Saturday, April 17, 2010

RASKB lecture - Contradiction of Seoul's Urban Architecture

Last week I attended another lecture hosted by the good folks of the Royal Asiatic Society - Korea Branch. From the website:
April 13, 2010 RAS Lecture Meeting
Tuesday / 화요일 Prof. Kim, Sung Hong
7:30 p.m. 2nd floor, Residents’ Lounge
Somerset Palace, Seoul
Contradiction of Seoul's Urban Architecture
Why doesn’t Seoul, a city with a history of over 600 years, look more traditional? Why is the cityscape dominated by high-rise buildings, apartments and signs? If Seoul is one of the places people most want to visit, why is it considered by many one of the worst cities? From where do these contradictions derive?
To understand Seoul’s contemporary architecture, we must review Seoul’s development by looking back to the 14th century and its evolution up to the present.
In this lecture we will look at how early industrialization, urbanization, and the industrial structure of today have shaped Seoul’s contemporary architecture. We will also look at the different issues facing Korean architects as well as their European and American counterparts, what steps they are taking and the choices they have been and still can make. We will also take a look at the exhibition “Megacity Network: Contemporary Korean Architecture,” which was held in Seoul and four cities in Europe over the past two years.
Sung Hong KIM is a professor of architecture and urbanism at the University of Seoul. He studied architecture at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, the University of California at Berkeley, and Hanyang University in Seoul. He has served as an organizer of the Korea-Germany Public Space Forum at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2005, was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of Washington in 2006, an organizer of the “Megacity Network: Contemporary Korean Architecture” exhibition in Frankfurt, Berlin, Tallin, Barcelona and Seoul 2007-2010, and was the provost of the Planning and Research Office of the University of Seoul 2007-2008. He has published several publications about Korean architecture and urbanism in Korean and English.
What actually transpired was a very short but pleasantly entertaining survey of the 600 year history of Seoul as told by a seemingly very nice and well-spoken Korean professor. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the lecture, there were many questions (I believe one was even from professor Stephen Epstein who happened to be in attendance) about the sheer ugliness of Seoul's urban landscape. I can't fault the speaker for avoiding the question because frankly, ascetics are not his field; modern architecture is and he certainly isn't responsible for the concrete ugliness of the post-Korean war construction boom.

However, I was able to jot down a few notes that I'd like to post. The only question I personally asked but didn't get a full response was about 한옥. I asked if there was an internal movement to preserve 한옥 or a group or company that is pushing to build new 한옥 in the old style. Professor Kim did mention that it has only been within the last ten years or so that a few NGOs have actually tried to preserve Hanok at all outside of 복촌, a section of Seoul that has a somewhat larger number of 한옥 located in the northern part of Seoul.

Anyways, here's what I learned:
- The "일산 New Town" concrete apartment complex was a five year start-to-finish project.
- Seoul was a planned city dating back to the 14th century
- The designers followed closely, but not exactly, not the Chinese principle of urban development. I didn't catch the name of it though..anyone know it? 주리?
- Unlike European cities, Seoul highlighted the government markets (시장) in the center of the city and hid the residential district behind it.
- Seoul has intentional asymmetrically designed palaces in accordance with Korean geomancy (풍수지리)
- 명동성당 was controversial for many reasons, one being that it was higher than the King's palace
- During the Japanese colonization period (일제 강점기) the city's landscape was changed rapidly
- Jongno's (종로) storefront's name is 피말기 or something like that. Something that means "even a horse would avoid it". Not sure exactly about that. Readers? * 피맛골 as per the comments. Thanks Matt!
- 1/5 people in Korea live in Seoul


Matt said...

That lecture sounds like it was interesting.

The place in Jogno you're talking about is '피마골'. It's an alleyway behind Insadong road. It means literally 'avoid horse alley' and apparently in Joseon period when the royal entourage came by everyone had to bow and show respect so many people would go to this alley, behind the main street, to avoid the horses and having to bow. It's full of makoli drinking places now and a lot of them were closing down but I think they're making an effort to preserve them now.

Matthew Smith said...

Thanks for the clarification!

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