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Saving Jeju's Casa del AguaWill the last work of Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta be destroyed?
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승인 2012.09.04  16:13:17
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▲ Photo by Brenda Paik Sunoo, author of "Moon Tides: Jeju Grannies of the Sea" [2011]

Casa del Agua, a stunning work of architecture located in Jungmun next to the International Convention Center (ICC) Jeju and the new Anchor Hotel, is headed for demolition.

Ricardo Legorreta, who died last year aged 80, was a renowned Mexican architect who received numerous awards and recognition. A student of Luis Barragan who has been called "the father of modern architecture," his works can be found in every region of the world.

Only two such exist in Asia, however: Casa del Agua, located in Seogwipo City, and a private home in Japan. Casa del Agua is thus his only work in Asia that allows public access.

In 2008, ICC Jeju invited Legorreta to consider creating one of his works on Jeju. Legorreta visited the island twice, giving lectures both here and at Hongik University in Seoul; he was impressed by the natural beauty of Jeju Island and, upon agreeing to create a work there, integrated local themes with his Mexican heritage as was his signature.

Casa del Agua thus reflects the elements of light, stone, wind and water for which Jeju Island is renowned, the five-color palette significant to Korean tradition, and primary colors endemic to his native Mexico.

In 2010, the structure received "Best Hotel Construction & Design" from Americas Property Awards by Bloomberg and the New York Times, which called it "a masterpiece" of color, light and nature, noting in particular the concept of water which is carried through the entire building.

▲ Photo by Brenda Paik Sunoo, author of "Moon Tides: Jeju Grannies of the Sea" [2011]
▲ Photo by Brenda Paik Sunoo, author of "Moon Tides: Jeju Grannies of the Sea" [2011]

Casa del Agua, now officially referred to as "The Gallery," includes two galleries — a permanent showing of Legorreta's work, and an exhibition space in which the Mexican embassy to Korea and Gangpyeong Gallery jointly sponsored a "protest exhibition" in July against the planned destruction. It was built as a model for a luxury hotel and condominium resort, a project which lost its funding and was forced to sell to new owners.

The Tagalder Group of Hong Kong, with its headquarters in the UK, bought Jungmun Complex in 2005 when the newly formed Jeju Special Self-Governing Province was having difficulty with funding. The company established a Korean entity, JID, in order to develop Anchor Hotel and the complex represented by Casa del Agua.

Construction on the Anchor Hotel began in June of 2007, but was halted in January of 2010 when financier Kumho backed out. The Jeju Anchor Special Purpose Company was locally established to complete the project, but encountered multiple problems.

In November of last year, the land was purchased by Booyoung Co. Ltd. Curiously, however, ownership of the Casa del Agua structure was not sold but was retained by JID.

Having determined that the building blocked the sea view for guests of the soon-to-open Anchor Hotel, Booyoung wants to demolish Casa del Agua in order to replace it with a park, initially intending to do so in time for the World Conservation Congress (WCC) this month. The company sought legal proceedings in Seogwipo municipal court system, which found that the structure does not meet local environmental and land use requirements as it was built less than 100m from the coastline. The court decided in favor of the Booyoung petition.

The Mexican government and Mexico's ambassador to Korea have protested the decision, issuing an official statement and attempting negotiation with the municipal, provincial, and national governments in order that they might reconsider. To date, however, the court decision stands.

Mexico's artistic community has also protested, through FUNDARQMX — Universal Promotion for Architectural Broadcasting of Mexico. They have engaged the Association of Mexican Residents in Korea in their cause.

Cho Gongwon, representative of JID, called the decision "absolutely incomprehensible" in light of Jeju's standing as a world heritage site and the island's emphasis on the preservation of culture. He filed for injunction and has said that, if there is no other way, he will donate the building for public use.

JID had hoped to construct the main building according to Legorreta's original design as exhibited by Casa del Agua.

On Aug. 21 a public policy forum, "Why the Casa del Agua Should be Preserved," was sponsored in the Provincial Council of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province. However, to date the municipal government of Seogwipo stands by the court decision regarding the structure's violation of local land use regulations, and neither the provincial nor national governments have interceded.

Jeju Island is home to the works of other notable international architects, including Mario Botta, Tadao Ando, and Itami Jun. It is also recognized by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, World Natural Heritage Site, and as one of the Global Geoparks; additionally, Jeju Island has been named one of the world's "New7Wonders of Nature." Natural elements of Jeju were the primary influence over Legorreta's design of Casa del Agua.

Jeju's hosting of the World Conservation Congress is considered by some to be ironic, as it also prepares to destroy a world-renowned work of art and architecture built in homage to the remarkable nature of this island — and located adjacent to the International Convention Center where the WCC will be held.

Legorreta, when speaking to art students at Hongik University during his first visit in 2008, said this of Jeju: "It is a place with remarkable topography exemplified by rising curves, and the boundary at which land and sea merge."

However, he also remarked, "It is also the case in Jeju that buildings are at times discordant with the surrounding space." Legorreta built his Casa del Agua on the guiding principle of harmony with its surroundings, to reflect Jeju nature and culture.

Dr. Hilty is a cultural psychologist living on Jeju Island.

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