A sleepy rural city revitalized by modern design: Faced with a major exodus of people to urban centers, Yeongju finds new life after dedication to unique architecture

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A sleepy rural city revitalized by modern design: Faced with a major exodus of people to urban centers, Yeongju finds new life after dedication to unique architecture


Yeongju in North Gyeongsang is gradually transforming. Collaborating with architects, Yeongju has been designing, constructing and upgrading public buildings for 10 years. Above is the Public Health Center designed by architect Yun Seung-hyun located in Munsu-myeon. [KIM JAE-YOON]

YEONGJU, North Gyeongsang - A modern looking building that’s been the talk of the town recently opened its doors to villagers after months of construction in the small Pungi county of Yeongju in North Gyeongsang. This trendy building, that could easily be mistaken as an art gallery, is in fact Pungi’s new county office. Unlike the usual box-shaped public office buildings that are boringly normal, the new Pungi County Office has been designed with a vision that “urban regeneration begins from well-established centrality,” says Choi Jae-won of architecture firm Design Oz, who designed the building. In this case, Choi says this trendy public building where people can gather together to engage in discussion, take a brief break from the sun and be a community acts as the center where ideas of urban regeneration can come from.

When this reporter visited the new building to take a look, Chang Ki-jin, the town mayor of Pungi County proudly showed her around.

“It doesn’t look anything like a public office, does it?” asked Chang. “When a public building is designed in such a way, it brings a lot of big and small changes to the neighborhood. We are thinking about holding small outdoor music concerts on the rooftop of the second floor.”

Architect Choi explained that he wanted to break the established image of a boring box-shaped public office building and build a trendy gallery-like space that can act as a “crossing where residents in the area enjoy stopping by without feeling any burden.”

There are three awards hanging on a wall by one of the three entrances. One was a runner-up prize from the Korea Public Design Awards, another a Grand Prize from the Korea Rising Architecture Firm Awards and finally a Grand Prize from the Korea Rural Architecture Competition.

In fact, it’s not only this County Office Building that’s winning prizes. There are about 20 public buildings in Yeongju that have won various architecture awards. These award-winning buildings are not that grand in size. Most of them are small public buildings for the villagers such as a public health center, a county office, among others. They are not large and flashy, but are being hailed by the users as “simple and well-designed.”

Inside a silver hall in Yeongju’s Gahong-dong, a group of senior citizens sit comfortably on teonmaru (a narrow wooden porch running along the outside of a room) having a friendly chat. They said that this building was designed by a young architect who solely thought about the needs of the senior citizens.

With such positive outcomes, residents in the area expressed satisfaction saying that “it’s been a long time since the government actually showed interest in the way we live,” while architects in Seoul began paying attention to what’s going on in Yeongju because it is now taking all of the top awards.

The transformation of Yeongju began in 2007. The trigger was an official letter that was addressed to 10 rural cities with populations of less than 100,000 from the Architecture & Urban Research Institute (AURI), the country’s very first national research development institute for architecture and urban space. It stated that “the institute will establish an integrated masterplan for urban regeneration at no cost.” At the time, small rural cities were having headaches following the rapid development of new urban centers. For them, establishing new urban centers by constructing new high rise apartments meant that the old urban centers would deteriorate. This issue was a “major toothache” shared by most rural cities, which were witnessing a major exodus each year. However, nobody willingly stepped forward and accepted the proposal from the AURI. That was because the offer was available under the condition that they “actively disclose any information necessary and participate.”

Yeongju finally raised its hand and accepted the offer.

There are about 110,000 people living in Yeongju. Over the course of three years, in-depth research on the city’s architecture was carried out. Ahn confessed that he didn’t know before this project that “such a detailed framework like researching the city space and coming up with a theme, needed to be established before jumping into developing a city.” After the major framework was set up, it was time to put it into action.

In 2010, the city established a new department directly under the mayor titled “Design Management.” Cho Jun-bae, who initially began the research of Yeongju City’s masterplan took charge and recruited three architects, including Yun Seung-hyun, who were based in Seoul and appointed them as the first Public Architects of Yeongju.

“At that time, Director Cho leaving his job at AURI and going to Yeongju, hired as a contract worker by Yeongju City, was such a hot topic of conversation,” said Yun. Since this project, Yeongju has continued operating the city’s Public Architect System with a belief that “changes can take place from well-designed public buildings.”

A Public Health Center that was constructed in the city in 2012 proved this to the citizens of Yeongju. As soon as it was constructed, it was awarded two prestigious prizes in architecture - the Korea Rural Community Corporation Prize at the Korea Rural Community Architecture Competition and the Prime Minister’s Prize at the Korean Architecture Awards.

“It was the first time that a small building in the countryside that’s less than 100 pyeong (330 square meters) was awarded by the Korean Architecture Awards,” said Yun, adding that they spent no more than the amount that is required to construct the usual public health center. “I wanted to prove that the outcome can be tremendously different with design under equal terms.”

This cafe-like public health center was welcomed and enjoyed by everyone in the area.

Kim Sun-ae, head of the Health Center was delighted with the new building.

“I’ve volunteered to come to the countryside and work for the people for 29 years,” said Kim. “This new trendy building even has a residence so I feel like my youth has been compensated. Elderly citizens in the area also say they really love the building and that they are benefiting culturally.”

What the elderly in Yeongju City enjoy most is the new Hanjeolma Silver Hall in Gaheung-dong. This new building, which was constructed recently, was also designed to better accommodate the elderly who use the hall. For example, considering the fact that Korean elderly like to sit down on the floor against the wall, Cho Jae-won of 01 Studio installed a wooden porch right outside each room.

“Noticing that women like to gather together in separate rooms than the men, I also decided to install a sliding door that can divide the big hall in two,” said Cho. “When there are large gatherings, these sliding doors can fully open up.”

Yeongju began constructing larger buildings as well. In the center of the city, there’s a vast triangular shaped plot of land which will soon be a multi purpose community center that will house a Senior Welfare Service Center, a Rehabilitation Center for the Disabled and a gym for the residents. Inside the gym will be an indoor pool and a boxing studio.

For this grand project, Yeongju raised funds for the budget by entering into a number of city architecture competitions organized by the central government and North Gyeongsang Province. Since 2008, it has managed to scrape together about 44.9 billion won ($40.89 million). By adding 25.3 billion won more from its own budget, this grand plan went under way.

“During the planning, we accumulated detailed data and organized it well, diagnosing the present condition and elaborately planning the next step,” said Cho, who worked on the master plan. “That’s how we were able to achieve good results in so many competitions.”

According to Yeongju, it was also important for them to bring architects from Seoul and make all the procedures transparent. It was to prove that they were not carrying out unnecessary construction and wasting tax payers’ money.

“Unlike western countries, Korea doesn’t really disclose judging processes or procedures in open contests,” said Kim Soo-young of Su:mvie Architecture, who won the Kim Swoo Geun Architecture Prize this year for designing the indoor swimming pool for the new community center. “But for this project, Yeongju City disclosed all the procedures so I could submit my design with confidence that they are doing this fairly and transparently.”

In 2012, Yeongju enacted an ordinance on landscape and design so that the city can maintain the design management team in the city. According to the ordinance, the Yeongju Mayor has to oversee a team composed of design experts for the city.

“If city policies changed every time a mayor changes, Yeongju wouldn’t have been able to establish such design-friendly public buildings and maintain them today,” said Cho.


Left to right: Pungi County Office in Yeongju, designed by Choi Jae-won, looks nothing like the dull box-shaped public official buildings that people are familiar with; The trendy Silver Hall, designed by Cho Jae-won, for the elderly in Gaheung-dong; The new Silver Hall is installed with teonmaru (a narrow wooden porch running along the outside of a room) outside each room, after the architect noticed that elderly citizens like to engage in small talk while sitting on a wooden floor and leaning against a wall. [HWANG GYU-BAEK, JIN HYO-SOOK]

BY HAN EUN-HWA [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

[카페 같은 보건소…영주시의 공공건축 디자인 실험]

경북 영주시 풍기읍에 새로 지어진 풍기읍사무소의 출입구는 1층에만 3개다. 2층짜리 건물을 위에서 내려다보면 ‘사람 인(人)자’를 닮았다. 출입구가 중앙에 달랑 하나인 직육면체 관공서 건물들과 다른 모양새다. 세련되게 잘 디자인한 갤러리 같다. 장기진 읍장이 익숙하게 건물 안내를 했다. “관공서 건물처럼 안 생겼죠? 공공 건물이 바뀌니까 마을에도 변화가 생기는 것 같아요. 2층 옥상 데크에서는 공연도 해볼 참이에요.” 설계를 맡은 디자인그룹 오즈의 최재원 소장은 “기존 관공서 건물의 딱딱한 이미지를 깨고, 주민들이 부담 없이 드나들 수 있는 교차로 같은 공간이 되길 원했다”고 설명했다. 건물의 한쪽 출입구 벽면에 상패가 3개나 붙어 있다.

대한민국 공공디자인대상 우수상, 대한민국 신인건축사대상 대상, 한국농어촌건축대전 대상을 탔다.

풍기읍사무소뿐 아니다. 경북 영주시에 상복이 터졌다. 주인공은 20여 개의 공공 건축물이다. 한국건축문화대상 국무총리상, 대한민국 공공건축상 국토해양부장관상, 김수근 프리뷰상 등 최근 들어 국내 유수의 건축상을 휩쓸고 있다. 수상작들의 규모는 크지 않다. 보건진료소·읍사무소 등 시민들이 자주 사용하는 공공 공간이 대다수다. 크고 화려하기보다 소박해서 좋고 바른 디자인이다. 건축가가 사용하기 쉽게 디자인한 경로당에서 동네 노인들은 “정부에서 우리 사는 데 관심 가져주는 것은 새마을운동 이후 처음”이라고 감격해하고, 연이은 수상 쾌거에 서울의 건축가들은 “대체 영주시에서 무슨 일이 있는 거냐”며 시선을 집중하고 있다.

영주시의 이런 변화는 2007년 시작됐다. 계기는 한 장의 공문서였다. 발신자는 국내 최초의 건축도시공간분야 국책연구기관인 건축도시공간연구소(아우리·AURI), 수신자는 인구 10만여 명 규모의 지방 도시 10곳이었다. “도심 재생 관련 통합 마스터플랜을 공짜로 만들어 주겠다”는 게 문서 내용이었다. 당시 지방도시는 신도심 개발로 몸살을 앓고 있었다. 작은 도시 안에서 아파트 위주의 신도심이 지어지고 나면 구도심은 낙후될 수밖에 없었다. 인구가 줄어들고 있는 소도시마다 ‘앓는 이’ 같은 이슈였다. 그런데도 아우리의 제안에 선뜻 나서는 곳이 없었다. ‘적극적으로 정보를 공개하고 참여해 달라’는 요구 조건 때문이었다. 그중 영주시가 나섰다. 영주시 도시과 안창주 주무관은 “‘건설보다 이제는 관리에 집중해야 한다’고 시 전체가 적극 나서서 아우리와 손잡게 됐다”고 전했다.

인구 11만의 도시, 영주의 도시·건축 관련 총 조사가 3년간 이뤄졌다. 안 주무관은 “도시를 개발하기 위해 도시 공간을 먼저 조사하고 콘셉트를 정하는 큰 틀이 필요하다는 것을 이전까지 몰랐다”고 털어놨다. 틀을 짠 뒤 남은 건 실행이었다. 영주시는 2010년 시장 직속의 디자인관리단을 신설했다. 아우리에서 영주시 마스터플랜을 연구한 조준배(현 SH공사 재생기획처장) 연구본부장이 단장을 맡고, 윤승현(인터커드 건축사사무소) 소장 등 서울에서 활동하는 건축가 3명을 영주시 1기 공공건축가로 영입했다. 윤 소장은 “당시 조 본부장이 아우리를 떠나 영주시 계약직 공무원으로 간다는 건 큰 희생이었고 화제였다”고 말했다. 영주시의 공공건축가는 3기까지 이어진 상태다. 현재 공공건축가 제도를 운영하고 있는 서울시보다 앞선 행보였다. ‘공공 건축물부터 잘 디자인해 주변을 점차 바꾸자’는 행동강령이 떨어졌다.

2012년 문수면 조제리에 들어선 조제 보건진료소는 영주 시민을 두 번 놀라게 했다. 공공건축가인 윤 소장이 설계했는데 짓자마자 큰 상 두 개를 휩쓸었다. 한국농어촌공사사장상(한국농어촌건축대전)과 국무총리상(한국건축문화대상)이었다. 윤 소장은 “100평도 안 되는 시골 공공 건축물이 건축문화대상을 받은 게 처음이었다”고 전했다. 공사비용은 기존에 보건소 짓는 정도로 썼다. 그는 “똑같은 조건으로 공사하더라도 결과가 이렇게 달라질 수 있다는 걸 보여주고 싶어 이를 악물고 임했다”고 말했다. 그렇게 낙후한 시골 마을에 카페 같은 보건소가 들어섰다. 조제 보건진료소에서 29년간 근무했던 김순애 보건소장은 “시골 마을에 들어와 수십 년을 봉사하며 청춘을 보냈는데 사택도 있는 진료소가 지어져 보상받는 기분이 들어 행복했다”며 “동네 어르신들도 문화 혜택을 받는다며 좋아하셨다”고 덧붙였다.

가흥동의 한절마 경로당은 노인들이 벽에 기대앉는 걸 좋아하는 특성을 고려해 벽면마다 툇마루를 설치했다. 경로당을 디자인한 조재원( 01스튜디오) 소장은 “할머니와 할아버지가 따로 모이는 것을 보고 두 개의 공간을 분리했고, 큰 모임이 있을 때는 터서 넓게 쓸 수 있게 디자인했다”고 설명했다.

작은 공공 건축물뿐 아니라 큰 규모의 건축물도 바뀌기 시작했다. 영주시 한가운데 자리 잡고 있는 삼각지 땅에는 노인종합복지관·장애인종합복지관과 체육관이 올 연말 완공을 목표로 지어지고 있다. 영주 시민운동장 부지 안에 실내수영장과 복싱훈련장도 짓는다. 수많은 공공 건축물이 지어지고 있고, 도로·재래시장 등 기존 도시 인프라 또한 마스터플랜 안에서 재정비되고 있다.

이를 위한 사업비를 영주시가 어떻게 마련했을까. 답은 중앙부처 및 경상북도 주최의 공모사업에 있다. 영주시가 2008년부터 올해까지 각종 도시건축 공모전에 참여해 따낸 국비 및 도비는 총 448억원에 달한다. 시비는 253억원 정도 투입했다. 조준배 전 단장은 “마스터플랜에서 영주시 현황 진단과 향후 계획을 잘 정리해 놓은 터라 공모전에 참여했을 때 성과를 높일 수 있었다” 고 설명했다.

서울의 건축가를 데려오기 위해 공모전의 판을 투명하게 만들기도 했다. 영주시 주최로 진행하는 현상설계 공모를 아예 외부 단체에 맡겼다. ‘지역에서 짜고 치는 판이 아니다’는 것을 보여주기 위해서다. 영주 실내수영장을 디자인해 올해 김수근 프리뷰상을 수상한 김수영(숨비 건축사사무소) 소장은 “외국과 달리 우리는 공모전 심사위원을 잘 공개하지 않는데, 영주 실내수영장의 경우 공모전을 진행한 새건축사협회에서 심사위원 명단을 사전에 다 공개해 믿고 참여할 수 있었다”고 말했다.

영주시는 2012년 경관 및 디자인 조례를 제정했다. 디자인관리단을 지속 가능하게 유지하기 위해서다. 조례에 따르면 영주시장은 영주의 경관 및 디자인 관리를 위해 관계 공무원과 디자인 전문가로 구성된 디자인관리단을 둬야 한다. 조 전 단장은 “도시 정책이 시장과 선거에 따라 누더기로 바뀐다면 영주시는 달랐다. 건설보다 관리의 시대를 내다보고 공공과 전문가가 힘을 합쳐 기존에 있는 것을 잘 꾸미고 업그레이드한 측면에서 보기 드문 사례”라고 평가했다.

영주=한은화 기자 onhwa@joongang.co.kr

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