a small kitchen and bathroom.

Various residents live in this building. The unit across the atrium is rented out to a group of people starting a company. Some of them live outside the campus, so they decided to create short-stay accommodation for busy periods. The unit on the far western side is rented out to a family of four.

On the next level up, there’s a yoga studio run by one of the residents. Across from here, two units are rented out together by an AI company, and Claire’s friend Vicky and her young son live next door.  

Lee's day
Claire's day

Lee's day

In the early morning, on Monday, Lee returns home from his class trip to Tokyo. The campus is still very quiet. Lee was never an early riser but, having landed at 6 am from Tokyo, it was the birds who welcomed him as he entered the garden. He had missed this calmness and the greenery. As he strolls in, he picks up toys lying on the grass and puts them to one side. He encounters Claire, with foggy glasses, drinking a cup of coffee. 

As he takes out his key, he notices new flowers planted by the entrance. He wonders what their names are.

Coming out from the lift, he sees the road is getting busier just like any other Monday morning. Through a solid metal door, he enters the flat. "Ah, it’s nice to be back home," Lee says. He peeks into the quiet living room, and it doesn’t take too long to guess what last night’s dinner was. He pulls the curtain back and leaves the doors open.

 It seems as though none of his friends have woken up yet. He quietly walks along the balcony without disturbing them and retreats into his cosy room.

It was a long journey back. He pulls out a laptop from his backpack to double-check he doesn’t have any lectures today, whilst hot water is filling up the bathtub. It’s going to take him a couple days to fully recover from jet lag.


Claire's day

After Claire finishes her coffee and writes a to-do list for the week, she goes up to the yoga class and meets her friend, Vicky. They slide all the doors to one side to enjoy yoga in the fresh air. The early morning sun touches their skin, and they feel that winter is coming.

At 9 am, the yoga class ends, and Claire walks down to her office. She sees Ian watering plants in a suit and a couple of their employees catching up on their weekend’s down in the courtyard. A new week has begun.

As the day passes, blinds are up, curtains are pulled back and doors are slid open. The building truly becomes an open-air indoor-outdoor pavilion. 

At 6 pm, lights go off, and Claire closes her laptop. A busy day filled with back-to-back meetings finally ended, she goes out to the balcony and touches the leaves of the trees whilst stretching her shoulders.

As warned by the weather forecast, it is getting windier. But between the two screens, it feels still and peaceful. 

She sees Vicky calling to her son, who is playing in the courtyard, for dinner. The delicious smell across the floor makes her hungry and she ambles along the balcony into her studio, where she is fully detached from work. 

Campus masterplan
Building in context

My building sits in the Universal Campus. The Universal Campus is a collective, virtual and timeless site that has been continuously evolving along with our individual project. Comprised of 15 unique buildings designed by students of ADS5, the campus is designed to be re-appropriated over time.

My building is located next to the main road in the Campus. Creating this road-edge situation, where you are exposed to noise and pollution, is a condition that I set to test this type of inside and outside building typology. The corridor-like winter garden on the southern facade acts as a buffer between the main space and the source of the noise. Together with the screen made from acoustic laminated glass, the building structure aims to provide the optimal living condition, despite it being situated along the road.

The building morphs from day to night. In the early afternoon, when the natural ambient light is at its maximum, the present structure becomes a hovering piece. The flexible machine for living is dematerialised and the skyline of the campus breaks through the structure.

In the late evening, the screen glows as the sun sets and becomes the face of the campus. Without losing its integrity, the building remains resilient in the landscape of the Universal Campus.