test-Koreana : a Quarterly on Korean Art & Culture
Quick Search
Recent Issues
     WINTER 2008
     Kimchi
     AUTUMN 2008
     Joseonwangjosillok...
     SUMMER 2008
     Korea’s Emerging M...
     SPRING 2008
     Korea’s Traditiona...
MORE    
 
Contribute an Essay on Koreana
 
ClickKorea
Korea Foundation
Books on Korea
koreanists
Korea Focus
Korea Foundation
KBS WORLD
KBS WORLD

Home | Site Map | Contact Us  

한국어 | English | Français | 汉语 | Español   
Русский язык | العربية ة | 日本語 | Deutsch   

Past Webzine
WINTER 2008 Vol.22 No.4
Kimchi
Beauty of Korea
Byeoru (Ink Stone)
Background and Development of Korean Kimchi
Kimchi Ideal Health Food for a Well-being Lifestyle
Regional Influences Create Wide Varieties of Kimchi
Sharing Kimchi with Consumers Around the World
Seoul Hosts XXII World Congress of Philosophy 2008
Poet Ko Un “I am my own future!”
Archery Craftsman Yoo Young-ki Blends Strength with Resiliency
Elegant Earthenware Figurines Reveal Silla’s Spirituality
Magnum Korea Exhibition Images of Korean Society’s Diversity
Kevin O’Rourke Passionate Translator of Korean Literature
Sung Shi-yeon A Humble yet Forceful Presence at the Podium
Jeongseon’s Natural Beauty Endures the Passage of Time
Yaksik Rice Cake Tasty and Healthy Treat
Korea Delivers with Speed and Agility
Dance of Exorcism at the Fringe of Existence
AUTUMN 1999 Vol.13 No.3
  Feature
  Korea's Modern Architecture of the 20th century
  Min Hyun-sik
Architect and Professor, The Korean National University of Arts
Text-Only in EnglishPDF in ChinesePDF in English Single Column Print Advanced Search
 
When a year or a century comes to an end, people amuse themselves by making all kinds of lists. Moreover, with the millennium coming to a close, there is literally a boom in list-making. It can be dangerous to select things in a limited number, and even more so when it comes to ranking them. Such actions can be considered an amusement that satisfies the curiosity or the shallow intellectual needs of ordinary people. Such a list maybe of interest for a while, but within a short time people will stop talking about it and soon enough it will be forgotten completely.
.
If such a selection becomes meaningful, it is not because of the content or the ranking, but rather the standards or values involved in the process. In other words, it is a direct reflection of the values of a particular field at a certain period in time, which may become a yardstick for interpreting that era. Not long ago, a book was published in the United States entitled 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. Its authors, Brent Bowers and three others, ranked Johannes Gutenberg as number one, which may have something to do with the fact that this epoch regards knowledge and information as being of the utmost value.
.
In this respect, we will take a look back at Korea's modern architecture in the 20th century. With the beginning of the 20th century, world architecture began to be led by the West, which exhibited a relative superiority in science and technology. Modernist architecture, dominated by rationalism founded in science and technology, became the mainstay, and although reflections and challenges have become strong since the 1960s, rationalism still has the upper hand.
.
Within such a global context, Korea's modern architecture is not necessarily noteworthy. For Koreans, modernization was synonymous with Westernization, and Korean architecture was no exception when it came to the transplantation of foreign concepts, which is a characteristic of Korean culture. It is surprising to see the exact same process in architecture as well; what was accepted initially is being outmoded by what was accepted later. This is what Lee Young-mee had to say about the "transplantation in our culture":
.
Transplantation is also a sort of attribute of a dominant culture. The transplantation in our culture is not simply our acceptance of arts and cultures from foreign countries. It is that foreign arts and cultures led the most important trend of a certain field in a certain period, that they play the role of the textbook as they exert dominant, leading influences on key elements, such as the language of arts and the style. Thus the acceptance of foreign cultures is not a normal mutual exchange but a one-sided process, and that such an acceptance continues, so in every stage of the development, the clues to the development or the change do not come from spontaneous creativity, but from foreign arts and cultures, while the arts and cultures of the past are considered outdated. Accordingly, the transplantation is not a simple occurrence in which culture is moved from one country to another, but a complex phenomenon that has interactive relations with the roots of domestic culture. From a social point of view, it has to do with a strong inferiority complex or a desire for the upward class mobility harbored by both intellectuals and ordinary citizens of less developed countries.
.
In particular, modernization was urgently pushed, backed by the Middle East construction boom that suddenly burst upon Koreans in the mid-1970s. It led to the economy-first mentality and development for development's sake became our ultimate goal, and ubiquitous construction sites were the tangible evidence of such a mind-set. For this reason, the equation that construction equals development was readily accepted, and quantity was considered more important than quality, while utility was weighed more than aesthetic aspects of construction. Naturally, architectural design did not have enough room to wriggle in; houses and apartments were mostly built not as "a house to live in," but as "a house to buy and sell," an object of speculation.
.
Because of this distorted environment, most of Korea's architecture that can be labeled modern was created toward the end of the 20th century, or to be more specific, after the 1980s. Prior to then, Korean architectural concepts were not mature, and accordingly, most Korean architects were not very original.
.
As an overview, I will identify Korea's notable modern architecture of the 20th century based on the following attributes:
.
·Did it break out of the transplantation of foreign architectural culture and establish an original architectural concept?
·Are the architect's ideas and philosophy enduring?
·Has it influenced or led to a trend in Korean architecture?
·Is it successful in terms of idealization and functionality?
·Is it indigenous?
.
SPACE GROUP BUILDING
Kim Swoo-geun, Seoul, 1971-1977
.
Kim Swoo-geun is representative of the Korean architects of our times, together with Kim Chung-up. Kim Swoo-geun established his own theory about architectural space which was rooted in Korean tradition-the third space, ultimate space or womb space-that he skillfully put it into practice in the Space Group Building.
.
This building, his most representative work, is a complete break from his earlier architectural works, which tended toward formalism, such as the Freedom Center and the Walker Hill Hilltop Bar. The construction of the Space Group Building was begun in 1971 and completed in 1977 after a new wing was added. The elegant flow of various spaces, which is a characteristic of traditional Korean architecture, took on a modern meaning in this work.
.
FRENCH EMBASSY
Kim Chung-up, Seoul, 1961
.
Kim Chung-up's French Embassy building is an example of adapting the later architecture of le Corbusier to the local characteristics of Korea. In addition, Kim managed to strike a balance between the different characteristics of France and Korea.
.
The French Embassy building is ultimately Corbusian. Although both the architect and critics admit that the formal sensitivity was borrowed from Korea's traditional architecture, it is actually more correct to consider it an expansion or development of Corbuisan architecture. The pure architectural space of early modernism that is so evident in Kim's Pusan National University and Sogang University Administration Hall, which were constructed around the same time, has developed into an ambiguous duality, and his creativity beyond le Corbusier is most evident in the French Embassy building.
.
MUNYE CENTER AND FINE ARTS CENTER, MARRONNIIR PARK
Kim Swoo-geun, Seoul, 1977-1979
.
When Seoul National University relocated to Mt. Kwanaksan, Kim Swoo-geun single-mindedly created a cultural mecca on the university's old campus. The buildings of the Munye Center and Fine Arts Center are unique in that they used bricks in traditional ways employing Kim's ever-maturing design refinement. In addition, they are even more appreciated because they were created on a site that held precious memories for many people; it was achieved with the addition of the former Seoul National University Administration Hall (architect, Park Kil-yong) and two marronnier trees.
.
Through his work, Kim Swoo-geun reminds us of the "preciousness of living with life's values in the tiring streets of Seoul."
.
HYOSUNG BUILDING
Kimm Jong-soung, Seoul, 1975
.
Like Mies van der Rohe and other pioneers of modernism. Kimm Jong-soung created architecture with advanced technology, employing an objective approach based on science. His architectural works are characterized by efficiency, transparency, flexibility, and clear expression of function. In addition, like a Renaissance craftsman, he maintains the concept of practicing classical architecture.
.
If the Samil building, the work of Kim Chung-up, who had a similar spirit, is close to being a copy of the Seagram Building in New York, Kimm Jong-soung's Hyosung Building features architectural values as a variation of Miesian architecture adjusted to his own taste.
.
OLYMPIC ATHLETES VILLAGE APARTMENTS
Woo Kyu-sung, Seoul,1988
.
In Korea, the construction of apartment buildings began with the building of the Mapo Apartments in downtown Seoul in the early 1960s. Apartments now account for more than 50 percent of Korea's residential architecture. However, we have yet to see the development and acceptance of a true form of our own. It maybe because apartments have not been considered as simply housing, but rather as objects of real estate speculation, an asset easy to turn into profit. Although each apartment unit can be seen as having been developed by adapting it to our lifestyle, from the viewpoint of multifamily housing, the apartment has regressed from the Panp'o AID apartments, imported as a completely predesigned work in the 1970s.
.
The Olympic Athletes Village Apartments complex is practically the first attempt in multifamily housing in Korea to look at apartments as more than a simple assembly of housing units and consider the outside space as part of the living environment. Even if the fan-like arrangement of the apartment buildings and their peculiar shape are a result of the design limitations of our times, the beauty of the skyline, gradually mounting against the backdrop of Namhansansong Fortress, is a delightful encounter between the contours of the land and the architecture.
.
HAKDONG SUJOLDANG
Seung Hchioh-sang, Seoul, 1993
.
At one time, we wanted to live in a "picture-perfect house on that green grass" like the ones in pictures adorning the walls of barbershops. Befitting Nam Jin's hit song of the same title, in the 1970s urban residential areas were filled with "French-style houses," though they were a far cry from the real thing. This fashionable trend, based on blind pursuit of Western culture however aberrant it may be, broke up our traditional communities because they were intended more to show off rather than to live in, which led to the dehumanization of communities and the loss of our neighbors.
.
It was amid such a development that Seung Hchioh-sang created Hakdong Sujoldang by borrowing from traditional Korean housing forms to create a modern type of urban housing. Furthermore, the "aesthetics of poverty" achieved from this work is a great accomplishment that defines the ethical direction of our times.
.
SUNGKYUNKWAN UNIVERSITY SUWON CAMPUS
Yoon Seung-joong and Byun Young, Suwon, Kyonggi-do, 1980
.
Yoon Seung-joong and Byun Young envisioned the Suwon campus of Sungkyunkwan University as a "city" for education and research, and thus organized all the buildings and spaces into an urban system. An the roads, plazas and buildings on the campus are linked as if they are parts of an organism, making all the spaces, both inside and outside, integral to the university experience. The beauty of the campus is that it is functionally organized according to diagonal pedestrian areas or activity corridors, resulting in the synchronization of buildings and space.
.
Yoon and Byun created an architectural landmark, as compared to past college campuses which were merely an assemblage of separate buildings.
.
YANGJAE 287-3
Joh Sung-yong, Seoul, 1991
.
A building cannot stand alone in the city. Therefore our ideal architecture should be based on a complete harmony between the architecture and the city, as reflected in the saying, "architecture fused in a city, and a city fused in architecture." For a while, because of the subdivision of academic studies, architecture and urban planning were treated as separate fields, and due to academic self-interests, the gap between the two deepened. It had long been forgotten that a city is not formed all at once, but develops around various individual elements including architectural structures.
.
Joh Sung-yong has dedicated himself to restoring the organic relationship between the city and its architecture. With Yangjae 287-3, he connected the roads of the city with its architecture, linking the arteries of the city, the living being, with the tiny blood vessels of the architecture, the cells, to give life to the whole. This work has become a model for other architects attempting to transform the city into a healthy living being such as Seung Hchioh-sang who created the Culture Space in Tongsung-dong, Chung Guyon who designed the Muae Building, and Yi Jong-ho who created the Metaa Building.
.
SEOUL ARTS CENTER MUSIC HALL
Kim Seok-chul, Seoul, 1988
.
We can all remember the refreshing shock that Hans Scharoun gave us by merging the stage and the audience in the Berlin Philharmonic Hall. He noted: "The idea for this architectural work came from the concept of a concert rather than from formal aesthetics. The playing of music and experiencing it takes place in a single space."
.
Kim Seok-chul understood this nature of the music hall, and used it successfully to create the Seoul Arts Center Music Hall. In a space as precisely organized as a machine, the conductor, musicians and audience come together to enjoy music that is freshly created at that very moment.
.
KOOKMIN LIFE INSURANCE MIRAEWON
Kim Tai-soo, Yongin, Kyonggi-do, 1997
.
This building, a training center for the Kookmin Life Insurance Company, is an almost perfect work of architecture created by Kim Tai-soo, a veteran architect. Speaking about Kim Tai-soo's work, architect Lee Sang-hun said: "The images invoked by Kim Tai-soo's architecture are subtle, not radical. He pursues a restrained and typified architecture of perfection, rather than creative, demonstrative architecture. He considers the details, the proportions and the use of materials more important than the architectural discourse."
.
Kim Tai-soo's architecture is typical of the second-generation architects of modern architecture who practice the modernism to the letter.
.
We are now standing at the threshold of a new millennium. We cannot deny the duality of architecture, it has been dictated mostly by economic considerations, which was necessary for development, yet at the same time it was the relentless mastermind for destroying our land and the environment. It is hoped that the era of the past 50 years, in which daily life was dominated by politics and economics, will come to an end, with the new era being a period or wisdom in which daily life is shaped by culture.
.
To create architectural works befitting such a period of wisdom, architects will have to pursue the coexistence or human beings and nature, while recognizing the inherent values or nature and the limitations or growth. Architecture will be redefined by cultural sensibilities. I am confident that this will be possible thanks to our beautiful natural environment, our ancestors' outstanding architectural legacy, our advancements in science and technology, our accumulated economic power, and a philosophy based on a firm sense or identity which is already thriving.
 
 
Copyright 2003-2006 The Korea Foundation. All Rights Reserved.
Comments and questions to koreana@kf.or.kr
Tel (+82-2) 3463-5684 / Fax (+82-2) 3463-6086