RAZGOVOR: Seung H-Sang (IROJE architects&planners)
  • 2018-02-07
    • Razgovarali: Katarina Bošnjak, Ibrica Jašarević
    • Razgovori

    “Landscript  – Sentimental Topography“

    Razgovarali: Katarina Bošnjak, Ibrica Jašarević
    Prevod: Edin Sarić

    Seung H-Sang, South Korean architect and founder of office ‘IROJE architects&planners‘, (established after working for Kim Swoo-geun from 1974 to 1989) gave a lecture at Nights of Architecture (NOĆI ARHITEKTURE 06) on January 17th 2018, and gave us the privilege of hearing him talk about  references from traditional Korean architecture through presentation of some of his distinguished implemented work – from small houses to big public buildings. Paths, voids, wild nature, memory and location topography are all tied into one Landscript – Sentimental Topography, as Seung describes his architecture. Morning after the lecture, the team from AABH had the opportunity to interview Mr. H-Sang, at terrace of hotel Hecco, overlooking the frozen cityscape of Sarajevo.


    AABH: Does Seoul/South Korea have any form of association of architects? How to you connect with each other?

    Seung H-Sang: There are so many organizational categories for Korean architects. Everything is happening around schools of architecture. Korean educational system is not so good. There are 100 schools of architecture, in Seoul only more than 30 schools! In old time three of those are important, one is Seoul University, second is Hanyang University and the third one is Hongik University. They have very long history and most of Korean architect rooted from these three schools. Korea has also long history of commissioners and obeying to older people. So when older people say something, younger people have to approve it. That is a very boring system. In this kind of circumstances, some diffraction happened. Around the year 1990, 14 very young architects gathered, including me, regardless of the school we attended, and formed one study group called 4.3 Group, named by the day we first meet. We gathered at least once a month and discussed everybody’s works, criticizing and debating with each other. It was very influential, not only to each member of the group, but also to Korean society. Also, we traveled to European cities to see what architecture is like in European societies. We saw master pieces of modernist architecture. After two years, we decided to have exhibition “Architecture of the era” – each member presented one or two works, and suggested their own manifesto. For example, I proposed “Beauty of poverty” that was very important thesis to me for a long time. It influenced Korean society of architecture very much. After exhibition we decided to dismantle our group, and start our own architecture practices, but we still collaborate.


    AABH: How do you see your ideas from “Beauty of Poverty” developed as a philosophy for the next generations?

    Seung H-Sang: I worked for Kim Swoo-geun for 15 years. He was kind of a father of Korean modern architecture. He died suddenly from cancer at age of 55. I couldn’t imagine how to continue my architectural practice after his death, because by his wish I was inaugurated as the chief of the company he formed. It was a very suffering moment for me. Without him I couldn’t do his architecture anymore, but I also didn’t know my own architecture even. I was confused and I struggled. But when I had a chance to stroll in a shanty village in Seoul, suddenly I got ideas on my own architecture in this village just like my hometown, where I was brought up. My family escaped from North Korea during Korean War. I grew up in a refugee camp, which influenced my younger days very much. People lived in poverty, but communality was very strong. I have very good and beautiful memories about that, so it gave some ideas about my architecture. I named it ‘Beauty of Poverty’, which was a manifesto also for me. At the same time I was brought up to a church area in Busan, so I also got influenced by Protestantism or Cavinism, it developed my attitude and behavior of modesty, combined with Buddhism and life in poverty. This was the time when commercialism spread across the whole country and I was against that phenomena. It was a frame that limited and imprisoned me, but I could only be free inside that frame.


    AABH: There are intense relations between power and architecture. In that sense, can you give us a reflection on Kim Swoo-geun and his relationship with Park Chung-hee, the dictator and let’s say father of modernization of South Korea?

    Seung H-Sang: It’s thruth. Kim Swoo-geun was devoted to Korean society in 1960es. In 1959, he won competition for National Assembly Hall, which was not realized due to the political situation – military revolution happened, Park Chung-hee, dictator of Korea, took over the power. Because of Park Chung.hee’s developmental ideology, Kim Swoo-geun did many proposals for the new military regime, he designed many public facilities. It was a good patronage. Kim Swoo-geun was educated in Japan and was a good partner for the new regime to look for a new person to fulfil their requirement. Kim Swoo-geun studied modern architecture, so he was influenced by Japanese society at that time and Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. He tried to establish modernism directly from western countries into the Korean society, so his architecture is example of western modernism architecture at first part of his career. But he became a wonderful translator of Korean tradition thru his own architecture at his second part.


    AABH: You speak very beautifully about loneliness; you cherish it and romanticize it. Is that your personal tendency or it is some cultural phenomenon?

    Seung H-Sang: In old time in Korea there was a noble group, we call them Sunbi, scholars living in poverty. Most of them were inclined to Confucianism – to the right to be in modesty and thinking of truth in loneliness and solitude. That way of life cultivated such beautiful culture – a very high quality of art and literature, and high quality of the way of living. This disappeared during last decades, by importing culture from western countries, especially from America – Americanism. This devastated long Korean tradition. When I think about our ancestor’s way of living, it is very worthwhile to be revived, so I decided to recall this kind of high quality of living, brought from loneliness and solitude.


    AABH: The dialog between East and West, do you consider it more of a conflict, a potential, or is it both?

    Seung H-Sang: East and West were divided in old time, but nowadays it is combined. No borders between anything, especially nowadays in the era of internet, everyone can get information very easily and everyone can make their own information. Modernism was inclined to ignore tradition, locality and vernacularism. Globalism can be dangerous, because people lose their own identity. I am interested in a word “specific universalities”. We have to share everything in present day. But that thing could be rooted in our own traditions. I’m based in Seoul, my work is rooted in Korean tradition, but that specific tradition is not so important to the others. In order to be shared with others, it should be transformed to universal ones. So, I think specific universalities are very important to all of us – eastern and western people too.


    AABH: Sometimes dialog can be understood as a postponed conflict. Francis Fukuyama has a philosophical and political concept that we are living in the end of history. But could it be interpreted also for eastern civilizations?

    Seung H-Sang: You could say it like that, but in that sense, division of East and West is meta political one. However, if we consider not just political site, but a place where we live, it is a very different aspect. I think the most important thing is the place where architecture should be built on. Place is different, whether the place is located in East, or West. Even in the East, there are different kinds of places. Every place has its own solutions for architecture. I am not a politician, I am an architect. I am interested on architectural aspect only. If I get a project, I go to the site directly to see what the site is, what it speaks to me – what does it want to be. Good architect should listen to that speech and reply with good architecture. It is the same on East and West. Even in Korea there are so many different places, in Sarajevo also, hills side, river side, downtown…so many different characters.


    AABH: Seoul was mostly built on philosophy of Confucianism and Feng shui. Do you see these guidelines used by new generations, or is it more left in the past?

    Seung H-Sang: Usually new generations do not like to listen to older ones. It is custom. In spite of that, you know, architectural work is not for the future. Designing work is not work for the future. Nobody knows about future. I’m not a prophet. I’m an architect. What I know is the past and the present. What I can do is to transform present life through my architecture. What I can say is, if you live in my architecture, your life could be different, but I cannot guarantee your future life. I cannot complete architecture. To complete architecture is the portion of inhabitance in time. It is very important. What I am doing, is just setting some infrastructure for inhabitants to live in. In this moment I just watch how they live with my architecture.


    AABH: Whit your view of the future, we could say you are an antimodernist. You don’t want to predict or predefine; you only interpret the past into the present.

    Seung H-Sang: I can see so many signs from the history and the past. But I don’t like to go back to the past, because time is always a process. Sometimes, I like to follow some trend, but sometimes I am against that kind of phenomena. Usually, I am not a fashionable architect, I am not trendy. My architecture soils to essential parts. It should always be very simple, almost nothing designed, just emptiness. It could be chance for people to live in my architecture, for it to be freedom for their living. I don’t mind if they change it according to the time. Only memory is important, what was there originally.


    AABH: You have been Seoul’s first City architect for two years. What exactly is that role, and what were its biggest challenges?

    Seung H-Sang: I was the first one to become Chief architect, so nobody knew what that role really was. That is why I wrote 8 rules for the position of the Chief architect. First is to coordinate public projects in Seoul city, second one is to advise big private projects that influence public space of the city. Third one is to organize exhibitions to show good projects to the public. Fourth is to educate citizens about architecture and urbanism. Fifth one is to collaborate with foreign cities to enhance mutual life of the citizens. Sixth is to organize international event and etc, so I founded first Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, which finished recently. Before that I used to criticize conventional system of architectural and urbanism in Seoul. So many conventional and custom behavior should have been resolved by myself. As a result I was producing enormous number of enemies. I had three groups of enemies against me. First group were big design firms that dominated most of public projects. I set a rule that every public project should be selected through competition. Second group were the developers, accustomed to the old system. Third group were the officials, connected with big firms and developers. They made up some rumors and fake scandals in attempt to degrade me. They requested city council and mass media that I explain my attitude. I know I used to be watched by people, so I was very modest and careful. After two years I was so exhausted, but young architects and good architect could get many opportunities under new system that I established, and they were very delighted. Nowadays, architectural society in Seoul became very bright, very connected and networked. So, I think I made some circumstances for good architectural society.


    AABH: How do you educate citizens?

    Seung H-Sang: City of Seoul is organizing architectural school regularly including kids’ school of architecture. Sometimes, they have seminars almost every week. People show interest in that.


    AABH: Your wife Choi Duk-joo is an artist. How do you collaborate professionally? Is she your muse? How many ideas do you steal from her? J

    Seung H-Sang: My wife is an artist, interested in traditional patchwork. The first slide from last night’s lecture, it shows work done by her. Her work takes very long time, because every stitch is hand woven. Nowadays, her work is being exhibited in Budapest. She asked me to give a subtitle to that exhibition, so I proposed “Hand-Woven Landscape”. Regarding the landscape, she used to be influenced by my architecture, so I think our collaboration is a two-way street.

    AABH: What is the core idea behind Landscript, the word you created?

    Seung H-Sang: Memory.

    AABH: Do you have any advice for young architects and explorers that you can draw out from your practice?

    Seung H-Sang: Yes. I always advise them to live for a voluntary exile. To be at ‘outside’, and from there to watch ‘inside’, to criticize and propose alternatives. Architectural student should live like that. Most work done by architect is drawing floorplan. But, floorplan could be seen by nobody. The only person who can see the floorplan is the God in the sky. Architect is given the right to make the floorplan. In order to do that, architect should be an outsider, living on his own ‘side’, to watch others’ lives. Architect should not design his own house, but houses for others. To design good architecture, she/he should understand the way the others are living. So she/he should be always ‘outside’ – in objective view. It is very suffering way of living, lonely and dark, no way to get money, no friends. Enjoying loneliness is very essential for architects; otherwise they cannot be good architects. This is my advice to young architects.


    AABH: If you look out at hills, you could find traces of “right of view” – unwritten rule from our tradition. You should respect you neighbor; not distract his right of view. Nowadays, we obviously don’t respect that anymore.

    Seung H-Sang: As in Seoul, it is the cityscape that must be protected with this environment of the mountains. Most important thing here in Sarajevo is to preserve mountainscape. Architecture must be under control, not to break beautiful landscape of the mountains. It’s why you need the city architect, to control it.

    : Sometimes people interpret control as a lack of freedom. That’s why they are intuitively against control.

    Seung H-Sang: Building is not for private ownership, even if it is built with somebody’s money. People cannot survive longer than 100 years, but building can survive longer than the people who started the building. Every building should be designed in ‘publicness’. Most important thing in architecture is publicity shared with all the people. So that any architecture cannot dominate the others.


    AABH: We have a saying – ‘You didn’t inherit the land from your grandparents, you borrowed it from your grandchildren’.

    Seung H-Sang:  Sure. That’s a good word especially to us living in this time of commercialism. Let’s think about Eiffel‘s tower. When it was built it was criticized so much, but now we cannot imagine Paris without it. Eiffel‘s tower changed the landscape of the Paris, but, during that time so many people suffered from that change of the landscape. All architecture should be proper in time. Most important thing to influence in architecture is the time, not the design. It is very important to be harmonious with present people living in architecture.

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    Datum objavljivanja: 07.02.2018.

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