Cultivating the interiors of Korea’s spaces

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Cultivating the interiors of Korea’s spaces

Drive or walk along the Han river today, and see how the city of Seoul has become a forest of modern architecture.
A decade or two ago, the skyline’s defining feature was a vast stretch of apartment complexes which, outside and inside, looked like housing projects. Today, the landscape is marked by architecturally distinct towers, giving the ever-sprawling city a spectacular skyline that’s uniquely Seoul.
In the past, destination spots in Seoul have been sites that reflected Korea’s traditional heritage. These days, though, modern establishments, with aesthetically appealing interior spaces, are becoming major attractions.
Since 1979, members of KOSID, or the Korean Society of Interior Architects/Designers, have organized meetings among local and international spatial designers, exchanged culture and friendship and promoted the development of urban environments in Korea. Consisting of both students and professionals, the society has discussed the definition of Korean design and encouraged improvement of interior design in Korea.
The effort, which had been made annually through academic forums and exhibitions among the official KOSID members in the past, has gone public this year.
The 13th president of KOSID, Ahn Hee-young, and 36 board members recently organized the 2003 KOSID Exhibition and Award at Star Tower Gallery in southern Seoul.
“Discussion of architectural and interior design works in Korea should no longer be limited to academic circles and industry professionals only,” Mr. Ahn said. “The purpose of the exhibition is to promote designers and their works commercially to the Korean public, and to overseas clients, to promote international collaboration.”
As the new president of KOSID, Mr. Ahn is planning to connect Korean designers and industry professionals with their counterparts in overseas markets.
For five days, the Star Tower Gallery displayed 65 visual presentations of both exterior and interior designs created by leading Koreans in the field. They were divided into four categories of spaces: residential, commercial, office and miscellaneous. On opening night, four interior designers, Kim Kai-chun, Yu Jeong-hwan, Bae Dae-yong and Kim Joo-won, were presented with the Golden Scale Award.
Mr. Ahn said that this year’s exhibition had taken KOSID to another level, as important clients were also honored for their support of the development of Korean design.
“Without the support of understanding, tasteful clients, neither designers nor the design industry can thrive,” he said.
Mr. Ahn, a graduate of Pratt Institute, considers himself a “third generation” designer in Korea. As a leading scholar of interior architecture at Konkuk University, he wishes to follow in the footsteps of Korea’s great pioneering designers ― Kim Won, Son Seok-jin, Min Young-baek and Cho Seong-ryeol, to name a few. But he finds some of the current trends in Korean design frustrating and often embarrassing.
“There are many local designers who have gained public attention through press coverage. They are good at making impressive spaces that basically belong to a model house. Typical Korean reporters, who are young, inexperienced or shallow in knowledge, cannot see beyond flashy decorations that lack authentic culture, heritage and spirit,” he said.
Mr. Ahn believes Korea’s impoverished historical legacy is to blame for what he calls the shallowness of contemporary Korean culture. “The Korean War destroyed valuable historical heritage, and the military coup d’etat wiped out the rich culture of Korea’s noble class. Then Koreans were too poor to begin with, and too busy building things too fast.”
In an attempt to begin rectifying the situation, Mr. Ahn plans to start a course in the appreciation of authentic antiques and art works. “Although it may take years for Koreans to have good, discerning eyes, at least awareness through workshops will help speed up the process,” he said.
When the panel of judges at the society chose Kim Kai-chun as the winner of the competition this year, it was an expression of regard for his sense of culture and his fusing of modern interior architecture with Buddhist philosophy. Mr. Ahn said, “Kim Kai-chun works on the spiritual aspect of the creative space. His works carry the weight of time and history.”
Mr. Kim, currently a visiting professor at Kookmin University’s department of interior design, received KOSID’s top prize for a private home in Pyeongchang-dong in northern Seoul. He named the project “Jungam,” Korean for “The House in the Middle,” a term with considerable Buddhist significance. He says the spacious home is more pan-Asian than Korean, decorated with limestone, oakwood and white rice paper to be “devoid of colors.”
“The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said the most beautiful thing in the world has no forms. To me the most beautiful home is a colorless space,” Mr. Kim said. “I designed the home for occupants to feel as though they were in the middle of the woods. All the windows are there not just for looking outside, but to create a sense of being in the middle of nature.”
In the local magazine Interior, the Korean critic Lee Yong-jae wrote, “No photographs can fully describe the feeling of being inside the architect Kim Kai-chun’s work.”
Having studied architecture and environmental design at Chungang University and at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, Mr. Kim received his Ph.D in philosophy from Dongguk University. The 45-year-old designer is also the author of several books and has won prestigious national awards in Korea.
One of Mr. Kim’s biggest projects this year is Manhae Village in Gangwon province in eastern Korea. The establishment, to be opened to the public in November, commemorates the life of Han Yong-un, who was a poet, a Buddhist monk and a resistance fighter during the Japanese colonial period.
“A typical commemorative hall is simply a building that exhibits memorabilia,” Mr. Kim said. “Manhae Village is a holistic complex where visitors can view the late poet-monk’s collection, stay overnight at a hotel and practice Zen in a modern Buddhist temple also inside the complex,” he said.

by Ines Cho

For more information on the Korean Society of Interior Architects/Designers and its activities, visit its official Web site or call 02-508-8037.
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