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In search of a city's architectural identity

by Michele Koh Morollo on Apr 15, 2015 in Architecture
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The late former president Roh Moo-hyun’s memorial is located in his hometown of Bongha Village, and is a triangular site with an area of 3,300 sq-m, crossed by two streams (Photo courtesy of Jong Oh Kim and Osamu Murai)

The late former president Roh Moo-hyun’s memorial is located in his hometown of Bongha Village, and is a triangular site with an area of 3,300 sq-m, crossed by two streams (Photo courtesy of Jong Oh Kim and Osamu Murai)

Seoul's first appointed city architect, Seung H-Sang, listens to the land and employs a 'philosophy of emptiness' to build public spaces that serve the people

Seung H-Sang, named Seoul's very first city architect last September, is considered to be one of the most influential Korean architects working today. Appointed to his groundbreaking new role by the city's mayor Park Won Soon, Seung's mission will be to re-establish the architectural identity of South Korea's capital. Heading a team of architects and urban planners, he oversees the bidding and planning for all public projects, and holds some sway over approval for the design of private projects.

It was while studying in Vienna that Seung first found his calling to be an architect. "When I found the works of Adolf Loos and learned that architecture has the power to revolutionise the age and society, I realised the fundamental function of the profession," he explains. Seung spent 15 years working under Kim Swoo Geun, the pioneer of contemporary Korean architecture, before setting out in 1989 to establish his own practice, Iroje Architects & Planners.

Seung H-Sang (Photo courtesy of Jong Oh Kim and Osamu Murai)

Seung H-Sang (Photo courtesy of Jong Oh Kim and Osamu Murai)

In April 1990, Seung and a coterie of young architect friends, including the renowned Min Hyun-Sik, formed the 4.3 Group to discuss new issues in architectural discourse, and to discover the essence of 'Koreaness' in their work. Each month, a member would present his work to the others for critiquing. "We discussed the presented work all night and found each other's architectural identity," Seung says. "Through participating in the 4.3 Group, I built up my architectural ethos — 'the beauty of poverty', which became the central idea behind my architectural works."

In 1992, the group, which had accomplished its goal of discovering each member's architectural identity, disbanded, but its members went on to shape the last two decades of architectural practice in Korea — and played a pivotal role in the formation of the Seoul School of Architecture. "I realised the necessity of a new architecture education system and founded a non-institutional school with fellow architects. This school's education system allowed students and teachers to study together, which led to a change in the traditional school system."

This is a preview of the "In search of a city’s architectural identity” article from the April 2015 issue of Perspective magazine.

To continue reading, get your copy of Perspective.

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