Past and present combine to form new art space

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Past and present combine to form new art space

Ahn Byung-mo has shaken up the local architectural scene with his design of the Ilmin Museum of Art in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul. But it's not just because of his designs; it's because of who he is. For years, Korean conglomerates, their sights set on all things prestigious and Western, have been hesitant to assign major projects to local architects. Corporate headquarters and other major projects around the capital are routinely doled out to foreign architects.

"The problem when a foreign architect is assigned for a local project is that there are certain limitations to their understanding of the local culture," says Mr. Ahn, 48. "As a result, the buildings often look out of place. They float in the middle of space."

The Ganaart Center, a posh art museum in Pyeongchang-dong that opened two years ago, was built by Wilmotte, a German architect. The Rodin Gallery, an ambitious museum project by the Samsung Foundation of Culture, was built by Kevin Kennon, an American architect. Though the two buildings have been lauded for their daring, museum visitors have frequently complained about how poorly they fit into each of their locations.

The Ilmin Museum - a contemporary art museum that belongs to the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper - however, fits smoothly into the downtown strip. The renovation project, which began in 2000, turned an old office building into a modern museum. Most unusual for a building in downtown Seoul, the project was given to a Korean architect, who didn't have any experience in constructing museums.

The Dong-a building, one of the few buildings in Seoul that survived the Korean War, was designated tangible asset No. 131 last year by the city of Seoul, so maintaining that history was an important focus of the renovation. But at the same time, so was creating a modern space that fit the times. Mr. Ahn says the theme of the renovation focused on the interface between the "past and the present" and "tradition and invention."

An example of this interface is the restored office of Kim Sang-man, a longtime president of the Dong-a Ilbo (his pen name, Ilmin, is the source of the museum's name). Kim used to use the office to display his private art collections. Now open to the public, the office will once again become a showroom.

The renovated building fits well into the changing scene of the Gwanghwamun area. To add a modern feel to the complex while restoring its original visage of the tiles, Ahn built a new wall of glass on the south side of the old building, matching the new Dong-a Ilbo building. As a result, a viewer can appreciate the old red tiles though the transparent glass covering.

In addition to these changes, the ceilings have been raised in the exhibition hall, and an atrium and a projection room for video artists have been added on the second floor.

For more information about the museum, call 02-2020-2055.

by Park Soo-mee

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