Between attraction and moderation

Architecture is the sum of materials which firmly fill and take up the barren earth. on the other hand, it is the whole of invisible relationships between inside and outside neighboring environment ,room and room, and person and person.

The late poet Suh Jeong-Ju wrote in his book ‘between an attraction and a moderation’ which was published in 1972, taking an apple as a subject for an poetic thought, that one can write a poem on an apple only when one keeps the tension between a desire to eat an apple and the longing for an apple. If we consider ‘poem’ as architecture, ‘apple’ as nature or city which is a subject for planing, then ‘the desire to eat’ will be an attitude to fill in nature or a city, that is, to build up materials to reveal a sense of self-existence and to distinguish itself from the neighboring environment. Then ‘the longing for an apple’ will be interpreted as an attitude to be part of the harmonized whole, to empty rather than fill in the heaviness of materials to form a space of events and narratives which relate the building to surrounding context.

    While designing, perhaps every architect would feel tension between these two desires, looking at a model at hand isolated from the site, as if it will be located in an imaginary site where everything is possible sometimes and putting it back to the site and realizing the dynamic of the site and the demands given almost defines what the building can be sometimes.  Not only individual architects but also architectural society overall is trying to set  values in this tension, I find.

    I remember I was struck when I was told ‘architectural code forms building, you don’t have to design.’ by my senior colleague in an architectural office where I started my early carrier about 15 years ago. Surely there has been growing creative approach to design at all times, that was one of widely spread passive design mentality in everyday architectural practice at the moment.  And there came the asian financial crisis hit Korea in 1997 which took years to recover while altering social and cultural geography along its economic reshuffles. And it brought a huge turn over on  planing environment. Architectural industry has changed its nature that big projects supported by project financing dominate the market which are mostly carried out based on designs and construction proposals selected through turn-key competitions. To win the competition, architect needs to come up with extravagant design which capture juries’ eyes in a second. And again, while I was working on a turnkey competition project, in a cooperate office I worked after coming back from 3year’s oversea’s study, I was told ‘bird eye view and eye level perspective images are almost everything to win a competition.’ and also ‘ a proposal without demerits wins over a proposal with merits’. On the other hand, it has been a trend to invite global stararchitects for symbolically important projects in the city. Perhaps it was stimulated by huge success of Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain designed by Frank Ghery which has been exemplified repeatedly as a project in which signature design revitalized city.

    Now that we’re going through another attack of recession. Due to the recession and as the results of last decade have come out, there is a growing criticism for pursuit of attraction biased architectural value. Many projects with eye-catching designs have been undergoing difficulties in realizing its initial design proposals in execution phase. In some cases they had dropped initial design selected and did another competition, like Seoul city hall and Noedel-sum opera house. I think it is not only the design but also the process which have failed communicating with and getting a mental consent from local community. Recently, some of local government office buildings completed has arisen criticism for their excessive size and design and it became hot issue in earlier local governor’s election.

    I think now it is the time for architectural society in Korea to search for new architectural value other than ‘deign for the sake of design’ , balancing between an attraction and a moderation. That is to ask, how is it possible to design a building or a city like writing a poem on earth?  My recent trip to see several traditional houses and temples has given me clues. I found the subtle aesthetic evolves where these buildings try to re-territorialize the site and context instead of trying to project it’s own identity. They ,in spite of risks of generalization, are not defined by the way it looks from outside but the way it reorganize experiencing landscape by views from inside to outwards. To design is to negotiate with multi-dimensional layers of site condition,-physical, social, and political etc., constructing new identity upon it. In this way, people can keep associating themselves to a new environment in present between their memories in past and longings for the future. Which we should maintain as a core value of the city for coming decade, I believe.

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5 Responses to Between attraction and moderation

  1. admin says:

    sjyoon081 (2010.07.14)
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    Many people around me still believe that a good architect must build a massive, eye-catching building. Not having a certain value, people tend to see a starchitect’s name as a guaranteed good design. You mentioned Ghery’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, and it reminds me of Disney Concert Hall in LA. Sure, a lot of people think it is a great piece of architecture, yet hearing that Disney deliberately told Ghery that they wanted something like Guggenheim in Bilbao, it makes me think again…

  2. jwcho says:

    jone (2010.07.14)
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    Yes, what Disney wanted to share with public by realising a project is a signature of star architect itself not a architectural value. It is because images of architecture are way more easily and rapidly distributed than narratives of real experience of space. However I believe what makes architecture sustainable is not it’s images but it’s narratives.

  3. admin says:

    yujoong (2010.07.17)
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    A very appropriate appropriation of Suh Jeong-Ju’s words, and an equally great article from you, jone. I am glad you made the reference to Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao – it’s very fitting to cite it in the context of your writing as a call of arms to re-think design, at multiple scales. Most people are under the incorrect assumption that Gehry’s building single-handedly revitalized the city of Bilbao, which, as you mentioned, propelled many cities to blindly place a large amount of faith in symbol-based (st)architecture. What people are unaware of is the great efforts of Bilbao officials and communities, over a span of 2 decades prior to Gehry’s building, that began the process of re-thinking the entire system of the city. A closer look at Bilbao reveals that the truly interesting thing about that city is how it has re-organized and re-designed at a smaller scale throughout the city fabric. Simply put, Bilbao attempted to design at the extreme scales of the urban and down to the building – and this back and forth dialogue of scales was what truly propelled the success Bilbao.

    Design in present-day Seoul is victim to the disconnect of this dialogue of scales. As you cleverly cited your experience with traditional Korean homes and temples, historically there was certainly a greater attention to the smaller scale of buildings and how they situate themselves in the larger context of the community. While the massive, concrete favoring constructions and developments of modern day Seoul, seems to find it difficult moderating between multiple scales – failing to plug itself back, and be an element of the larger city fabric.

    I love Seoul to death, but a great part of that is because of the mess it has become, which is an exciting platform for re-thinking design.

  4. jwcho says:

    jone (2010.07.26)
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    I totally agree with you on your notion of dialogue of scales in the city and disconnected one in Seoul. The notion will give us an insight to see those cracks in seoul as urban potentials which deserve careful observation and exploration.

  5. admin says:

    dlee (2010.08.04)
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    First of all, thank you for having chance to join this conversation.
    I am pretty much agreeing with the thought of attraction and moderation. And at the same time, this article reminds me of another way of thinking about the architect’s intention. I hope I can bring more general term to see what is happening in architectural society in Korea.
    One of the reasons we can talk about this topic is that there is several focal points which have tensions with each other. And attraction and moderation are the part of the methods to create these tensions and relationships. They can be relationship between building and users or building and street or building and building or block and block or even room and room in the building. In general term, all these relationships are created by designer’s intention. And these aspects, attraction and moderation can happen together and simultaneously.
    Then why it seems like we have more attractive (eye-catching) images for architecture in Korea? I think it is because of the “system” such as turn-key or PF project. What I feel thru my experience is that in these cases, architectural design can be treated as a part of “presentation” to get the project. There are more important issues such as the relationship between client and team members or team member’s financing condition.
    And based on this, in some of designs in smaller scale, I hope, attraction and moderation go together with their balance as there is more chance to explain architect’s intension to the client.

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