Design Anthology


Healing Stay KOSMOS, by architecture firm THE_SYSTEM LAB, perches atop a sea cliff on the remote island of Ulleungdo, and was designed to allow guests to commune with the sky and earth

Travellers seeking to replenish their qi can now do so in style at an intriguing new resort on Ulleungdo, a remote volcanic island off South Korea’s east coast.

Thanks to its geographical isolation,Ulleungdo has maintained a pristine and primitive character, explains Professor Chanjoong Kim, director of THE_SYSTEM LAB, the architecture firm behind Healing Stay KOSMOS. On the other hand, reaching the island from Seoul requires patience, coordination and a six-hour train and ferry journey, the latter often out of service in the autumn and winter months due to harsh winds.

Located in the northern area of Buk, where Ulleungdo’s nature is best preserved, the resort perches atop a sea cliff, with clear views to the dramatically vertical Songgot mountain. Songgot (‘ice pick peak’) seems ready to strike the sky, and it’s a common belief that the mountain holds a strong primal energy; in fact, the island is considered a meeting point between land and sea energy, or yin and yang.

The resort’s 12 rooms are spread across two buildings, one designed around earth, the other sky

According to Kim, KOSMOS, which opened in 2018, was designed as an observatory where people can both observe and commune with the sky and earth. THE_SYSTEM LAB team gathered astronomical data on the movements of celestial bodies in order to design buildings that offer the best views of the sun and moon, as well as the mountain and sea.

The resort is intimate in size, with only 12 rooms spread between two buildings. The first is the vortex-shaped Villa KOSMOS (the ‘sky’ observatory), with four bedrooms, a large common area wrapped around a circular courtyard, and a dramatic cliffside swimming pool and terrace. Group hire of Villa KOSMOS includes the services of a private chef, butler and tour guide, the use of a spa and sauna, and transport to and around the island. Visitors who prefer individual rooms and less elaborate decor have the options of Villa TERRE (the ‘earth’ observatory), where an additional eight rooms offer both Western-style and traditional Korean ondol options.

Accentuating the cosmic theme, each of the four bedrooms in Villa KOSMOS is designed in tribute to a different planet, with a unique materials palette inspired by the characteristics of Mercury (water) or Jupiter (wood), for example. Across the four rooms and communal areas, design spotters may recognise pieces by Cini Boeri (whose Ghost glass chair evokes water in the Mercury room), Grete Jalk and Emilio Nanni alongside bespoke stools by Korean designer Lee Hun-Chung, and a ten-seat oak table by carpenter Jeongsup Lee. THE_ SYSTEM LAB’s design integrates all electrical and mechanical elements within a double-skin system, so that both light and air flow into the space through patterned perforations in the ceilings and walls.

Set within the minimalist landscape, designed by landscape planners JWL - Wookju Jeong and Vine Plan, are two sculptural KOSMOS Rings, which invite visitors to sit and enjoy ‘energy baths’ from views of the moon (yin) and sunset (yang) at key points in the day. For more active recreation, several easily accessible hiking trails offer stunning coastal vistas and routes through forest, mineral springs and wildflower patches. Whether by the sheer power of nature or by thoughtful design intervention, visitors are sure to leave feeling restored.

The architects conceived the resort’s striking shape to provide optimal views of the surrounding landscape, including Songgot (‘ice pick peak’) mountain