SPACE Magazine
SPACE Magazine
Letters from the Past (3)_ Yim Changbok

How Should We Deal with the Participation Threshold in Public Architecture?


Yim Changbok(honorary professor, Sungkyunkwan University)

Yim Changbokwas born in 1946, and he is an Emeritus Professor at the architectural department of Sungkyunkwan University. He did his bachelors degree at the architectural department of Seoul National University, his masters at University of Toronto, and his doctorate at Seoul National University. He has previously worked as the editor-in-chief for urban architecture at the Asia-based international architecture academic journal JAABE, and as a visiting professor at MIT and the University of Tokyo.

'Rethinking of the Traffic System in Korea' written by Yim Changbok, 「SPACE」300th issue  

To. Architectural field in Korea


After receiving an invitation 25 years ago to write an article commemorating the 300th issue of SPACE, I submitted a short text entitled ‘Where is the Korean City Going?’ It was a time when new cities were being rapidly developed thanks to greater accessibility via automobiles, and I remember the text was written to emphasise the necessity of public transport and pedestrian—focused urban development. As I have been invited again to submit a text to commemorate the 600th issue of SPACE, I would like to recollect my thoughts over the years concerning the tasks tackled by the architectural scene and ponder their continued relevance.

   My memories of staying in Tokyo for about two months in the summer break of 1992 - exploring its architecture and the city from the point of observing how Japan’s modern architectural development and its historical culture had assimilated, and how scientific innovations were being carried out - are still fresh in my mind. During that time, Mr. Hara’s Kyoto History design was selected at the international competition , to which internationally famous architects such as Kurogawa and James Sterling were also invited. His method of dealing with such a huge space without disrupting the historical landscape of Kyoto, making a seamless connection with the urban axis through his megastructure method, was very unique. In his works, there were meaningful attempts made to incorporate the structure with the historical culture of Japan. At that time, I was deeply drawn to the methods of this design competition, one to which someone as well-learned as Hara Hiroshi was invited. Although it was an international design competition, four Japanese and foreign architects with a high standard of knowledge and understanding of the history and cultural background of Kyoto were invited, and the contentions aims of the organiser in their selection of the work between them was particularly remarkable. It was quite different from the practice in Korea where only the fairness of the procedure and the size of the event were emphasized, and I was envious of that aspect.

   My memories of having met Toyo Ito and Sejima Kazuyo in their small offices are also fresh. Having become recognised as a respected architect, Sejima had just moved her office after completing the construction of a female university dormitory at Fukuoka. I was impressed by the succinctness of the space and the detailed finish of the dormitory. Later, during my visit at a contemporary art museum at Kanazawa, I was able to discover a new realm of possibility for a more mature modern architecture when I was there for a conference. I do not know exactly how this opportunity to participate in a public project such as the Kanazawa art museum was given to her, but I remember that during my stay in Japan in 1992, a university professor at the University of Tokyo had advised me to observe her work. He predicted that she would be able to grow bigger than any female architect than I knew back then. This was a new experience as the Japanese people tended to avoid rating others or revealing their inner opinions to others. Her ability to evolve and to win the Pritzker Prize is a testament to her talents, but I also think that it was partly possible due to encouragements and endorsements from others in the architectural scene, who also recognized her architectural talents during her early years as an architect.

   Similarly, in the case of Toyo Ito, I remember that the house he built for himself using a light steel frame in his early years was not exceptional in terms of technical standards. However, after that attempt, the architectural transformation that he underwent - where he developed an atypical trilateral curved surface in 1992 at the art museum in Nagano that undergoing construction and his display in the Sendai Mediatheque some time later - was nothing short of amazing. His conscientious attitude and determination to seek new scientific innovations created a large audience around him, and I wonder if he was able to gain this opportunity to participate in a public architecture project due to their support. It makes me think that Sejima and Toyo Ito have become the world-respected architects that they are today because of not just their own hard work but also because of the sound and healthy amount of support that they received from their surroundings.

   Not too long ago, we successfully hosted the UIA 2017 Seoul World Architecture Congress. From participating in the event, I can confirm that the working standard of our local architects was very high. The thought that comes to mind after meeting various architects around the world is that our architectural standard does not lag too far behind when compared to foreign architects. However, it still remains the case that our architects do not receive as high a regard from our society. More importantly, not many opportunities are provided to young architects. For an architect to develop one step further in one’s abilities, participating in a public project can be a significantly important step. The method of awarding public projects in Korea still tends to prioritize fairness than the deliberation regarding the selection of participating architects and projects. In many cases, discussions regarding the content of the project are often avoided, and only the printed signature of the judge is permitted. I remember that there was a case when an individual was invited from overseas to participate as a judge in an international competition, who, demanding that votes should be kept anonymous, in accordance with how it is practiced internationally, threatened to leave and expressed discontent. Considering that public architecture is a project that is conducted through funds from public taxes, I feel that this method of practice has much room to be improved. In this reality, where the legitimacy of the decision concerning the prizewinner is grounded merely in the fact that it was conducted through a ‘fair vote’, and in a situation where international judges are invited to evaluate works simply because it is an international competition, it becomes difficult for development in architectural culture to be meaningful. I think that the public architecture design competition should stop being a one-time event, and that an attitude that appreciates it as a formative process of sympathetic bond in society is needed. This is a point in time in which we need to pour our efforts into the task of forming a common sympathy where the ordering body, the participator, and the organizer can all mutually respect and be considerate to each other. In this reality, where the legitimacy of the decision concerning the prizewinner is grounded merely in the fact that it was conducted through a ‘fair vote’, and in a situation where international judges are invited to evaluate works simply because it is an international competition, it becomes difficult for development in architectural culture to be meaningful.

tag.  Japan’s modern architecture , International competition , Public projects
no.600 (2017.November) 
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