Discover the 'Prada Transformer'

Dutch architects build shape-shifting building for fashions and moreSehee Park
Skirts spin on a pole crazily fluttering their materials in fancy colors. The way colorful skirts are exhibited reminisces the Marilyn Monroe-like cultural notation of retro fashion.

Put together a mix of Italian fashion house Prada's radicalism, the world-renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas' deconstructivism, the award-winning Mexican film director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, magical touches by Swedish and Japanese curators, and South Korean engineering skills.

The result is a multi-national collaboration that created the "Prada Transformer" – a metamorphic architectural art project standing right inside the 16th century Gyeonghui Palace in the heart of the bustling city of Seoul.

The juxtaposition of old and new completes the main theme of the project: destabilization.

The 66-foot-tall tetrahedron pavilion is steel framed by four shapes: a hexagon, rectangle, circle and cross. Wrapped around the steel is a high-tech membrane developed by a relatively small Dutch company, Cocoon Holland BV, that makes the elastic polyvinyl normally used to store and protect airplanes or for hospital use. Thick and rubbery in texture, it is waterproof and translucent, sending shadows out at night.

The brilliance of Rem Koolhaas – a Pritzker Prize-winning architect known for his buildings and writings that embrace the energy of modernity – kicks in when the white giant Prada Transformer literally transforms into different buildings for different kinds of cultural events.

"Every two months, four cranes come into this site. Then lift the whole structure, lift it from the ground, flip it over, and then turn it around so that actually this will become the floor," said Tomaso Galli, director of communications at Prada, pointing to the rectangle-shaped steel frame that is now one of the three walls of the pyramid-like pavilion. The steel structure weighs 160 tons.

In the current exhibition, "Waist Down: by Miuccia Prada", the hexagon is used as the floor featuring Prada-designed skirts. The versatility of Prada skirts is presented by utilizing all of the four shapes. Large cardboard mannequins wearing the designer's skirts vertically stick out from the three walls. Full skirts hanging down from the ceiling are engineered to twirl and spin flashing the Marilyn Monroe-look.

Right below that on the floor is a mirror frame that naturally reflects the inside of the twirling skirt. "The idea is to have fun," said Galli smiling, "the one chance you won't get into trouble for sneaking into what's underneath." On the opposite side of the pavilion, fully skirted mannequins strut a catwalk making crisp sounds as the metal ornaments sewed onto the skirt oscillate.

The next phase of transformation, after the flip and rotation, will use the steel-framed circle as one wall of the tetrahedron to become a projector. A dozen movies hand-picked by Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, director of the Hollywood blockbuster Babel (2006), will be played, one a day, for the public, from June 26 to July 12.

The building will move and reshape to become an art gallery, and then another lift and turn will transform into an event hall using the circle as the floor for a fashion show.

"Mrs. Prada and her husband Mr. Bertelli who is the business side of the company, they get bored quickly with things," said Galli. "So we tried to do something that no one or the Prada had never done, putting together in a physical way, in a physical space, different concepts that make up the world of Prada: fashion, art, architecture, and cinema."