[FOUNTAIN]Lordly presidential mansion

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[FOUNTAIN]Lordly presidential mansion

Facing the main office building of the Blue House, where the president conducts his official duties, a person is overwhelmed by the gigantic palace-style roof that is covered with 150,000 blue tiles. The roof is half the height of the building, which is about the same as a 10-story apartment building. Up close, the building does not look as elegant as it does from a distance.

Entering the building, you are once again struck by the sight of the ceiling as high as that of a gymnasium, smooth marble pillars and the interior of gold phoenix carvings. There are about 10 large rooms, including two grand banquet halls each with a capacity of 100 people, a small reception room used for meetings between heads of the political parties, and a number of medium-size conference rooms. After a cabinet meeting or a large reception, this "palace" covering 8,461 square meters, with two floors and one basement floor, becomes as quiet as a Buddhist temple. Only the president and 10 employees are there.

The solitude once made former president Kim Young-sam refer to himself as the prophet Jeremiah. Entering the president's office on the second floor, you will see that the president's desk is at least 20 steps away from the door. The story of a minister who stumbled walking the long distance backward after meeting the president epitomizes the monarchical atmosphere.

The presidential secretaries, the president's closest advisers, and a staff of about 400 are scattered in other buildings 500 meters from the main office building. An architect, Seung Hyo-sang, said of the relation between the building and the president, "People are controlled by the spatial features they themselves build."

It has been about 10 years since the Blue House was rebuilt on a grandiose scale, separating the staff from the president. Former president Roh Tae-woo ordered the construction of a new Blue House, embarrassed that the presidential residence lacked space for U.S. President George Bush's accompanying party during a visit in 1989. Before that construction, the Blue House was an elegant building of 1,934 square meters. Mr. Roh built a mansion no less grand than the White House, but he failed to put a communications-friendly layout inside it. President-elect Roh wants changes, saying the building isolates the president and makes him look and feel authoritarian. A modest man deserves applause.


by Chun Young-gi

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