When our dream houses meet reality

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When our dream houses meet reality

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I have a friend who moved to Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi, after retirement. He is often asked whether life out there is really as good as we imagine. Others quiz him on transportation, isolation and even utility bills.

Koreans do seem to have an interesting fascination with dream homes. In the movie “Introduction to Architecture,” Seung-min, an architect, reunites with his girlfriend from college, Seo-yeon, who commissions her old flame to renovate a house.

As Seung-min explains the design, he says, “I will make whatever the client wants. My opinion doesn’t matter.”

Some architects bristled at that description of their craft. For instance, Ryu Chun-su, who designed World Cup Stadium in Seoul, insisted that the movie fundamentally misrepresented his job. In his mind, Seung-min should have said, “Design cannot accommodate everything the client wants.”

For Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the client’s wishes seem to be an afterthought in his most revolutionary projects. The controversial design of the Row House in Sumiyoshi was only possible after the client acquiesced to Ando’s demands.

“Life can be harsh. Once you commission me with a project, you should be prepared to fight,” he famously said. Indeed, Ando has lost half of his clients after fighting it out.

The Row House, though, is one of his success stories. It received the Japanese Architectural Society Award in 1979 for its trailblazing design. All four sides are covered in concrete with no windows or other outlets except for a single entrance. The small space is divided into three, with the middle part used as a courtyard.

Given the separation, the only access between the halves is across the outdoor space, and residents have to use umbrellas in their own home when it rains.

My photographer friend would have been an ideal client for Ando. When he decided to build a new house, he entrusted all design and construction decisions to the architect. As a fellow artist, he wanted to give the professional the chance to present his final work only when it was fully completed.

In the final result, the exterior of the house was splendid, but the inside was utterly absurd. The bathroom had no towel rack or linen closet. The windows leaked, and the utility bill in the winter was enormous.

Many middle-aged Koreans fantasize about their own dream homes, especially those who are tired of urban life and want to relocate to the countryside. But they should take note of these examples and realize that although we can build up and tear down structures in our minds, reality isn’t quite so friendly.

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

by Noh Jae-hyun

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