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2017_10_30
Letters from the Past (1)_Ahn Youngbae
         

Memories Presented by a Magazine that Went Through a Half Century

 

Ahn Youngbae (chairman, Dosung Architects & Associates)

 

Ahn Youngbae was born in Yeonbaek county in Hwanghae-do. He graduated from the Architectural School and the Graduate School of Architecture at Seoul National University in 1958. He then worked in the Architecture Research Center and the ICA Housing Technological Laboratory at the Korea Development Bank in the 1950s. In 1961, funded by ICA, he studied at University of Michigan and Washington University. In 1959, he was ranked second at the ‘National Assembly Building Design Competition (Namsan)’ and first at the ‘National Assembly Building Design Competition’ at Yeouido in 1968, and he had participated in the design process. He publications include New Housing, External Space of Korean Architecture. He also worked at Seoul National University, Kyung Hee University, and University of Seoul, and has had a hand in bringing up many new generations of architects.

「SPACE」as An Artists Agora written by Ahn Youngbae, 「SPACE」100th issue

 

To. SPACE Magazine editorial team

 

To be honest, I stayed away from architecture magazines from the moment I stepped into my later years. However, I glanced at a recent edition of SPACE, and its larger size and editing style of the images is pleasing to the eye. The contents also seem very timely and rich.

   SPACE originally began as a combined magazine for urban architecture and the arts. It played a major role in helping architecture to be recognised more broadly as part of the arts and culture. I believe that it brought about a significant change in attitudes, considering how it dealt not only with the fine arts and music but also the dramatic arts. While it is inevitable that each professional area becomes more specialized as time goes by, I wonder if it is possible to continue past traditions and uphold brief reports of each artistic area as published in the magazine—instead of sticking to just one identity (i.e., architecture). I wonder how it look to continue bringing various areas together in coexistence.

   It brings joy as well as pain when reminiscing about the local architectural scene. It was a great trial to deal with the lack of understanding towards architecture in our society and the top-down, state-run architectural approach. Most especially, it was inevitable that the problem of tradition would feature at least once. The National Museum of Gyeongbokgung (designed by Kang Bongjin) in the early 1960s marks the beginning of the controversy, bringing the old building as it is with the projects of other ordinary architects - such as the Gyeongju National Museum, National Theater of Korea, Gwangju National Museum, Independence Hall of Korea, and others - also did not receive positive results. It was a very challenging task. The article ‘The Exterior Space of Korean Architecture’, which I wrote and published consecutively across eight issues of SPACE from March 1974 onwards piqued an general interest in the challenges facing ‘traditional architecture’ and ‘exterior space’ in the architectural scene. Kim Won’s article ‘The Crisis of Korean Modern Architecture’ was also groundbreaking for his severely critical response towards the National Theater of Korea (designed by Lee Hui-Tae), receivig a headline cover on the 95th issue of 1975, despite the fact that his project was an attempt to express tradition in a modern sense.

   Also, throughout the period 1960s to 1980s, I remember that Kim Joong-up and Kim Swoo Geun appeared often in SPACE. The French Embassy in Korea, designed by Kim Joong-up after his return from Paris, was a project that greatly stimulated the young architects of that time. That experience was so shocking that, unfortunately, his later works could no longer bring about a similar or a greater sensation, but I would still like to note his World Peace Gate, built in the Olympic Park, as one of his greatest posthumous works. On the other hand, after debuting his work to such a sensational response in his design of the National Assembly Building at Namsan, Kim Swoo Geun was a fortunate architect who could leave behind numerous works despite his short life. I would like to especially appreciate his efforts in founding and sustaining SPACE as one of his greatest works. While he had to undergo a serious challenge regarding the debate on Japanese styles for the Buyeo National Museum, he had the strength to overcome it, and I gained the impression that he had held back to a certain degree when I saw the SPACE building, built in 1971. His works were always followed by agreements and disagreements. For example, while Kyungdong Presbyterian Church – one of his principal works – was highly praised for its sense of mass brought about by the characteristics of the brick and its changing sense of space in terms of its approach, it was also criticized for bringing about a bulky feeling like that of an ancient old castle in contrast to the neighbouring urban landscape. To add more to this, I still believe that there is no awareness of outdoor space in Korea’s architecture. Outdoor space within the city is a major issue alongside a concept of ‘publicness’. It should not be simply recognized as a place for a largescale event or a protest site such as the plaza in front of the Seoul City Hall or Gwanghwamun Square. Architecture should deviate from a form as an entity and become a form to create an environment. It can be learned from our country’s traditional architecture which takes a ‘cluster form’. It is our next task to have a keen interest in internal-external interaction and link, and to build a space breathing with the city.

As someone who was rather involved in the 1960s and the 1970s, there is much to reminisce about, but I am also of the mind that the SPACE editorial team will continue to fulfill their duties well into the future. I only wish to propose that more attention should be spent on the task of encouraging more mid-rise and low-rise houses instead of high-rise buildings, if only for the sake of vitalizing the urban housing industry, the problem of publicness, of an ethical stance in urban architecture, and the scrutiny of external space. The project style of an architect often reveals itself in a larger way in a small project than in a large building, and I feel that the composition of the contents is appropriately organised. It is commendable that small buildings such as the Nonhyeou-dong d’A (issue 594), Morning Dew Guesthouse (issue 594), Nichemass (issue 595), and others are being covered. However, one thing I wish is that a discussion between generations regarding certain topic or project to flourish. If there is more chance to communication between a generation who has just retired from a field of design and a generation who has just stepped into the field, there will be substantially less trial and error, taking steps forward in Korea’s contemporary architecture. To be little nitpicky about editorial configuration, it would be helpful in understanding architectural drawings better if they are laid out on a single page instead of being scattered on pages.

 
 
tag.  Korean architecture , Architecture magazine , Editorship
       
no.600 (2017.November) 
 
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