A global village in suburban Seoul“Yes, this is like my own child,” said Yang Hae-yoon, proudly displaying a miniature ceramic replica of Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. “It took me an entire year to complete this.”
Mr. Yang, 58, an architect, found a new calling several years ago. In 1998, he began making ceramic miniatures of historic Korean buildings.
He now spends more time on them than he does on architecture.
In his small office in Gangnam, he proudly displayed tiny versions of Dongdaemun, Namdaemun and Gyeongbok Palace, all cased in transparent plastic boxes. Most of the replicas are built to a 1/500 scale. He has made 40 of them in five years.
Once he’d gotten the idea to do this, it took him three or four years more before he began making them. “I had a long period of trial and error,” Mr. Yang recalls.
At the time, he says, he knew nothing about ceramics. He recalls visiting ceramic exhibitions and museums and asking the ceramics masters about their techniques. But none of them, he says, would pass along their secrets to an architect.
“I finally asked a friend of mine who was an expert on ceramics,” he says. “I assure you, it wasn’t a walk in the park.”
He says the most difficult and most important part of the process was gathering detailed information about the structures. “I wanted to make it as accurate as possible, so when a person looks at the miniature, they would feel like they were looking at the building with the eyes of a bird.” He says he makes the molds himself, and has some assistance from his staff in the casting process.
So why would an architect suddenly jump into ceramics?
“I’m just a step away from turing 60, and I wanted to do something meaningful in my life before I die,” Mr. Yang says.
He was attracted by the permanence of ceramics, he says. He expects his miniatures to outlive the buildings they represent.
“A thousand years from now, ceramic materials will not have corroded like metal or wood, and they will be passed on to our descendants unharmed,” Mr. Yang says.
“I wanted to leave evidence of what our ancestors have built.”
He says his family doesn’t appreciate his new passion, or the amount of time and money that he puts into it. “My wife hates it, because all of my friends have retired and spend their golden years in peace, while I am accused of creating works for myself.
“What kind of wife would like a husband like me?” he laughs.
When he first began this hobby, he says, it took up about 30 percent of his work time; now it takes up about 70 percent, which means architecture is now more of a secondary pursuit.
He says he hopes to find someone who will carry on his project when he’s gone. “I’m trying to find someone who would walk this crazy path of mine,” he says with a smile, stressing the word “crazy.” “One needs to be crazy to do this work! Just like me.”
Starting Saturday, in Bucheon, Gyeonggi province, it will be possible to visit the pyramids of Egypt, the Statue of Liberty and Red Square in one afternoon.
Aiinsworld, a 59,400-square-meter (14.5-acre) theme park featuring miniature replicas of 109 world-famous monuments and buildings, opens that day in Bucheon, a suburb southwest of Seoul.
The miniatures are built to a 1/25 scale, which means tourists can picnic in the shade of a 12-meter (39-foot) Eiffel Tower or a 15-meter Empire State Building.
“For many, it is hard to travel to various countries,” says Jang Sung-hyuck, a spokesman for the theme park. “Aiinsworld provides an opportunity for people to witness the world in a single day.”
The land for the theme park is being provided rent-free by the Bucheon city government, which is trying to establish the city as a cultural destination (Bucheon also hosts an annual film festival and an animation festival). Eventually, at a date yet to be determined, the park will be operated by the city, according to Mr. Jang and a Bucheon city staffer.
The miniatures at Aiinsworld were created by WonderWorks, a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in creating miniatures for movie sets. The company’s clients have included Universal and other major Hollywood studios, NASA, General Motors and the Smithsonian Institution.
Some of the landmarks miniaturized at the park include the White House, Buckingham Palace, Gyeongbok Palace, Stonehenge, the leaning tower of Pisa and ― jarringly, perhaps ― the World Trade Center, standing about 16 meters tall.
At least one nonexistent landmark is miniaturized: the mythical city of Atlantis. The park is divided into 12 areas, according to geographic and cultural themes.
Mr. Jang said it cost 60 billion won ($51 million) to build the park. “All of the miniatures erected by WonderWorks are very accurate in detail,” he said. “Visitors will feel as though they are actually seeing the real stuff.”
Mr. Jang said each miniature took an average of six months to complete. The park will be open seven days a week; winter admission for adults will be 13,000 won ($11).
Aiinsworld is not Korea’s first miniature theme park. In April last year, Soingook Theme Park ― “soingook” means “nation of pygmies” ― opened on Jeju island with replicas of many of the same landmarks, though with more of a focus on Asia. Soingook has miniatures of 55 landmarks ― and, for good measure, 60 dinosaurs.
by Lee Ho-jeong
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