Squid Game has taken the world by storm. Netflix’s hit series tells the story of desperate individuals who are coaxed into playing deadly games in return for millions of dollars — and it has been gripping viewers for the past few weeks. Besides its twisted plot and compelling cast of characters, another aspect of Squid Game has gotten people talking: The surreal architecture presented throughout the show is highly memorable, and plays a key role in making viewers feel as scared as the contestants themselves.
Brilliantly conceptualized by Art Director Chae Kyung-sun, the design of each set is layered with metaphors that reflect the contradictions of modern society. Imagery associated with the innocence of childhood — or at least our idyllic memory of childhood — frames a story about money, greed, violence and death. It is through this juxtaposition that architecture is used as a powerful tool for storytelling, constructing a narrative that makes viewers feel increasingly uncomfortable yet compelled to watch more.
To build a greater understanding of Squid Game’s architecture and the inspiration behind it, take a journey with us through some of the show’s key spaces, each of which provides a fascinating backdrop for a story that quickly evolves from tense to terrifying…
Caution: Spoilers Ahead!
Image via TheThings
After being whisked away from the everyday world, players wake up in a huge space that is half school hall, half prison atrium. Muti-story bunk beds surround a large open space in the middle, arranged like grandstands in a stadium or even the Colosseum — foreshadowing the evolution of this space from sleeping quarters to bloody battleground in later episodes. The tiled walls contain pictograms that allude to the games themselves, slowly revealed to players as the bunks are deconstructed throughout the season.
The dorms have a likeness to a coliseum; images via TheThings
“The Art Director proposed a warehouse store concept,” explained Director Hwang Dong-hyuk. “Rather than treating them like people, she suggested the contestants be presented like objects piled on the warehouse shelves.” The concept effectively shapes our perspective of the players from the outset, as we come to view the players less like individual humans, and more like a collection of identical toys, the playthings of an omnipresent power.
Squid Game’s surreal staircase was inspired by M.C. Escher’s ‘Relativity’; images via Netflix and BYU Museum of Art
Arguably the most striking architectural space in Squid Game, the intermediate space that competitors must walk through to access the arenas has already become iconic. Hwang has said that this towering labyrinth of staircases was inspired by M.C. Escher’s famous Relativity lithograph, and the parallels are clear. The maze-like quality of these spaces conjures feelings of unease, as if one might lose their way — or even their understanding of gravity — at any moment.
While similar, Squid Game’s stair-filled corridors are considerably more colorful than Escher’s monochrome fever dream, mimicking the candy-colored tones of children’s playhouses. Throughout the show, there is a stark contrast between the show’s playful architecture and its substantially more sinister gameplay. This jarring sensation serves to crank up the disquiet, both for the players and the show’s viewers.
La Muralla Roja by Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura
Incidentally, one wonders if Hwang Dong-hyuk has ever laid eyes on Ricardo Bofill’s legendary housing complex, La Muralla Roja… the reminiscence is uncanny!
The ‘Red Light Green Light’ Yard
Image via BlessedArch
Squid Game’s first arena — and also its last — is symptomatic of the show’s surreal quality. Humble huts with terracotta roofs form entrances to the arena, intended to mimic the simplified houses that children draw. Fake skies cover all four walls, reminiscent of the cloud-covered canopy that envelops Truman Burbank’s world in The Truman Show (1998). The yard is just one example of how Squid Game taps into the uncanny valley effect to create an eerie, uneasy feeling among viewers, and a (very justified) sense of foreboding to boot.
Squid Game’s iconic robotic doll can be seen in real life in Jincheon; left and above images via Netflix / right image via Insider
The most memorable element of the game is undoubtedly the gargantuan, robotic doll, who plays the role of conductor for a deadly game of ‘Red Light Green Light’ (otherwise known as ‘What’s the Time Mr. Wolf’, ‘Statues’ or ‘Grandmother’s Footsteps’ in other parts of the world). The doll itself is architectural in scale, and possesses cameras in place of eyes, evoking the apparatus of surveillance found in prisons and high security government facilities. The doll’s intimidating scale is designed to make the players feel small and literally child-like, a theme that continues throughout Squid Game’s other arenas.
Fun fact #1: Squid Game’s giant doll is in fact real and you can visit it in Macha Land in Jincheon, South Korea.
Image via Netflix
For game two, players are forced to play the Dalgona Challenge (also known as the “Honeycomb game”) in a playground full of outsized slides, swings, and climbing frames. “When we were young, the playground seemed very big,” explained Hwang, “so we built a giant playground for adults.” While the play equipment is left largely unused during the game, it serves a similar purpose to the giant doll in Game 1 — it diminishes the players, reducing them to pawns to be toyed with by those in control.
Like the first arena, the walls surrounding the playground are again painted with a fake sky. This time, the cartoonish clouds and sun are more overtly childlike in their depiction, perhaps signifying the players’ continued descent from the regular world into Squid Game’s warped reality.
Image via NetflixKR
Fun Fact #2: Squid Game’s outsized playground has been recreated IRL for a pop-up installation at Itaewon station in Korea. The exhibit includes interactive games, but hopefully not as deadly as the show…
The Waiting Lounge
Image via BlessedArch
In contrast to the multichromatic spaces that characterize much of Squid Game, the room that contestants must wait in before Games 3 and 4 is notable for its complete absence of color. This gleaming white hall looks like it could have been designed by a well known Starchitect, its curving walls and cool lighting echoing the interiors of Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Center or Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center PATH Station.
Left: Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects; right: World Trade Center Station by Santiago Calatrava, photo by Michael Muraz
“The white space is very dreamlike,” said actor Park Hae-soo, who plays Cho Sang-woo in the show. “When I passed [through] that white space, I felt like I was entering a different world.” Art Director Chae Kyung-sun explained the thinking behind the design: “[We were attempting to create] some kind of uneasy feeling that comes from a white room, not knowing what will happen next. We wanted to create an unknown space.” What awaits the players beyond the Waiting Lounge is an altogether more terrifying structure…
The Tug of War Room
Game 3 — Tug of War — takes place in one of the largest arenas in Squid Game. Like a cavernous aircraft hanger, this room is raw and industrial in nature. Two giant structures support lofty platforms upon which the teams stand, pulling the rope with all their might in a desperate struggle to avoid plunging into the central void. Inevitably, only half will come out of this space alive. Behind the scenes, blue screens were utilized so that the sense of darkness and vertigo-inducing height could be enhanced in post-production.
The bright yellow gantries that support the platforms look like the construction toys played with by children we are all familiar with. Wide angles serve to warp their scale, making the entire structure look like an architectural scale model and reducing the players to tiny, toylike figurines. Again, we see the participants of Squid Game minimized by their environment.
Fun fact #3: The ‘acting’ you see in this scene is more genuine than you might think, as the actors were made to pull against a machine that was reeling them in from the other end!
The Alleyway / Marble Village
Game 4 takes place in a traditional Korean alleyway, where contestants are made to face a partner in a life-or-death game of marbles. Again, the space is designed to provoke the feelings of nostalgic comfort associated with childhood, creating a jarring sensation for players and viewers alike given the imminent violence and death that they know awaits half the participants. “It was such a detailed set,” Park recounted. “The marble, rusted gate, and even the door-plate if you look closely … all the elements have detail.”
To enhance the atmosphere further still, Art Director Chae opted for a deep red sunset for the backdrop. “Our main concern was how to display the sunset. We thought it should be on the border of fake and real,” said Chae.
Fun Fact #4: The Alleyway was the most detailed set in the whole of Squid Game and took the longest to construct. It was appreciated by the actors, who reportedly spent hours admiring the space and taking pictures inside it before filming!
The Glass Bridge
Image via BlessedArch / Netflix
Who would have thought that architectural materials would play a starring role in this year’s biggest TV hit? Believe it or not, it’s true: Game 5 sees players forced to cross a bridge made up of glass panels, just half of which are tempered. If a player steps on a non-tempered pane, they inevitably fall to their death. The bridge is suspended within a theater-like space, with flashing lights akin to a circus or a Vegas casino. The architecture here is designed to be viewed as a performance, which makes sense given that several ‘VIP’ spectators are present for this game.
“I wanted to design a space that’s dangerous and scary; a space where you can think of life and death at once,” said Chae. The set was built using real panels of tempered glass, 1.5 meters (5 feet) above the ground, and the cast ran several tests to determine just how far apart the panels could be positioned while still being traversable.
This height was sufficient to make the actors feel nervous as they jumped between the glass platforms, lending the scene an authenticity that would have been impossible to replicate had the set been fully computer generated.
Overall, Squid Game forms a compelling case study in how architecture can be designed to elicit a wide range of emotions, from nostalgia and joy to unease and terror. Squid Game could be viewed as a poetic commentary on the loss of innocence, or a piece of political satire on capitalism and its corrupting influence. Either way, there is little doubting the show’s cultural impact, and that is largely thanks to Chae’s ability to utilize architecture as a powerful tool for storytelling.
With a second season of Squid Game seemingly assured, we look forward to reviewing the architectural designs of future arenas in this terrifying yet brilliant series! Let the games go on…
If you work for an architecture firm that specializes in conceptual architecture, consider entering your work in the Architecture +Models & Rendering or Architecture +Drawing categories in this year’s Architizer A+Awards, currently open for entries! Learn more or enter now.
Photographer Dimitar Karanikolov visited and captured “La Muralla Roja,” a unique building that likely provided inspiration for the popular Netflix TV series “Squid Game” set design.What is the style of Squid Game? ›
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Production designer Chae Kyoung-sun built killer sets on a large scale for the 456 contestants as they battle it out to be the last man standing, all for a cash prize.What inspired the stairs in Squid Game? ›
Hwang has said that this towering labyrinth of staircases was inspired by M.C. Escher's famous Relativity lithograph, and the parallels are clear.
The walls are decorated with the fields of reeds and the clear sky, the kinds of which you would see in a storybook. But the fields and the clouds are not real, and once the game is over, the ceiling closes over the confused faces of the survivors and those who are dead.What do South Koreans think of Squid Game? ›
Younger Koreans, especially those in their 20s, have denounced some of the show's scenes and dialogue for being misogynistic (with some even calling for a boycott of the series) and have criticized the show's portrayal of North Korean defectors, migrant workers, and the elderly as outdated—arguing that Squid Game did ...What is the cultural background of the Squid Game? ›
The games played in “Squid Game” are important to South Koreans as they created their childhood and are significant in spreading South Korean culture and history.What is the squid shape in Squid Game? ›
A squid with a pentagon-shaped body and a round tail is drawn. The team that wins a game of rock paper scissors becomes the defensive team and the team that loses becomes the offensive team.What does the triangle mean in the Squid Game? ›
Circle wearing workers are the lowest ranking, they must answer to their superiors and can "only speak when spoken to". Triangles are placed on the middle rung of the Squid Game hierarchy – they act as armed soldiers.
The workers with a triangle on their mask are the second level of workers.What does the circle triangle star umbrella mean? ›
A triangle, circle, umbrella and star. Each shape is representing the game they're playing, which is called Sugar Honeycomb. It turns out those shapes are etched into a chunk of honeycomb and each contestant needs to remove the shape without snapping or breaking it. If they do, they're shot dead.Why did the creator of Squid Game create it? ›
As an avid comic book reader in the late 2000s “without a penny” in his pocket, Hwang took to reading stories about people risking their lives for money. “If I was asked to participate in one of those games back then, I probably would have,” he says. “As a creator that led me to thinking how I would design such a game.Why did the creator make Squid Game? ›
The idea for Squid Game came out of Hwang's own family situation in 2009, after the global financial crisis that hit his homeland hard. “I was very financially straitened because my mother retired from the company she was working for. There was a film I was working on but we failed to get finance.Who is the real creator of Squid Game? ›
Squid Game (Korean: 오징어 게임) is a South Korean survival drama television series created by Hwang Dong-hyuk for Netflix. Its cast includes Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-joon, HoYeon Jung, O Yeong-su, Heo Sung-tae, Anupam Tripathi and Kim Joo-ryoung.Why didn t they walk on the beams in Squid Game? ›
Many have wondered why the players couldn't have just walked on the rails that separate the glass steps, whereas the real rules of Stepping Stones state that one can only walk on the stones, so the rail would be considered breaking the rules and in Squid Game's case, death as elimination.How long did it take to build the set of Squid Game? ›
According to reports, it took around two years to complete Squid Game, with filming beginning in August 2019 and wrapping up in September 2020. The series was shot over a period of six months in various locations in South Korea, including Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi Province.Is Squid Game inspired by luck? ›
Apparently, the movie 'Luck' has a similar plot where a mafia leader gives a group of people a chance to change their fortunes by offering a huge sum of money betting on deadly games. Much to our surprise, the Squid game series also stars Indian actor Anupam Tripathi, as one of the lead characters.What is the bathroom scene in Squid Game? ›
00:04:55 Sae-byeok stands in the bathroom, attempting to remove a large shard of glass stuck in her stomach, where it became lodged after the glass stepping stone game. Blood is dripping everywhere and Sae-byeok creates a tourniquet with her shirt in the bathroom.How high was the glass bridge in Squid Game? ›
That's certainly true of Jung Ho-yeon, who recalls, “It was actually pretty scary because the glass bridge was built about one meter above ground, and we actually had to jump between the tempered glass panels.
Did “Squid Game” film in any cities other than Dejeon? Yes, they filmed quite a few scenes in “Squid Game” in Seoul, which is South Korea's largest city as well as the country's capital. For instance, remember the scenes in the first episode where Gi-hun attempts to earn extra money by betting on horses?Why is North Korea not allowed to watch Squid Game? ›
North Korean officials clearly do not like the dystopian drama from South Korea, which is illegal under the “Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture” law.Why was snowdrop banned in Korea? ›
The drama is set in the 1980s and sparked controversy because of the fictional contention that a North Korean spy was potentially involved in or even associated with Korea's pro-democracy movement. Many of those who protested the Korean regime in the 1980s were falsely accused of being North Korean spies.Is crash landing on you banned in North Korea? ›
Crash Landing on You, a series on Netflix, has been a hit across the Korean Peninsula since it launched in 2019 — including in the North, where the authorities banned it but it has circulated on smuggled thumb drives.What language is the Squid Game logo? ›
File:Squid Game logo (Korean).What language do they speak in Squid Game? ›
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Because they killed his most dear friend and basically everyone that played that game in the last 20 years. He wants to know more, and probably, wants to stop it.What does a circle around a triangle mean? ›
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The yellow umbrella signifies the joy of a new beginning, commitment, sharing, compassion, and most importantly, unconditional love.What does a triangle represent spiritually? ›
TRIANGLE – a dynamic force of creation – Creative Spirit. An active creative principle of consciousness – sometimes referred to as Fire of Consciousness. SQUARE – stability of Matter in the manifested physical world.Why did Gi-hun dye his hair red? ›
So I chose the color and I thought it really showed his inner anger.” So it's a radical, symbolic move. Gi-Hun is angry and the red is designed to channel and reflect that inner rage out. I think he looks goofy.
001' (Yeong-su Oh) is the one who created the concept behind the deadly games.Who killed 067 in Squid Game? ›
We saw her get hit by a flying shard of glass when the bridge exploded and she lost a lot of blood. Player 456 (Gi-hun) ran to the guards asking them to help his dying friend then player 218 (Sang-woo) brutally stabbed 067 in the neck and secured his spot as one of the two finalists in Squid Game.Is the old man in Squid Game evil? ›
In the show's final episode, however, it's revealed that Il-nam actually survived and that he was the original founder and leader of the evil organization running the games.How much money was in Squid Game in us dollars? ›
Seong battles hundreds of other financially distressed players in a hyper-violent competition for the ultimate prize of 45.6 billion won ($38.2 million USD), with losers being killed at every round. The South Korea-produced show quickly reached No.Which country banned Squid Game? ›
Last year North Korea's government passed an "anti-reactionary thought" law that imposed drastic punishment for people found to have distributed or consumed foreign media, meaning spreading or watching Squid Game risks incurring a death penalty.Is Squid Games a true story? ›
Squid Game, however, is a real game that was popular amongst kids in Korea during the 1970s and 1980s, which is similar to hopscotch. Hwang told this publication: “This is a story about people who used to play this game as children and return to play it as adults.Who won Squid Games? ›
Sang-woo, who came this far, sacrificing his sense of decency and humanity in order to win, plunges the knife into his own neck, doing the deed for Gi-hun. His dying wish is for Gi-hun to take care of his mother, and, unwillingly, Gi-hun becomes the winner of the games, though his triumph is hollow.Where is squid games based out of? ›
About Squid Game
Set in South Korea, it was released on 17th of September 2021 on Netflix South Korea and is out with only one season of nine episodes so far.
This island is somewhat mysterious, but diligent researchers discovered that it is actually Seongapdo island. Part of the Ongjin province, Seongapdo is located off of South Korea's west coast. It is as remote as it looks, being “uninhabited except for a few fishermen and without electricity.”What is the name of 218 in Squid Game? ›
Cho Sang-woo, also known as Player 218, is portrayed by Park Hae-soo. Sang-woo is the childhood friend of series protagonist Seong Gi-hun, and a graduate of Seoul National University.
1988: March: Chae Gang-sun begins attending Yangju Technical High School. Unspecified date: The inaugural Squid Game takes place, with No Hyun-woo, also known as Player 174, winning the competition.Where is Squid Game island located in real life? ›
Seongapdo Island, South Korea: The real-life Squid Game island nobody wants to talk about.Who won squid games? ›
Sang-woo, who came this far, sacrificing his sense of decency and humanity in order to win, plunges the knife into his own neck, doing the deed for Gi-hun. His dying wish is for Gi-hun to take care of his mother, and, unwillingly, Gi-hun becomes the winner of the games, though his triumph is hollow.What did Gi-hun give to his daughter as a birthday gift accidentally? ›
Gi-hun accidentally gives a gun-shaped lighter to his daughter, Ga-yeong, as a birthday gift.Who is the old man in Squid Game in real life? ›
O Yeong-su is the first Korean actor to win a Golden Globe. He played the role of an old man, Player Number 001, on the superhit Korean show Squid Game. O Yeong-su won the first Golden Globe award in the category of Best Supporting Actor Television for his role in the hit Netflix series Squid Game.