Hyungmin Pai on Korean architecture 06.02.15

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  • Endless Triangle by Joho Architecture

  • Namehae Cheo-ma House by Joho Architecture

  • Chang Ucchin Museum by Chae Pereira Architects

  • Chang Ucchin Museum interior by Chae Pereira Architects

  • Sajik Park Public Art Project by Lokaldesign

  • ABC Building by WISE Architecture

  • Slow Island Trip Centre by OUJAE Architects

An exhibition at the Cass Gallery in London, curated by the man behind South Korea's Golden Lion-winning pavilion at the Venice Biennale, presents the work of nine promising young architecture practices

An exhibition of work by emerging Korean architects opens today at the Cass Gallery in London. Put together by Hyungmin Pai, who curated the Golden Lion-winning South Korean pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Out of the Ordinary features the work of nine practices that are finding new and inventive ways of working at a time of rapid change and financial instability.

The exhibition features a diverse range of work, from private homes, public housing and schools, to museums, commercial developments, rural schemes and small-scale interventions. Among these are projects by Haewon Shin's Lokaldesign, which has a particular interest in creating public spaces such as tunnels and pedestrian underpasses; 2014 Icon award nominee Wise Architecture, whose work strives to exploit the potential of ordinary materials; and Chae Pereira, whose Chang Ucchin Museum is designed to resemble the abstract paintings of a noted Korean artist. 

Speaking at the launch yesterday, Pai discussed each firm's work and explained some of the factors that are shaping their practice, including the challenges of securing funding and the rising preference for individual homes as compared to flats. He told Icon more about the show.

ICON: What are the major influences shaping the Korean built environment?

Hyungmin Pai: It used to be the state and its bureaucratic apparatus on the one hand and capital concentrated in large conglomerates on the other hand. Korea's regional and urban transformations in the latter half of the twentieth century, characterised by the creation of large apartment complexes, were steered by these dual forces.

During this period, the most interesting architectural projects emerged from the edges and seams of these large structures – from clients who were more or less independent from bureaucratic and corporate edicts. However, more recently, as civil society and the market in Korea have grown more sophisticated, the possibility of creativity has seeped into the more central regions of both the public and private sector. The ecology of architectural production is now richer and much more expansive.

ICON: How did you select the projects shown in the exhibition? What picture of Korean architecture do you think they present?

HP: All those involved in the show received the Korean Young Architects Award. Though all of them are small practices, I wanted to show the range of interests, strategies, and projects that characterise the emerging architectural field in Korea.

I also selected practices that in some way engage with the shifting values of Korean society as their work on both private commissions and public projects. I wanted to show public projects that moved away from older authoritarian motives and a private sector that is creative in its relation to public space.

ICON: Does the show aim to challenge certain preconceptions?

HP: If the exhibition assumes to challenge any preconception, I would want it to challenge a pre-determined sense of what Asian architecture should be. Despite immense global transformations in recent decades, the European understanding of a modern East Asian culture still often remains Japan-centered.

Contemporary Korean architecture is not readily defined but, at the moment, the country has an open attitude to the world that is very productive. The shifting cultural landscape is not easy to grasp but aren't exhibitions all about opening new horizons, communication and dialogue?

ICON: Can other countries adopt Korean strategies to the build environment?

HP: I don't know if there is such a thing as a Korean strategy. There certainly is a set of capacities that an architect should have to survive and flourish in this particular environment. There are instabilities in Korean society that make architectural practice an extremely frustrating yet rewarding practice.

It is a society that is very much in the middle of learning what architecture can do. As such, the Korean architect functions not only as a professional, but as a pedagogue, a student and a promoter. You have to be constantly on the ground, meet all sorts of people and work with them to make things happen. The process moves very fast, and many things go wrong, but at the same time, the sense of change and achievement is very palpable.

Out of the Ordinary: Award Winning Works by Young Korean Architects runs from 6 to 20 February 2015 at the Cass Gallery in Whitechapel, London





Images: Sun Namgoong; Wansoon Park; Thierry Sauvage; Kyungsub Shin; Hyosook Chin; Jaeyun Kim

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I want the exhibition to challenge a pre-determined sense of what Asian architecture should be

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