.Like all his contemporary members of the Korean elite, he lived through the turbulent time during which the nation went through the process of transition from Japanese colonial rule to post-World War II freedom and a military revolution. He lived a troubled life in that period of political storm.
.But the troubled world around him could not dampen his enthusiasm for architecture. It was a blissful obsession that sustained him throughout his life. Kim devoted himself to developing Korea's modern architecture until an end was put to his self-imposed mission by his premature death.
.His notion and philosophy of architecture should be illuminated in the light of his early years and subsequent career as a practicing architect.
.Kim left behind more than 200 pieces of architectural work. On the other hand, his writings were few and far between, and even those few writings were very fragmentary. He no doubt believed that an architect should speak through his architectural work as did Eero Saarinen, Alvar Aalto et al.
.He was fond of composing poems while young and was known to to have been quite adept at writing. Those few pieces of his writing all reflect his lyrical and poetic styles.
.His father was a country magistrate. That fact made it a rather migrant life for him in childhood; he had to go wherever his father was assigned to serve. Most of the locations, though, adjoined the upper reaches of the Taedong River and were blessed with natural beauty.
.Kim's concept of architecture as a means of communion with nature had certainly been nurtured during his youth while he was in close contact with nature around him.
.A passionate yearning for beauty led him to join a painting club in his middle-school days. After being enrolled at Yokohama Technical College in Japan, he studied architecture for three years. It was after Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule that he returned home and began teaching at the Engineering College of Seoul National University.
.He made a large circle of friends with artists and published his poems from time to time. For four years at college I attended his class of design. His lectures on architectural design delivered through those years struck me as being rather ambiguous and jumbled.
.Open your eyes to nature. Love and examine nature closely. Sink yourself deep in meditation. Nature is your mentor in design. These were some of his fondest litanies. Kim loved to take up the subject of nature's impact on Egyptian architecture, spoke highly of the Parthenon and expressed ardent admiration for Le Corbusier. You could hardly call him a competent professor. Rather, he was a "revolutionary crusader," as somebody put it. He was always bent on firing the imagination of his students.
.An encounter with "Le Corbu" had a decisive influence on his career. Under this master he worked in fact for three years.
.As a novelist must show his philosophy of life through the characters of his novels, so does an architect bring to life his world of art by means of his work. Various encounters he had in the first half of his life by necessity formed the basis of his outlook on life. Though he was convinced that architecture was a paean for humanity, he said it must be exciting and expressive - even musical and poetic.
.In his collection of architectural design, "The lights and Shadows of an Architect," Kim emphatically says that the architect should help shape today, not yesterday nor tomorrow.
.Korea's Pulguksa temple is magnificent. But it belongs to the era of Unified Silla (668 - 918). The present era, he said, should have an architecture suitable to it. He said at the same time, though, that a contemporary work should be designed with the glories of Pulguksa in mind.
.He insisted that it would be senseless to place a tile roof on a modern edifice after the fashion of the Silla temple. Such an act of mistaken imitation would be an affront to architecture.
.He was in Paris for three and a half years before returning to Korea to open a studio of his own. For a while he seemed dedicated to emulating Le Corbusler. Gradually his designs began doing justice to his talent and opened up a new vista. The French embassy in Seoul that he designed was, to many of his admirers, about as magnificent as Pulguksa temple.
.Kim laid out the office ward, the embassy proper and the residence on a low hill. fitting nicely the natural setting, these buildings looked as though they had been serenely standing there down the ages.
.The concrete roofs of the embassy proper and residence seldom fall to impress visitors. The shape of one roof is masculine and that of the other feminine. The contrast might prove reminiscent of that between some Pulguksa structures - the masculine Sokka Pagoda and the feminine Tabo Pagoda. Carp and dancing sunshine glorify the pond in front of the ambassador's residence.
.The embassy embodies Kim's concept of classical architecture, his attachment to nature and his idea of equating architecture with a symphony of lights and shadows. The structures are deeply impressive and moving. For its construction, Kim did well over 2,000 sketches and plans.
.Another example of Kim's classical architectural style is reflected in the Hankook Gallery of Art. Its form represents the vigor of geometric straight lines and conveys a powerful rhythm. The rhythm presented in space between the angled rafters reminds some visitors of the temperament of Bach, whose music Kim always listened with keen relish.
.The success of the embassy design was duly recognized by the French government. It conferred on him a fitting decoration.
.Outspoken and disdainful of autocratic bureaucracy, Kim often had trouble with authorities. At one time, he even stayed out of the country. In fact, he was out of the country for eight years before returning home to provide the full benefits of his artistic abilities.
.Firm in his belief, Kim would not easily revise his designs. At times his plan was too expensive to execute. Sometimes he wouldn't even give an estimate of the building cost. Sure enough, this gave rise to some misgivings about him.
.Why did Kim do what he did? His explanation was straight-forward. The result of his architectural endeavor stands on land more or less permanently. Even after his death he will be identified with it. In short, as far as Kim was concerned, a shortage of funds, ignorance of clients or the inadequacy of building technicians is no excuse for bad architecture.
.Clearly Kim belonged to the type of people we call genius. Architecture accounted for the sum total of his life. Kim hated to brush elbows with snobbish fellow architects. An unsociable bigot he was like the typical genius. He soon found himself a loner.
.He would not tolerate red tape. Thus he seldom landed fat contracts for designing major government buildings.
.His approach to architecture was not so much intellectual as sensitive and intuitive. Most often did Kim obtain the shapes of architecture by intuition.
.The last work by Kim Chung-up was the Olympic Gate. Like most of his creations, this structure also savors profuse handicraft. His preoccupation with the beauty of architecture, rather than its functions, is consistent with his faith that the translation of a dream into reality is the most important part of work for an architect.
.His reasoning went like this. A beautiful structure, even when turned dilapidated by the passage of time, may not be demolished because of its inherent beauty. Beauty alone could sustain a building through ages.
.On the whole, a true artist tends to be egocentric and is too filled with prejudices to be called a gentleman. A great artist absorbed in creative work is likely to be indifferent to mundane affairs. That was Kim Chung-up.
.When coming face to face with maladroit architects, he minced no words in telling them about precisely where they stood in the profession. That kind of behavior runs counter to what pass for good manners. But Kim had to be honest with himself and others. He was blunt and unyielding.
.He taught at schools for a long time. From time to time, he appeared on television. He almost never tried to shed his harsh Pyongan (a province in north Korea) accent. He refused to cultivate the standard Seoul accent.
.Kim was well read. He also loved Bach and Chopin. He moved his home many times. But wherever he went he refused to part with a granite three-story pagoda which was believed to date back to the Koryo period (918-1392). He loved rocks as a building material. He used to say that he could communicate with rocks.
.What kind of dialogue did take place?
.Was it as intriguing as that between the Pyramid and the Sphinx?
.Spanning 66 years, Kim's life was neither short nor long. Now perhaps is the good time for us to confer on him some fitting monikers. Here's a selection.
.An unfinished poet.
An architectural genius.
A bureaucracy basher.
An infidel who believed in ideals.
A very Korean Korean architect.