|▲ Photos courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
What makes a building ‘beautiful’?
There’s no denying that architecture enters the realm of art. Buildings can reflect their surroundings or stand distinct from same in a conscious statement on humanity and its achievements. They can shock, in an ultramodern or as-yet-unheard-of design; they can impress by their height as they soar into the clouds. They can also repel, in blocking a natural view or jutting into a surrounding skyline.
Jeju government recently set out to determine seven beautiful buildings on the island. Its latest promotional scheme, hinging on the “New7Wonders of Nature” 2011 accolade, will be followed by other groupings of seven, the next of which will focus on Jeju traditional foods.
Guidelines for this campaign, overseen by the Architecture and Cadastre Division, included the selection of two traditional and five contemporary structures, both residential and commercial or public. While aesthetic value was considered, primary criteria included significance to Jeju culture and integration of style with the natural landscape.
According to Kang Changsuk, head of the division, particular emphasis was placed upon how each building’s construction was in harmony with Jeju, in both space and time. The overarching attempt was to contribute to the question of what defines Jeju’s beauty, in terms of locality, identity, symbolism, and the surrounding environment.
The topography of Jeju, with its representative mountains, sea, stone, oreum (volcanic cones) and wind, and a building’s corresponding structure, function and aesthetic features were all carefully considered.
Officials of three construction companies and scholars of four universities collectively provided 41 nominations, reduced to 31 due to 10 duplicates. Government representatives then made site visits and conducted field surveys of all nominated structures and, upon agreement with owners of the seven top selections, announced the results on Nov. 21 of this year.
Among those selected, contemporary buildings include: Jeju Podo Hotel, Jeju World Cup Stadium, Daum Communications, Jeju Museum of Modern Art, and HaesimHeon (residential). Traditional selections were Jeju Mokgwana, and Jeju Seongeup Folk Village (residential).
Jeju Podo Hotel, designed by Korean-Japanese architect Itami Jun (d. 2011), echoes its oreum backdrop in its graceful shape and was designed in conscious harmony with its landscape.
Jeju World Cup Stadium, a 2002 FIFA World Cup venue, was deliberately designed with both Jeju nature and culture in mind. In its seaside setting, it is said to contain all of Jeju’s representative features: the shape of an oreum, use of local volcanic stone, dol harubang (totem “stone grandfather”) at the entrance, and fishnet-shaped rooftop.
Daum Communications, a seemingly unlikely choice, nevertheless echoes the curved lines of a Jeju traditional stone house and reflects local nature in its scoria-like exterior. Jeju Museum of Modern Art, with its use of Jeju basalt, water features, and its harmonization with the landscape, also qualifies as representational.
HaesimHeon is a contemporary residence in Jeju City. Its name, literally ‘sea-heart house’, indicates its resonance with Jeju features; its anterior facade is made of Jeju basalt, not finished but left to weather naturally. The lines of the structure are also reminiscent of the sea’s undulations.
Both Jeju Mokgwana and Seongeup Folk Village are deeply significant to Jeju. The former, provincial seat of government during the Joseon Era (1423-1914), is a fine display of period architecture. The latter, in which the entire traditional village of stone houses with thatched roofs was selected, was the county seat of government during the same period and also includes stylistic magistrate buildings.
Far from a simple promotion ploy, these buildings are meant to be viewed as local landmarks and to help guide future construction policy, according to Kang.
Following the demolition earlier this year of Casa del Agua, , an internationally recognized structure designed by renowned Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta (d. 2011) and inspired by Jeju nature, on the grounds of its violation of provincial construction code, one can only hope that a change in policy may prevent such a grave loss from ever occurring again.
Dr. Hilty is a cultural health psychologist from New York, now living on Jeju Island.