A man with a plan: Korea’s star architect

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A man with a plan: Korea’s star architect

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Whether it’s the traditional kite-shaped roof of the World Cup Stadium or the round gazeebo-like style of the Nurimaru APEC House, renowned architect Ryu Choon-soo, 59, is always full of ideas.
Mr. Ryu is credited with designing a number of landmark buildings, both in Korea and overseas, including the Seoul Olympic Gymnastics Hall, Hangyeryeong service area in Gangwon province and the Ritz-Carlton Seoul hotel.
His latest assignment is to design an Olympic sports park, comprising a main stadium, a tennis stadium, an indoor tennis court, 20 outdoor tennis courts and five club houses. The complex is to be built in the Chinese city of Xiamen, Fujian province, in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
The chairman of an architectural design agency, Beyond Space Group, Mr. Ryu rose to international stardom when he won a gold medal at the Quaternario 88 International Awards for Innovative Technology in Architecture. The prize, awarded for designing the Seoul Olympic Gymnastics Hall, was shared with his mentor, the late Kim Swoo-geun of the Space architectural design house.
Mr. Ryu’s architectural designs are often related to Korean traditional objects. Most recently, the design of the Nurimaru Conference Hall, built for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Busan last month, was inspired by wondumak, a straw-sawn-roofed round gazeebo mostly seen in farming villages.
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The roof of the World Cup stadium in western Seoul looks like a bangpaeyeon (shield-shaped kite). Mr. Ryu also compared it to Korean pleated skirt or a paper fan. The stadium is one of the projects that Mr. Ryu is most proud of: The design helped him and his employer, Samsung Engineering, to beat other more established consortiums and win the project. Mr. Ryu said the contest was like that between David and Goliath.
“It was a design that only Koreans could have come up with,” Mr. Ryu said. He designed the stands in the World Cup Stadium in a way that the spectators are seated as close as possible to the field, unlike those in other soccer stadia. The stands were formed straight alongside the pitch instead of being rounded outward.
The white fabric roof, which covers 90 percent of the seats, is sitting on a complex steel structure which Mr. Ryu said was “membrane structure” or “tensile structure.”
“One might think of it as window paper,” Mr. Ryu said. “It is translucent. It provides shade for spectators and lets the light pass through at the same time.”
The canopy roof is a network of trusses suspended from 16 masts and clad with a pre-stressed tensile membrane of Teflon coated fiberglass fabric. Mr. Ryu credited David H. Geiger with developing the technology for the membrane structure .
Similar technologies were used to build the Seoul Olympic Gymnastics Hall, which has a cable-restrained roof, referred to as a “cable dome” or “air dome.” The gymnastics stadium was the first building in the world to use to a cable dome structure.
The use of the membrane structure technology and his meeting with Mr. Geiger opened doors to other opportunities, particularly in China.
China invited Mr. Ryu in 1988 to be an advisor in designs for the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, after Mr. Geiger, who was also invited, introduced Mr. Ryu to the Chinese representatives. The invitation was a surprise, given that at that time, Korea and China had not yet established diplomatic relations.
“I received instructions from the National Intelligence Service on what to do when traveling to countries that don’t have diplomatic relations with Korea,” Mr. Ryu said.
He was also asked to participate in open competitions hosted in China and won the competition for the 868 Tower and for a Jingmen redevelopment project, although the projects later become the centers of financial scandals.
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Mr. Ryu has adopted new technologies and created unique structures with authentic Korean themes, but he said architecture is about neither technology nor art.
“A sports stadium or hotel needs to accommodate an enormous number of activities and people,” Mr. Ryu said. “There must be a consideration of human and social aspects, such as the flow of people and objects. The artistic aspect of a building is a byproduct, and technology are only a means for construction.
“What is architecture?” he added. “It is creating a space for people.”
Mr. Ryu’s architectural philosophy and emphasis on utility is demonstrated in the designing of The Ritz-Carlton Seoul hotel in southern Seoul in 1991, which he designed in cooperation with the firm Oldershaw & Demann.
The main task of the architects was to design an annex in conjunction with the existing Nam Seoul Hotel to the east. Unlike other architects in the competition, Mr. Ryu placed the lobby and the main entrance of the hotel inside the existing Nam Seoul Hotel, so that the hotel would have a longer driveway in order to prevent a backlog of cars lined up from the main road to the south. Mr. Ryu also created a stair-shaped roof.
By creating the stair-shaped roof, he said, “The hotel would be taller and thus more visible, with the floor space still being the same.” The roof’s design allowed the suite rooms on the top floors to have large terraces. His creative design won Mr. Ryu the 1995 Architectural Culture Award in Korea.
Hangyeryeong service area, which was constructed on a 45-degree slope next to an expressway, is another landmark that was designed in consideration of the surrounding landscape. Mr. Ryu’s design was to level the ground as little as possible. Pillars were erected along the slope as if in a pavilion, and wood was used in the concrete structure to make the building look more natural, Mr. Ryu said.
Mr. Ryu is now working on a project to develop Xinbu island, northeast of Haikou City, in China’s Hainan Province. The project is to develop the semitropical island into a luxury resort town for the growing number of wealthy Chinese. The developers of the island will select eight teams among the 70 companies who participated in the international competition. Designs must be submitted by Feb. 28.
“I am considering a number of factors in doing the project, such as how to separate the new entity from the existing residential areas, and at the same time, how to create harmony with the surroundings,” Mr. Ryu said.


by Limb Jae-un
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