The only Korean architecture piece in Montreal was built for the World Exhibition Expo ’67. Kim Soo Geun, the father of Korean modern architecture, designed the Korean Pavilion.
Expo ’67 remains today one of the two most important events of the 20th century in Montreal (the other being the Summer Olympics of 1976). With the theme Man and his World, its objective was to showcase the world’s cultures and technological realizations. Over the six months that the Expo lasted, over 50 million visitors walked its streets. The event was so important that it forced the extension of an island in the St. Lawrence River (doubling its size), the construction of a new island, pushed the development of the metro system and the erection of bridges. Sixty-two countries participated in the Expo and 90 pavilions were built by the world’s most famous architects of the time.
Most countries disassembled their pavilion after the expo. The Korean Pavilion was given to the city by the Peninsula as a gift and is one of the 5 last remaining structures of the event today.
In a prime spot within the 400 hectares of the Expo, right next to the subway station exit, the Korean Pavillion was one of the first things visitors would see. The project needed to be of a Korean style architecture, illustrating the cultural richness of the country and its efforts towards international trade.
The construction was a mix of traditional and modern architecture. The juxtaposition of both structures within the pavilion represents the harmonious coexistence of tradition and modernity within the culture of the country.
Measuring 435 square meters, it was entirely made by hand and designed to be easily disassembled. The square base is a wooden structure framing square wooden pieces painted white. An immense roof designed in traditional Korean style overlooks the modern base.
With a simple internal organisation structured around 8 steel pillars covered with bamboo, the orthogonal exhibition rooms used to display the 5000 years old cultural heritage of the country as well as the international commercial boom of the 1960s and national treasures displaying the richness of the Korean civilisation.
Part of the ensemble is a 12 meters high wooden tower that served as a signal to easily locate the pavilion within the site of the expo.
Today, only the tower and the traditional roof remain in their original state. Without its base, the roof seems disproportionate at first, but once underneath it, this feeling gives way to a profound respect of the execution of assembly. The design created by the superposition and intersection of exposed beams shows the possibilities of assembly and expressivity achievable by wood/laminated wood structures. The bamboo covering the pillars of the pavilion has also been replaced with white roughcast. Unfortunately, it is in dire need of better maintenance, since the wood has started to rot and some pillars are damaged at different places.
After the Expo, the Pavilion served multiple functions through the years, some of them being the Canadian Postal Services Pavilion (1972-1975) or the Canadian Royal Mint Pavilion (1981-1984). Nowadays, the pavilion is used as a bus terminal and other different non-permanent functions (outdoor gatherings, ice sculpture exhibition area, ticket booth for outdoor concerts, etc.).
Though most interventions transformed the original pavilion and endangered its authenticity, the most characteristic element – the roof – has remained intact. Its technical and symbolic interest makes it of real patrimonial interest.
Not really famous in Korea, the pavilion doesn’t express the innovative character of most of Kim Soo Geun’s realizations. It is nonetheless a witness to the friendship ties between Canada and South Korea as well as being a window on a not so well known culture within western countries.
- City of Montreal: 40 years of Expo 1967-2007
- Expo 67: 40th Anniversary Celebrations Edition
- Expo ’67 Slide Collection: McGill Digital Library
- Library and Archives Canada