Saturday, June 9, 2012

An Architect's view

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A hand-drawn map of Seoul marked with architect and travel writer O Young-wook’s favorite places in the city.

/ Courtesy of Paperstory


Everyone longs to travel and appreciate foreign cities with all their senses open, but such inspiration dulls in one’s home city. Architect and travel writer O Young-wook’s “However, I Like Seoul” (Paperstory, 16,500 won) is a confession of his love for the cosmopolitan city with a population of over 10 million.

O looks at the city he was born and now lives in with a tender, yet professional glance through seven themes — trace, place, combination, sign, symbol, aesthetics, memory and imagination.

He graduated from the department of architecture at Yonsei University and now runs ogisadesign and d’espacio architects associates. The 36-year-old architect has published books on his life in Barcelona, and now turns his attention to Seoul. He characterizes himself as a guy wearing a big red hard hat, from his engineering days.

“I hope everyone makes their own story about the town or village they live in and realize how lively and pleasant the city is,” O says in the book.

It begins with a hand-drawn map of O’s favorite places in Seoul. “Cities with attractive maps do not disappoint visitors,” he writes. He drew maps of Seoul by himself and discovered its grid plan and traces of waterways in alleys.

When his friend Carmen from Spain visited, he took her to a barbeque restaurant for roasted pork rind and passed through alleys with multiplex houses to go to a department store to eat cold noodles with raw fish and “patbingsu,” or shaved ice with red beans.

He wanted to share his daily life with a foreign friend, instead of just visiting ancient palaces or other tourist attractions, and give her an impression of Seoul with a hint of everyday life.

The writer also talks about Kyobo Building in Gwanghwamun, designed by Cesar Pelli, one of the first buildings designed by a foreigner. He does not judge employing international architects to design Seoul’s landmarks, but hopes more Korean architects will emerge.

“It is not about rivalry but identity. When we travel to a city, we see the architecture of the country and region. It hurts my pride as a Seoulite that visitors to Seoul only see a few royal palaces and buildings designed by foreign architects,” he says.

His thoughts on Seoul’s landmarks are revealed in the chapter in which he imagines a “Seoul Seoul Seoul” hotel in Las Vegas. O suggests bringing the Han River and many bridges into the hotel and a replica of Jongmyo, or royal shrine, for the casino and surrounding them with apartment complexes and shopping centers with protruding signboards.

“I think the symbol and charm of Seoul is mixed land use and the city’s context. It might not be beautiful or sophisticated, but it could epitomize Seoul,” he says. However, he admits this plan may not be commercially viable and he does not have an instinct for business.

Seoul is a fast-changing city and characteristics are visible in the downtown landscape such as Bongeun Temple, a 500-year old Buddhist temple, and the I-Park Apartment complex, a typical multi-purpose high-rise 21st century building, in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul. “It is like a collage,” O says in the book. “Seoul is a city with a long history and is changing rapidly, so we see buildings from different times with different styles together.”

The book also includes O’s experiences as an active architect in the bustling city and shares his thoughts on designing a vintage-style cafe and “hanok” (traditional Korean house) in downtown Seoul.

O’s illustrations and photos complement the words. Simple illustrations give a sneak peek into an architect’s sketchbook, while small photos are layered to create a bigger view giving a unique perspective on urban scenery.

This book tells how to love Seoul and appreciate the beauty of daily life in an urban area. O suggests five ideas to change the capital such as making rooftop courtyards and balconies without sashes. These ideas are not grand, but could make Seoul a more livable city.

At the end of the book, he adds a short guide for foreigners visiting Seoul as an epilogue — how fried chicken is delivered to coop-like apartment complexes and that many roads do not have sidewalks.

“Take subway line 2 to feel Seoul. It is a loop line and you can make a full circuit in about two hours. Seoul is an administrative, educational, industrial, economic and entertaining city and it goes back to being administrative. It might be confusing at first, but you will realize it has its own system,” O says. “It is time to experience Seoul. You might be bewildered at first, but you will love the city as I do.”

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