Song creates the buildings of the future

Renderings of a hospital in Seoul, South Korea, before (left) and after facade renovations designed by UB faculty member Jin Young Song.


Published April 14, 2022

“We are living in architecture, but not every building we see is architecture. ”
Jin Young Song, associate professor
Department of Architecture
Jin Young Song.

Jin Young Song

Jin Young Song, a working architect since 2008, views architecture as more than building design.

“We are living in architecture, but not every building we see is architecture. It is somewhere between a wide spectrum of commodity and profound spatial experience, engineering and art, commercial service and humanitarian mission, body attachment and urban dynamics, architect’s vision and client’s needs, socio-cultural embodiment and a machine, and maybe cosmetics and cosmos,” says Song, associate professor in the Department of Architecture, School of Architecture and Planning. “My interest in architecture is in this continuing effort to define what this discipline is as a student and a professional at the same time.”

Song has won multiple awards for his designs, particularly those focusing on façade renovations and alternative construction systems. Last year, he was invited to the third Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, which featured architects, urban planners, designers and theorists focused on “the innovations linked to new types of buildings or infrastructures, social relations and design processes.” His presentation, “Stick, Snap, Stack: Reconfigurable Stacked Lattice System,” utilized stacked designs with a “snap-on” interlocking system (think of a blend of Legos and Lincoln Logs).

In 2021, he was also honored in South Korea for the new construction of an information center on Hongdo Island (completion in 2023), as well as the expansion of a library in a historic district in Seoul.

Coming off that string of wins in 2021, he has no plans to slow down in 2022.

“From an extended network from the Seoul Biennale, I was asked to redesign the façade of an old 12-story hospital in Korea using building-integrated photovoltaics,” or BIPV, says Song, a founder of Dioinno Architecture, which is headquartered in Buffalo and Seoul.

A close-up of building-integrated photovoltaic panels used in the hospital renovation. Photovoltaic panels convert light into electricity, but unlike conventional solar panels, photovoltaic panels can use colors and patterns via printing and laminating technology.

Photovoltaic panels convert light into electricity. Unlike conventional solar panels, building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) panels can use colors and patterns via printing and laminating technology. For Song’s project, he is using photovoltaic materials to replace more typical building materials in the building’s exterior surfaces.

The new design won’t just be aesthetically pleasing; it will also be energy-efficient.

“The project uses color BIPV panels, which look very different from conventional dark solar cells,” Song explains. “Our design not only renovates the skin of the old building, but also produces energy for the building’s operation. … We used gray, dark gray, satin gray panels, green aluminum and LED strips to create a pattern/facade for (a) 21st-century hospital. It was a good challenge to argue two opposite natures of the project — the efficiency of panel manufacturing and a dynamic image-making to transform the old building — to both the BIPV manufacturer and client.

“The new façade will generate 101,330 kilowatt hours per year, which will save 43 tons of CO2 emissions per year,” says Song, who earned his bachelor’s from Yonsei University in South Korea and his master’s in architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

“There are two broad efforts in the building industry in response to climate change,” he notes. “The first is to reduce embodied carbon emissions in building materials and construction. The second effort is about the operation energy after the occupancy. Under the highly market-oriented construction industry, reducing embodied carbon in the building materials requires a transformation of our building products market.

“Buildings account for 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.,” Song warns. “In the imminent challenge of climate change, architects are responsible for making a sustainable built environment. Renovating (an) old building is better than reconstruction. Using renewable energy sources is another critical path to the new standard of carbon footprint,” he says. “In this context, South Korea is one of the countries radically pushing the energy-system transformation using renewable energy technology.

“Being smart in heating, cooling and lighting also requires sustainable design solutions, smart envelope design and energy-efficient MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) systems,” Song says. “These are meaningful, disciplinary actions and we are improving in this direction. However, in the sense of the imminent nature of the crisis, building-integrated photovoltaics is a direct and efficient method to transform the present energy system into a CO2-neutral energy system. It is the designer’s role to determine how to integrate the photovoltaics technology to the building envelope.”

Song’s modular design for the BIPV panels won over not only the hospital administration, but also officials in the Seoul metropolitan government.

“I have been presenting several façade -related presentations in Korea,” Song says. “… My partner architect in Korea and I were connected to a solar panel company and commissioned to design a façade. We provided a schematic design to (our) clients, and also to the Seoul metropolitan government. After several important presentations and reviews, not only did the clients love the transformation of the hospital image to match the 21st century medical environment, Seoul decided to support … solar panel production” by providing $800,000.

Song and his team submitted the hospital façade redesign to the Seoul metropolitan government in November. Construction is expected to begin in May, with the renovation’s completion date targeted for the end of the year.

Korydon Smith, chair of the UB Department of Architecture, says Song’s work charts new ground in façade design.

“Façade systems are among the most complex and important elements of a building. Not only are they part of a building’s structure, façades are critical to a building’s environmental performance and user experience, and also present the image of the business, client or occupant who resides inside,” Smith says.

“Professor Song’s innovative work weaves together structural engineering, sustainability, material science and aesthetics, charting new ground in façade design.”