[FOUNTAIN]Copycat Architecture

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[FOUNTAIN]Copycat Architecture

One of the most comprehensive and harshest criticisms made in Korea's modern history is testimony by Reverend Kang Won-ryong, a leading figure in the country's Christian community.

"The 1980s was an empty field. The economic development drive forced us to turn stones into bread. People wanted to take power even if it meant selling their souls to the devil," he wrote in a memoir titled "On an Empty Field." What about the city of Seoul, which is a symbol of modernism and contemporary history?

"Construction and cities are a testimony made by an era," says Kim Seok-chul, a prominent architect. "I dare to say that 90 percent of Korea's current buildings are nothing more than trash."

It is an open secret in the nation's construction community that even that "trash" is the result of copying foreign buildings.

That is why the acrimonious remark by Cho Kwon-sub, known as a guerrilla critic, is so persuasive. "Seoul is a republic of plagiarism," he says.

Let's begin with Apgujeong-dong in southern Seoul, littered with exotic buildings. Two buildings that dominate the area may have been plagiarized by one architect. Look at the large church that stands next to the Olympic Park in Jamsil. With its glass outer walls, the building is a copy of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass building designed by Phillip Johnson.

Things are the same in the area around Gwanghwamun, a main boulevard in Seoul. One imposing edifice that houses a large bookstore was copied because of the strong demand of its owner, who asked the designer to "make it exactly the same" as the one in a photo he took during an overseas trip. That is an act of violence in total disregard of the concept of space, a basic element of construction.

Another building symbolizes the chaos of plagiarizing everything from such master Western architects as Louis Isadore Kahn, Le Corbusier and Giuseppe Teragni. It is a large skyscraper in Jongno. Although it looks imposing, with a big square hole in the upper levels, the horrible edifice is almost as much a plagiarism as the one near Gwanghwamun. With intellectual property theft so prevalent, it is impossible to encourage innovation. Kim Young-min, a philosopher, defines the condition of Korea's humanities as "gijichon," a word describing the tawdry towns that spring up around military bases. That is true for the construction industry here.

Mr. Kim argues in his book that construction is the essence of the humanities. Our architecture education encourages plagiarism. And people don't realize it. To paraphrase Mr. Kang's memoir, we have, in Seoul, "plagiarized construction built on an empty field."

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Cho Woo-suk

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