What Learning Architecture Means
interview by Kim Kwanghyun (emeritus professor) ¡¿ Park Sungjin | edited by Lee Sungje
The question of ¡®what is good architecture¡¯, to those who are studying and practicing architecture, may play the role of a compass throughout their architectural journey. Carrying out his research with students at the University of Seoul and Seoul National University for 42 years, Kim Kwanghyun has been trying to answer this question. His thoughts have deepened as time has passed, as he has been engaged in more and more activities, such as publications, contributions to magazines and newspapers, lectures, and the Common Architectural School. On the occasion of his retirement, he published the ruminative outcomes of this experience as Lecture on Architecture. SPACE interviewed him to hear more about his activities since retirement.
Park Sungjin (Park): First, I would like to hear your impressions on retirement. I suppose you are already accustomed to your new daily life, as three months have passed since you retired?
Kim Kwanghyun (Kim): To have an opportunity to meet so many students over the past 40 years was the greatest happiness of my life. They were not only my students but also colleagues who studied alongside me. Teaching was my greatest pleasure. Thus, one of my greatest regrets is that I no longer have students to teach or study alongside. That said, I now feel free. The incumbent professors may think I am exaggerating, but they don¡¯t know the meaning of this freedom. I am delighted to think that I can enjoy this freedom from now on. What I have to focus on right now is editing my manuscript of the sequel to What Architecture Teaches Us, published this March, and then I have to hurry up finishing my tentatively named Space and Liturgy, a book about church architecture and liturgy. I am also developing a design commission for a church.
Park: On your retirement, you published the ten volumes of Lecture on Architecture. What prompted you to write this book and what made it that bulky?
Kim: This book, though imperfect, is a work that summarizes my teaching life. At first, I planned to publish a theory of architectural design book that could be used as a textbook for one semester, with fifteen articles published in Ideal Architecture from 1998 to 2000. Since then, two decades have already passed. I tried to revise it while teaching. I found a lack of expression and content year after year, while I was giving lectures from my manuscript. I added new content and modified sentences of the book whenever I had a chance. Five years later, my manuscript became a rag in my computer. I was always thinking about publishing it, but it was delayed and delayed. I also found that my interest had became wider and deeper. Within three years of my retirement I saw that a sixmonth research sabbatical would be enough to finish the book if I fully dedicated myself to it, however the amount of work kept increasing. Eventually, I just managed to publish it in year of my retirement. Now I am more mature than I was when first planning to publish this book, and I became more skilled at interpreting something difficult. This seems to give me more pleasure. I think it was a good choice to postpone publishing my book until retirement. Lecture on Architecture deals with theory of architectural design and architectural theory. In the past, a lot of courses titled ¡®theory of architectural design¡¯ were a standard part of an educational programme. But this subject was the most ambiguous to teach. I suppose professors were muddled in approaches to teaching it, particularly as it lacked a proper foundation or schema. It seems that in the Korean architectural world, which is divided and produces only an individual language without carrying out research, theory of architectural design and architectural theory cannot be properly established as main undergraduate subjects. And not to mention the importance of theory of architectural design – the subject
itself was closed. Theory of architectural design, whatever it may be called, must be at the centre of architecture. The reason is that theory of architectural design systemizes discussions of design and deals with an architect¡¯s position and attitude about what and how to think about problems. Without research and debate on theory of architectural design, the core of architecture is lost. However, the Architectural Institute of Korea has stopped using the phrase, theory of architectural design. They did it without any argument, and they don¡¯t regret their wrongdoing. How can an institute without theory of architectural design exist as an ¡®architectural¡¯ institute? Some say that this book is quite bulky. Amass all the theorising bullshit of architects who are engaged with architectural design without any firm basis, and it would make more than 50 volumes. Considering this, the 10 volumes of Lecture on Architecture cannot be thought of as sufficient. In fact, I had five more volumes to add except those ten. I wanted to cover themes such as ¡®architecture and drawing¡¯. To address Report what this tool means to architects, in addition to a technical explanation, when it comes to the question ¡®What is a drawing?¡¯. So, next time I would like to publish 10 more volumes, if I have a chance. I want to prevent architects from talking nonsense about architectural design and architectural theory and to provide a correct foundation for architecture for future students.
Park: Lecture on Architecture is not a book that can be read slowly in one sitting. How do you expect this book to be read?
Kim: I hope it will be used as a textbook for a course of lectures, as its title indicates. Professors can choose a volume tailored to the subject for the lecture or research project. Of course, all 10 books cannot be covered in one semester. Nevertheless, I hope they will be used for lectures. I didn¡¯t write this book with the idea that it could be covered in one or wo courses. It is not a book to be read in one sitting but to repeat as a subject to think over. I hope it will be read in graduate lectures too. One further wish is that young architects and the staff in architectural firms will read it. I think that this book will not only help individuals to seek their own design methodology but also to provide a good base and fascination for
one¡¯s own subject which keeps developing in practice.
Park: You once noted that you would like to meet young architects through your book Lecture on Architecture, and I would like to know what you actually meant.
Kim: Lecture on Architecture is not merely a book published and sold by a publisher. Rather, I hope it will be accepted as an ongoing process situated within the architectural world. Thinking with and teaching my students, I learn from all young people in our society who are working in architectural practice. Taking a rest during this semester after retirement, I am going to start teaching Lecture on Architecture one-by-one from the first volume every three weeks this September, as part of the ¡®Kim Kwanghyun Common Architectural School¡¯. Everyone is eligible to attend the lecture, but I hope young architects between 30 and 35 will participate in this programme. Though it has a pedagogical form, I hope to hear various opinions, including counterarguments. I want to make sure that design and theory are not separate, but that they are performed together. I would like it to be run as a decent school that appoints a representative, charges minimal tuition fees, and offers a certificate. I also have a plan to teach students for two days in five or six places in large cities across the country.
Park: I understand that you are planning to continue your teaching career at the Common Architectural School. The year 2018 hasn¡¯t yet featured any prominent activities in the school, so what kinds of plan do you have?
Kim: I didn¡¯t set a clear time frame for the Common Architectural School. The school adopts this name so that anyone can teach here. Even students can teach professors. If we take our time, the school will settle down properly into a feature of our architectural world. As this school has the goal of teaching and learning jointly, I hope that people from various backgrounds will play an active role here. I hope that the Common Architectural School will eventually become a platform for young architects and purpose-driven people to express their opinions and produce works for themselves and the architectural world. This will provide a place to teach and learn about common concerns, such as design fees and the working conditions of architectural firms.
The scene of the last lecture that marked his 42 years of teaching life
Park: You have been giving candid advice on Korean architecture. Your remarks were sometimes exaggerated or partially misunderstood. Nevertheless, do you still have any comments to make on the Korean architectural world and students?
Kim: I won¡¯t express my more critical opinions any more. I also have to live a beautiful life. Any argument in the world can be misunderstood and exaggerated, by whoever makes it. It does not matter. However, the biggest problem, in short, is that architects and professors of architectural design, though working hard and skillfully, do not want to speak publicly but to alk about themselves. They seem to think ¡®I just have to mind my own business, and I don¡¯t have to take the trouble to tell others¡¯. When we are in an emergency, we all take personal action. But keeping this up for one or two decades inevitably eakens the architectural world. Now, it seems that we don¡¯t have any serious topics currently being tackled by contemporary architecture.
Kim Kwanghyun received bachelors and masters degrees in architecture from Seoul National University, and obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo. After serving as a professor at the University of Seoul, he was a professor of architecture at Seoul National University for about 42 years. He studied and taught theory of architectural design and architectural design based on the principle of ¡®commonness¡¯ in architecture. He also served as a member of the Presidential Commission on Architecture Policy, and as the vice president of the Architectural Institute of Korea. Currently, he is the architectural education director of the Korean Institute of Architects and the head of the Common Architectural School. He wrotes many books such as Commonness, Architecture Before Architecture, What Architecture Teaches Us, and Lecture on Architecture.