[FORUM]Put culture back in buildings

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[FORUM]Put culture back in buildings

“Junsang’s House” in Chuncheon city, which was the set of the hit TV series “Winter Sonata,” charges an admission fee of 5,000 won ($4.70) per person these days. Nevertheless, Japanese tourists continue to visit the house, and Chuncheon city welcomed more than 5 million tourists last year thanks to the popularity of the house and the drama series.
However, a significant number of people are doubtful about how long this “Winter Sonata” fever will last. There is not much to see at the house, where the character played by Bae Yong-joon lived, and Chuncheon lacks facilities that are needed to develop the city as an international tourist resort.
Nowadays, Korean TV programs and movies are creating success in their own ways by coming up with story lines and characters that charm even foreign audiences. Yet the cities and architecture that make up the settings of such stories are inadequate in many ways.
Everybody admires beautiful buildings and longs to enjoy walking in pleasant streets and cities. There is nothing more to ask if a romantic story goes with it too. Those who can spare the time and money go abroad to experience this.
For example, people actually go to the city of the seven hills, Rome, just to see the Spanish Steps, where Audrey Hepburn ate gelato in “Roman Holiday,” and go up the Empire State Building in New York to see the place where Meg Ryan met with Tom Hanks and his son in “Sleepless in Seattle.”
The Empire State Building, which was constructed in 1931, stopped being the world’s tallest building a long time ago. Still, during the tourist season, people have to wait an hour and a half to get to the top observation platform. The admission fee is not cheap at around 16,000 won per adult, but 3.5 million people visit each year.
The Empire State Building makes money not by just relying on its outdated fame as the highest building in the world. It profits continuously because various movies and the media constantly let the world know that it is a cultural heritage built in an early 20th century Art Deco style, and that it is a great work of architecture that combines both soft and hard elements of design.
Besides “Sleepless in Seattle,” the 1957 movie “An Affair to Remember” and its remake, “Love Affair,” and several other movies showcased the observation platform of the Empire State Building as full of romance.
The city of New York itself is also a popular setting for movies. It is not just because it is a famous city, but partly due to the efforts of the people who take care of the city.
For example, New York imposes certain restrictions on new buildings so that they can blend in with their surroundings. In order to keep the vitality of the city, there are regulations that induce building owners to open the first floor as a public facility. Also, the international contest to design the new building on the site of the World Trade Center has naturally promoted the city.
When Germany moved its capital city from Bonn to Berlin after unification, famous architects from around the world were invited to design new buildings or remodel existing ones. As a result, Berlin has become an exhibition of post-modern architecture. Large metropolitan cities of the world make a concerted effort to pay attention to their architecture and landscapes to elevate their brand value.
However, we still consider the construction of new buildings or new roads as just “building and engineering” matters most of the time. Koreans tend to think that inviting famous architects to design a building is only for museums, art galleries or the main buildings of big business corporations.
Now is the time to put culture into our buildings and streets. The Cheonggyecheon stream restoration project, the creation of a lawn in front of the Seoul City Hall plaza, the movement to restore the traditional Korean houses in Gahwe-dong, and the efforts to put up beautiful signs are all good examples of such projects underway.
This also coincides with the national strategy to sustain the “Korean wave,” which has spread in some Asian countries owing to the popularity of Korean singers and actors, by putting more emphasis on the service industry instead of the manufacturing industry. In order to further capitalize on the Korean fever, it has to be approached from many different angles.
Efforts should be made to upgrade both the soft power of the entertainment industry and the cities and architecture that serve as the settings for various Korean entertainment offerings so that the two sides come together as one cultural and economic organism.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Shin Hae-kyoung
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