Critics Paint Blue House as Clash of Form and Colors

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Critics Paint Blue House as Clash of Form and Colors

If you look toward Bugak mountain from Seoul's Sejong-ro, the avenue that leads up to Gyeongbok Palace, you will see a blue paljak jibung, a Korean hipped-and-gabled roof, in the distance. The roof belongs to the main building of the Blue House, the Korean presidential residence located at the foot of Bugak mountain.

The central building, built in 1991, is complemented by supplementary structures such as single story outbuildings on either side and a front gate called a soseuldaemun. The soseuldaemun is a large entrance gate building that in the past was used solely by the nobility.

The buildings that make up the Blue House complex were modeled after the traditional royal palaces of the Choson Dynasty but are made of concrete rather than the traditional material, wood. The best-known aspect of the main building is its distinctive roof, which is layered with blue tiles. The beautiful style of the roof, with its eye-catching angular hips and gables, dates back to the mid-Choson period. The 300,000 tiles used for the roof were baked one by one, with the kind of attention given to a piece of art, and are expected to last for more than 100 years. The exterior of the building, which resembles a palace, adopts a dapo form, whereby multiple horizontal brackets support the eaves. These decorative features are also made of concrete rather than wood.

The outlay of the buildings is closer to the arrangement found in a Choson Dynasty nobleman's residence or a private academy rather than that used for a palace. According to Cheon Keun-woo, an architect who participated in designing the presidential building, rooms were assigned to various purposes - such as an office for the president and banquet halls - in a framework of a traditional architectural style that left architects with limited choices for design. He recalled also that "representing a traditional-style building, which is usually built of wood, using concrete, was not an easy job."

Kim Kwang-hyun, professor of architecture at Seoul National University, commented, "The views of the Blue House from close by and far away can be quite different." The Blue House is one of those buildings that looks different from every angle. According to Mr. Kim, viewed from a short distance, the Blue House looks well ordered and has a becoming color. But glance at it from Sejong-ro and see a different picture. Critics have argued that the white walls and blue roof of the building clash with the verdant green hue of Bugak mountain behind it.

The problem of the color discordance went unnoticed at the time of construction, because the building was shielded by Jungangcheong, a building located in Gyeongbok Palace that was used as the governor-general's office in the colonial period, which made a view from afar impossible. After the removal of the Jungangchoeng building the color problem became apparent.

Kim Bong-ryol, a professor at the Korean National University of Arts, pointed out that "the main building of the Blue House incorporates some features of traditional buildings but should not be considered wholly a traditional-style building itself." He explained, "The concept of traditional Korean architecture is based on intimacy with humans, geographical features and harmony with nature, ideas which the main building of the Blue House does not fully respect."

Getting a close-up of the Blue House is difficult, as access to the building is limited for obvious reasons. But the cultural importance of the Blue House goes beyond its architectural value.

by Shin Hai-kyung

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