Cultural leaders want Space saved

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Cultural leaders want Space saved

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Leading cultural figures are calling for the historical head office of Space Group to be preserved as a public site. From left: Seung H-Sang, architect; You Hong-june, former head of the Cultural Heritage Administration; Park Ki-tai, president of the Kim Swoo Geun Foundation; Kim Won, architect; and Kim Duk-soo, traditional performer. [NEWSIS]

About 100 prominent figures from Korea’s culture community released a joint statement yesterday - only three days before the beautiful head office of historic Space Group in Wonseo-dong, Jongno District in central Seoul, goes to public auction - saying that whoever becomes the new owner must realize that the building is not just real estate, but a part of Korean culture.

“The fact that the head office of Space Group is in danger of disappearing ... is a shame that shakes the very roots of our culture and arts,” said Park Ki-tai, the president of Kim Swoo Geun Foundation, yesterday.

Kim Swoo-geun (1931-1986), who along with Kim Chung-up (1922-1988), represented the first generation of modern architects in Korea, founded Space Group, the legendary architecture firm, in 1960.

He built the Space head office, often called the most beautiful structure in Seoul by other architects, in 1972.

But the Space Group declared bankruptcy in December and went into court receivership in January, which led to the head office going to public auction. Its appraised value is 15 billion won ($14 million).

Those who signed the statement include some of the biggest names in Korea’s arts community - Yu In-chon, a former culture minister and veteran actor; You Hong-june, former head of the Cultural Heritage Administration, professor of art history at Myongji University and a renowned writer; Kim Bong-ryol, the president of Korea National University of Arts; Kim Bock-hee, the chairman of the board of directors at Dance Association Korea; and Kim Duk-soo, the renowned traditional percussionist.

They called on the new owner of Space to use the building for public purposes, citing the creation of an architecture museum as a possibility, something Korea currently lacks.

“All of those that signed the statement promised their full support for preserving the head office of the Space Group,” said Seung H-Sang, a prominent architect who studied under Kim.

“The Cultural Heritage Administration turned down our request last week to register the building as state cultural property, saying that its owner may change [after the public auction]. The building may be owned by an individual or an entity, but [given its significance] the right to use it belongs to society and the people.”

Professor You of Myongji University said that his biggest concern while working as the chief of the heritage administration was that “a hundred years from now, there would be no historic sites to designate as state treasures.”

The head office, a mix of three buildings - an ivy-covered building of red-black brick, a glass building and a quaint hanok (a traditional Korean house) - also had a theater and a gallery, becoming a popular hangout for the cultural who’s who.

“It is amazing how Kim built that structure for the time,” You said.

It is also famous for being the place where Kim Duk-soo’s Samulnori Team, lead by Kim, gave their first performance and Kong Ok-jin (1931-2012), a legendary Korean folk dancer, performed her “cripple’s dance.”

In April, the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture said it would purchase the building and turn it into a public space, but the plan was shot down by the Seoul Metropolitan Council, due to the cost.

The Kim Swoo Geun Foundation and others concerned with the building are still hoping a public entity, like the foundation or the Seoul Metropolitan Government, will buy the building, which would lessen the chances of it being used for commercial purposes.



BY KIM HYUNG-EUN [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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