Sunday, June 2, 2019

Gisaengchung - BONG Joon-ho's existenchial Parasite

BONG Joon-ho's 'Gisaengchung' ('Parasite' / '기생충') is perfectly written, filmed, and played. At times a bit too much, but only because BONG happens to be a great author, a great filmmaker, and a great director.

Before getting to that, let's push a couple of things out of our way: first, I won't give away any spoilers, and second, this is more a dark comedy than a tragicomedy. Not a new genre (very distant echoes of IM Sang-soo's 'The Housemaid', or KIM Ki-duk's '3 iron'), but a brilliant Korean movie with a universal reach. BONG proves he remains a league of his own with a unique, very theatrical object (think Feydeau meet 'Arsenic and old lace')*, and before all else, the heck of a cinematographic masterpiece. 

Is this truly BONG's chef d'oeuvre? his best movie ever? It doesn't supersede 'Memories of Murder' as my favorite Korean movie yet, but certainly made it already to my top 3**. I can't tell for sure: unlike for 'Snowpiercer' or even 'The Host', I had such great expectations for this one (even before it got the Palme d'Or in Cannes), and there's so much to take in at once.

Even as you watch Gisaengchung, you feel this narrative and visual overload. BONG forces you to realize that the gimchi will somehow hit the fan, to want to know, among all possible worst case scenarios, which one will prevail, and to enjoy the ever darker humor first permeating, then overflowing this over-the-top gem.

That may be it: an overpowering trainwreck feeling that makes the movie work, and at the same time makes you want to slow down to appreciate each and every detail. You're enjoying it too much, to the point you can't enjoy it enough. And as soon as the movie is over, you want to watch it ten more times. Lucky Darcy Paquet, who watched it seven times to deliver the English subtitles***... and cursed Darcy, who had to keep everything all to himself until the movie was released!

So kudos to BONG Joon-ho the author, for keeping us under his spell, and for delivering another powerful social satire, But also kudos to BONG Joon-ho the filmmaker, for implanting haunting images and other sensorial stimulations inside our brains (best rain pandemonium ever, best olfactory effects ever). And kudos to BONG Joon-ho the director for getting the best from an outstanding cast.

CHOI Woo-sik (Ki-woo), SONG Kang-ho (Ki-taek), JANG Hye-jin (Chung-sook), PARK So-dam (Ki-jung)
Of course, BONG can thank SONG once more: his favorite actor SONG Kang-ho proved again that he was a genius at playing dumb in a thousand different and creative ways. 

But what to say of the women in this movie! Yes, the versatile LEE Jung-eun steals the show, like the multifaceted Miranda Richardson did in Spider, but did she really need that Ri Chun-hee impersonation, or was that just BONG's special bonus for Western audiences? And if the confident PARK So-dam and the insecure CHO Yeo-jeong were absolutely perfect in their roles, I was totally bluffed by JANG Hye-jin's performance as Gisaengchung's unsung cornerstone, between this stinky basement full of life, and that cold, bright mansion. Too early to tell if the young JUNG Ziso is the new Doona BAE.

If the male side looks weaker, that's because the roles demand it, starting with CHOI Woo-sik's or JUNG Hyeon-jun's. Yet LEE Sun-kyun portrayed a credible Chairman PARK.

Gisaengchung poster
The French poster for Cannes Festival

So go watch this brilliant epic. And let yourself get infected.

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* so theatrical, they even invited PARK Jeong-ja's voice to the trailer ** even if I can't kick anyone out of my "Seoul Village Movies"
*** again, Darcy, you had a Deborah Smith / Han Kang moment with this one!

'Unexpected director's cut: Agnes Varda welcomes you to KU Cinematheque' (20190531 -

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How Naruhito exposed Trump's ego trip, and Abe's agenda

Donald Trump will probably remember his State Visit to Japan as a triumphant ego trip: we saw him play golf with his favorite losing partner Abe Shinzo, lift the first ever President Cup (designed for him: YUGE, sumo-sized), become the first Foreign head of state to meet the new Emperor... but what I will remember forever is The Naruhito Statement.

Not a word, but a silent, immobile stand, that should resonate much louder than it has so far.

For six long minutes, a significant section of his first encounter with Trump, Naruhito left his guest alone. Everything was carefully timed and planned, as the intricate red carpet patterns, and an official's intervention confirm.

So what happened? Donald, Melania, Naruhito and Masako arrive together on a wide podium, where they pause to listen to the national anthems. Then Trump moves ahead, and the other three stop where the official instructs them to, only a few meters after leaving the podium, just to symbolically lead him out. The POTUS joins another, smaller podium, where he listens to a military march, then moves to salute troops, then walks along another red line at the end of which he reconnects with the Emperor to meet civilians.

During these six surreal minutes, Trump is either alone, or accompanied by military staff. The only music playing is military. As if a military parade had been especially prepared for him alone. 

DJT is a Commander in Chief, and the Emperor of Japan should remain apolitical, but the whole process turns the moment into a ridicule, onanic one for the former, and a strong political statement for the latter: what better way to express Naruhito's strong support of Japan's peaceful constitution, against Abe and Nippon Kaigi, who want to destroy it?

In the same immobile move, Naruhito managed to make his guest look like an egotistic dictator, and Abe like a dangerous fool. Simply brilliant.

'Barf bag, anyone? Alt-Right meet Nippon Kaigi

- Donald Trump Abe Shinzo / Shinzo Abe' (20190526 -

'Trump to Abe Shinzo: US-Japan alliance is 'ironclad'. At the personal level, make that 'gold-plated, 7-iron-clad' (20190528 -

As if to nail it even deeper, DJT made the most of Memorial Day by praising a dictator: KIM Jong-un is right to criticize Joe Biden, I'm not bothered by his cute missile launches, and what a fantastic real estate potential you have, Dear Chairman!

'Say, Donald Trump, are North Korea's Concentration Camps the kind of 'prime real estate' you're looking for to lock up migrant kids at the US borders?

Your dictator friend could sure help you find Stephen Miller-friendly solutions to Make Amerika Great Again.' (20190528 -

John BOLTON and his fellow hawks have not conceded yet. And America's recent moves around Sasebo, theoretically meant to control the North Korea - Iran connection, could also facilitate a preemptive strike. The bloody nose scenario remains a tweet away.

One thing is sure: MOON Jae-in is out of the loop, and neither KIM nor TRUMP seem to trust him anymore.

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PS - from our twitterline (@theseoulvillage):

On the non-march of the Emperor:

'I wish Naruhito could brief about actual East Asia History, not the one he learned from Shinzo Abe / Abe Shinzo & ' (20190526 -

'Surreal military march played for Trump alone on a podium. Ego trip (20190527 -

'Pacifist, apolitical Emperor Naruhito stays away from military while Trump salutes them' (20190527 -

'Kudos to Naruhito for keeping his distances from militarism, turning the parade Abe Shinzo / Shinzo Abe prepared for Trump into  ridiculous ode to a dictator' (20190527 -

'Even weirder on this video, the almost 6 mns Trump was left alone with military march & review (starting around 2:30). Naruhito only rejoined him to meet civilians. A clear message for Japan's Article 9, against ABEIGNomicS / Nippon Kaigi militarism?
' (20190527 -

On the return of bloody nose:

'Bloody nose returns? US getting ready for preemptive strike against North Korea, including bunker buster capacity

(: Sasebo)' (20190526 -

'FYI this bunker buster is meant to bust Kim Jong-un, not to rescue Abe Shinzo / Shinzo Abe when he plays golf with Trump:' (20190526 -

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Switzerland v. Gyonam-dong Alps

Nevermind that dull tower rising over Pyeong-dong, down the hill; the new Swiss Embassy truly was the last missing piece in Gyonam-dong's jigsaw puzzle. How does it fit? Can it add some soul to a lobotomized neighborhood? First impressions after a visit organized on May 15, just days before its inauguration.

In 1974, to build its Embassy, the Confederation purchased a land enjoying a spectacular view over the valley West of Sadaemun's fortress walls, all the way from Namsan to Inwangsan. Over the decades that followed, and particularly the past fifteen years, high rise buildings and apartment blocks have claimed big chunks of it, and 6 years ago the neighborhood was almost totally wiped out to make room for Gyonam / Donuimun New Town and its anonymous towers, destroying priceless wonders in the process (see "In memoriam Samdong Samgeori, Gyonam-dong" ).

The Swiss could have looked for another location, and maybe join such Embassy clusters as Seongbuk-dong or Itaewon / Hannam-dong, but they courageously decided to stay. Well they did move to Hannam-dong though, but only the time to avoid that apocalyptic mutation, and to replace their nondescript red brick lair with something new. Here it is, now facing Gyeonam-dong alps instead of Geumhwasan and Tongil-ro valley:

Photo Erae Architects - Swiss Embassy website

Halfway between Hong Lampa house in Hongpa-dong, and the sanitized* Donuimun Museum Village in Sinumunro 2-ga, the new landmark confirms this section of Songwol-gil as some kind of green and architecturally diverse oasis.

One roof, continuous wings, a central madang... the 2019 Swiss Embassy clearly honors the hanok style, but with a modern, deconstructed twist, and a broken version of the traditional 'ㅁ' or 'ㄷ' shapes:

The open spiral from above (mockup - Burckhardt Partner website)
Logo created for the Embassy inauguration
More an open keyring than a locked up Swiss bank vault, this Embassy wraps you up without cutting you from its environment, providing at the same time intimacy and transparency. The wide windowpanes facing the courtyard enable a dialog between the four wings (multipurpose, chancery, representation space, residence of Ambassador Linus von Castelmur), but the building is also open to its surrounding. Even the metal fence lets you see through. And if some semi-private spaces (cafeteria, living room) display some sort of ceramic moucharabieh, their lace is very wide. The biggest windows point to the sky or surrounding gardens, others direct your gaze to the greenest spots of the New Town, so that you never quite face its dead monoliths.

The outer concrete walls echo modern Swiss heritage, but wood is omnipresent, with epicea ceilings, staircases, slabs, and pilars. The lightness of the roof and structure, boosted by a gigantic sail cast over half the courtyard, could be achieved by the burial of most technical machinery in dedicated basement corridors. We also visited the nuclear shelter, compulsory for public structures of a certain size in Switzerland, but maybe not that irrelevant this side of the DMZ.

This environment-friendly building collects heat from the underground (30+ geothermal pumps), power from the sun, and water from the skies, sometimes in an artistic way, thanks to Lena Maria Thuring's 'Water connections' installation, where metal chains direct part of the flow from the rooftop to hanging stones and surface channels:

The visit was led by architects Nicolas Vaucher (Burckhardt Partner), and Lee In-ho (Erae Architects). Obviously, I followed the former:

Nicolas Vaucher in the madang, the staircase, the cafeteria, the nuclear shelter, the machinery, the residence's garden, the representation's dining room, the cultural section, the entrance.

Six years ago, I thought that all of Gyonam-dong's seven neighborhoods would disappear for good. They will never be brought back, but at least, somehow, part of Songwol-dong continues to exist under a new form.

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* see my lukewarm review in the "Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017" focus

Monday, May 6, 2019

Twice upon a time in the West

The Minister of Land, Transport and Tourism came up with a new batch of developments for the capital region*, including new public transport projects, and unfortunately more instances of Korea's failed 'New Town' model, at the very moment the country experiences a slump in housing prices, and an oversupply of dwellings. The aim is actually to make sure the prices remain low for a while, which doesn't seem a bad idea, except that in Korea's speculative zero sum game, this necessarily means more losers, and more dead neighborhoods in the short, medium, and long term.

2 'New Towns', 26 small-to-medium-sized developments, 1 BRT, 1 subway line:

Following the first three announced last year (Incheon Gyeyang, Namyangju Wangsuk, Hanam Gyosan - in blue on the map below, which also shows future GTX lines), two more 'Greenfield New Towns'** will be created one kilometer West of Seoul, one on each side of the Han River (in red):
  • Goyang Changneung: 38,000 households in Deokyang-gu, Goyang (Yongdu-dong, Hwajeon-dong)
  • Bucheon Daejang: 20,000 households in Ojeong-gu, Bucheon (Daejang-dong, Wonjong-dong)

In a more acupunctural approach, 26 small and medium-sized residential projects shall add 51,517 households in already developed neighborhoods:


Transports-wise, the government's package proposes two new public transport lines, and road extensions:
  • a 17.3 km-long "S-BRT" line (NB does 'Super - Bus Rapid Transit' mean super dedicated infrastructures for buses?) between Gimpo Airport Station and Bucheon Sports Complex Station, around Gimpo Airport, with connections to subway lines 5, 9, and even 7 (Bucheon Stadium Station). It will also reach Cheongna BRT.
  • a new subway line will connect Goyang City Hall to Saejeol Station (Line 6), and intersect with Line 3, GTX-A, and Gyeongui Line at Daegok Station.
  • A new motorway will connect Baekseok-dong (Ilsan) to the Seoul - Munsan expressway (Gogang, Seoun interchanges).
  • Susaek-ro (already hosting 3 of the new housing projects judging by the map), and Worldcup-ro shall gain layers to cope with a growing traffic towards downtown Seoul as well as towards Yeouido and Gangnam.
Bucheon's new S-BRT line around Gimpo Airport
Goyang's new subway line

The good, the bad, and the ugly:

Overall, if you consider the three announcements made since last December, the State plans to sell 73,000 homes by 2022, 67,000 in 2023, 58,000 in 2024, 61,000 in 2025, and 44,000 in 2026, which may provide more options for affordable housing, but also amplify Korea's oversupply of dwellings. The only clear winner seems to be IKEA Goyang, today an outpost, but tomorrow ideally located to serve the new town.

At least, for a change,...:
  • ... Seoul intra-muros is spared from more of the large-scale New Towns that destroyed so many of its neighborhoods (including the seven buried under Gyonam New Town). 
  • ... a 'Greenfield New Town'** adds some urban continuity instead of pushing urban sprawl further afield: on paper, Goyang Changneung shall better tie Ilsan to the capital.
  • ... transports, including public ones, are better phased and synced with new major developments (new subway, BRT, GTX lines around Goyang and Bucheon new towns, respectively top and bottom):

This remains an absurd case where we add commuting traffic before solving existing problems upstream and downstream. Yes, commuters from the latest new town will reach Seoul faster, but they will slow down commuters from Ilsan's 'older new town', and more cars will flock into Seoul's Western bottlenecks, even if some cosmetic touches are added along Susaek-ro. Urban planners went as far in the irony as to name their concrete monstruosity after the Joseon Royal Tomb*** it will deface.

In this young millenium, any new project should aim at the very least at zero emission and zero increase in car traffic, and this is obviously not the case. I nonetheless appreciate the new public transport lines: the BRT will add some verticality and fluidity across Bucheon, and Goyang will better split its commuters between line 3 and 6.

All this also means that the construction of Seobu Line / Seobuseon becomes even more urgent (see "Seobu Line confirmed as Seoul's LRT top priority"). Just months ago, the project was delayed because SNU wanted to prolong the line further into its campus, and now a boost comes from the other end of the line, the national government speeding up the agenda, and footing the bill for the first 7 stations. Because actually, this new Goyang line constitutes the new beginning of the most defining project for the Western half of Seoul's subway network. Now hopefully, the whole line should be completed by 2026.

On the other side of the Han River, Bucheon will clearly benefit from a denser public transportation network. How the new town will coopete with Magok District or Gyeyang Techno Valley remains to be seen....

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* see for instance in Today's Chosun Ilbo: "3기신도시 고양 창릉·부천 대장동 등에 11만가구 공급", "새절역~고양시청 철도, 김포공항역~부천종합운동장역 BRT 신설", or in Today's Joongang Ilbo: "집값 다시 뛸라...집값 약세 둔화에 3기 신도시 '기습 발표'" (UPDATE 20190508 "To cool real estate, gov’t plans two new towns")
** as defined in "Wet eyes for wetlands and urban mirages"
*** see "Royal Joseon Tombs Become UNESCO World Heritage Properties
**** and by the way, these latest developments make even more irrelevant the Gangbuk Line project drafted a couple of months ago - see "Gangbuk LRT - Naebu v. Seobu, or PARK v. OH?")

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

No Collision?

Last year, KIM Jong-un was about to perform historic walks across the demarcation line with MOON Jae-in (see "Chirps vs Tweets"). This time, he was hours away from boarding a train to Vladivostok, and Putin. But where will he be heading for, right after the 2020 Asan Plenum: Japan? Switzerland? NYC? The ICC? And if KJU ends up six feet under, will it be because of a collision with the US? an obstruction of his windpipe? a Saturday Night Massacre caused by the big bang of Mount Paekdu's supervolcano? Who knows?

": "Vladimir Vladimirovich, can you help me lift against ?" : ..." (20190424 -

We do know one thing: in these tricky and uncertain times, the Asan Plenum is always a very special moment to better feel the pulse of our very special peninsula, our very special region, and our very only planet. This year felt even more complete with much more female voices among the experts invited on stage*, and a most powerful, liberated North Korean voice: THAE Yong-ho's.

Here was someone who illustrated admirably this year's theme, 'Korea's Choice'. THAE risked his life, and chose Korea. Not North Korea, not South Korea, but as a true patriot, the Korea that he believes all Koreans should aim for.

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* see Asan Institute's Asan Plenum 2019 program. If you don't see Trump and China on the menu, they are of course all over the map.

Day 1 (April 23, 2019):
Welcoming Remarks: HAHM Chaibong
Keynote Address: James B. Steinberg
Plenary Session I (G1 or G2?): Choi Kang, Evelyn Goh, Douglas H. Paal, James B. Steinberg, Zhang Tuosheng, Zhao Xiaozhuo
Session 1:
- ROK-U.S. Alliance: Sue Mi Terry, Kim Sung-han, Marc Knapper, Sydney A. Seiler, Soeya Yoshihide, Zhu Feng.
- U.S.-Japan Alliance: Park Cheol hee, Kent E. Calder, Richard McGregor, Tokuchi Hideshi, Wang Dong.
- NATO: Choi Jinwoo, Ian Anthony, Pascal Boniface, Kestutis Paulauskas, Brooke A. Smith-Windsor, Alexander Vershbow.
Plenary Session II (Collective Memory or Collective Future?): Philip Stephens, Hahm Chaibong, David Harris, Aleksandra Gliszczynska-Grabias, Volker Stanzel.
Book Launch (Asan CHUNG Ju-yung's Autobiography 'Born of This Land: My Life Story'): Hahm Chaibong, Chung Mong-joon, Edwin J. Feulner, Karen E. House, Lee Hong Koo, Paul D. Wolfowitz.
Night Sessions:
- North Korea’s Choice: Nuclear Issue: Jung H. Pak, Chun Yungwoo, Bruce Klingner, Nishino Junya, Jonathan Pollack, Scott A. Snyder.
- North Korea’s Choice: Economic Reform: Go Myong-hyun, Thomas Byrne, Furukawa Katsuhisa, John Park (and Hazel A. Smith).

Day 2 (April 24, 2019):
Plenary Session III (Nationalism or Internationalism?): Lee Chung Min, Pascal Boniface, Edwin J. Feulner, G. John Ikenberry, Yuli Tamir, Paul D. Wolfowitz.
Session 2:
- Is Democracy in Crisis?: Gilbert Rozman, Ladan Bouroumand, Chu Yun-han, Martin Fackler, Karen E. House, Philip Stephens.
- Immigrants or Refugees?: Marie McAuliffe, Mely Caballero-Anthony, Gordon Flake, Lee Jasmine, Neil G. Ruiz, Jay Song.
- Values or Interests?: J. James Kim, Kent E. Calder, Fujisaki Ichiro, Gao Fei, Linda Jakobson, T. J. Pempel.
Session 3:
- Free Trade or Fair Trade?: Asif Hasan Qureshi, Ahn Dukgeun, Fukagawa Yukiko, Patrick Messerlin, Tami E. Overby.
- Arms Control: Kato Yoichi, Abe Nobuyasu, Alexander Gabuev, Park Jiyoung, Nicolas Regaud.
- Technology Competition or Cooperation?: Lee Dongmin, Tai Ming Cheung, Min Eun Joo, Michael Sulmeyer, Yaacob Bin Ibrahim.
Plenary Session IV (CVID or “Peaceful” co-existence?): Choi Kang, Evans J. R. Revere, Yamaguchi Noboru, Yao Yunzhu, Thae Yong-ho.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Notre Drame bringing back the Namdaemonium trauma

I woke up this morning to the terrifying sight of Notre Dame engulfed in flames by night. It instantly brought back the Namdaemonium trauma, when Sungnyemun burned down (11 years ago, see "Namdaemunium").

Notre Drame 2019 (left), Namdaemonium 2008 (right)

As a Parisian walking by the monument every day when in my hometown, I feared for the worst, but hopefully the cathedral shall not collapse entirely, as Seoul's last original gate did. The damage remains considerable, starting with that amazing 'foret' of original giant beams, gone for good.

Both 'Namdaemun' and Notre Dame had survived centuries, and wars, both were somehow victims of negligence. If an arsonist did ignite Sungnyemun, the site had recently been deprived of human surveillance in favor of CCTVs. We can't tell yet what caused the fire in Paris, it has probably something to do with the restoration under way around the spire (a XIXth century add on). Walking by the scaffolding on the northern side last month, I was surprised to see how vulnerable the working site looked, but how to keep such an architectural marvel behind wraps? 

Ever since the foiled terror attempt to destroy the Eiffel Tower in 1994 (the one that inspired 9/11), I don't look the same way at landmarks I used to take for granted.

More than in our cityscapes, some landmarks are true anchors in our hearts. You know it when they beat faster each time you see them.

Caught in the Seoul traffic with Sungnyemun. That's not a k-pop star: she's much cuter, has better conversation  -

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Seoul Hall of Urbanism and Architecture, Seoul Biennale 2019 Symposium

The day before Mayor PARK Won-soon cut the ribbon with a dozen VIPs (see below), the new Seoul Hall Of URbanism and Architecture hosted a pre-Seoul Biennale Symposium. A perfect occasion to roam the venue, to the notable exception of the exhibition spaces, and key connections to the neighborhood's underground system, which only opened for the official inauguration.

Yes, I'm talking about the 'Sejongdaero' project we followed from its earliest stages, back in 2015, where the old Japanese tax office used to stand:
. "Tear down that tax office" (20150506)
. "Sejongdaero" competition officially started' (20150727)
. "Sejong-daero winner announced" (20151012)

But before exploring this Seoul HOUR, how about a focus on the Biennale and its symposium?



2019 Seoul Biennale and Pre-Biennale Symposium

If the first symposium, held at the Seoul Museum of History in October 2015, questioned even the principle of a biennale (why not a triennale?), this one went as far as presenting the material used to build the stands. A sharp contrast between an exploratory discussion two years before a first edition, and an operational briefing six months ahead of the second.

", , , , , on stage of Symposium " (20151027 -

A new tandem, LIM Jaeyong and Francisco SANIN, replaced PAI Hyungmin and Alejandro ZAERA-POLO at the heads of the bicephale biennale, knowing that, of course, SEUNG H. Sang remains close by, even if this time, he didn't take the mike (cameo apparitions on a few slides, though).

"#Seoul Biennale 2019 Symposium 20190327.
Between #Francisco Sanin and #Lim Jaeyong: #Cho Minsuk, #Armando Hashimoto, #Peter Wilson, #Noura Al Sayeh, #Chon Jaesun, #Alicia Lazzaroni... #Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism #architecture #urbanism #seoulhour" (20190412 -

After 'Imminent Commons', Seoul went for the theme 'Collective City' (announced last December), around the same 4 main axes:
  • Thematic exhibition (curator Beth Hugues): research and propositions around the 'collective city' notion, held in the DDP (Design Exhibition Hall, Design Pathway). Let's see what comes up from the various topics (typology, post-domestic city, mediation, heritage, infrastructures, ecology...).
  • Cities exhibition (curators YIM Dongwoo, Rafael LUNA): I'm excited by the choice of Donuimun Museum Village and its Seoul Center for Architecture and Urbanism for the venue instead of the DDP, where the first edition took place. Mind you, that was a terrific exhibition, and they managed to make it not look like a fair, in spite of the site, but Sinmunno provides the perfect - if challenging - backdrop for a genuine global village, with actual alleyways. Dongwoo already researched innovative mapping axes for the 80 cities.
  • Global studio (curator CHOE Sanki): note the semantic shift from the 'international studios' of the first edition (curated by John HONG, who presented his return on experience). All events shall be concentrated around Seun Sangga (Sewoon Plaza, Sewoon Hall).
  • Live Projects (curator JANG Young-chul): articulated around the concept of market, very relevant in the context of a collective city, particularly since, as JANG reminded us, the '시' in '도시' (city) means 'market'. Two venues: Seun Sangga (Sewoon Plaza, Daelim Sangga), and the Seoul Museum of History.

I presume Seoul HOUR shall also serve as a venue, if not a hub. Anyway, Sadaemun's Jong-ro - Saemunan-ro horizontal remains the biennale's urban backbone. And if you forgot what I'm referring to, I shalt forgive thee, but here's the animated map:

If I'm looking forward this second biennale (September 7 - November 10), this symposium was already worth attending, with stimulating presentations, moments and chats. Special mentions to:
  • Jae-sung CHON's ode to the collective mess (he had me from the start by mentioning Kowloon Walled City and Seoul markets), and his fake news journal to project the reader in the future... that's my vision of urbanism, where you shouldn't sanitize everything, but leave room for organisms to evolve, grow, mutate by themselves. 
  • Peter Ferretto's respect for China's threatened wonders (beautiful project in Gao Bu, Hunan). 
  • CHO Minsuk's updates on Danginri and Bamseom, the rooftop theater of his Seoul Cinematheque. 
  • Alicia Lazzaroni's 'vulnerability as a design' 
  • KIM So-young's 'negociated city' 
  • Erik L'Heureux's lyricism about HCMC's forgotten gems. He saw no connections to Seoul, but I couldn't stop thinking about my dear "Hoehyeon Apt, Chungjeong Apt, Dongdaemun Apt, Ogin Apt..." 
  • John HONG reclaiming preservation as radical, 'Citizen Jane'-style, and LIM Jaeyong musing 'but if it's us vs them, who are we, who are they?'

On the eve of its inauguration, at the new #Seoul Hall Of Urbanism And Architecture for the Pre-Biennale Symposium
Workshop featuring (left to right): #Peter Tagiuri #Alicia Lazzaroni #Klaas Kresse #Kim Soy-oung #Patrick Weber #John Hong #Choe Sanki #Erik L'Heureux #Chon Jaesung #Peter Ferretto #Rafael Luna #Yim Dongwoo
#Seoul Biennale #Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism #서울도시건축프리비엔날레 #SBAU
#서울도시건축전시관 #seoulhour
(SeoulVillage Facebook page - 20190327)


Seoul Hall of Urbanism and Architecture

So we now know how this 'Seoul Chronicle' works, and what its purpose is. From the beginning, I liked the minimalist approach with a focus on connectivity over and underground, the new building subliming surrounding structures: Deoksugung walls, the Seoul Anglican Cathedral, and even the less gracious Seoul Metropolitan Council, whose campanile almost ends up making sense. 

You can reach Seoul HOUR's rooftop from all sides, and face the stream of Sejongdaero as if from a non-scary diving board, with the bulging side of Seoul City Hall in front of you, Gwanghwamun to your left, and Seoul Plaza to your right. If you return to street level, you can also enjoy a panoramic view while sipping a cup of - what else* - coffee.

"Of course, also has a cafe (ground level), and a rooftop view on and (just-above-ground-level rooftop) " (201903

Now in this kind of iceberg structures, you need to dive well below the surface, through 3 underground levels with relatively low ceilings, except in strategic places, and of course for 'VIUM Hall', the huge parallepiped going through all four levels. Frankly, the first impression of this main exhibition space is a bit disappointing: you can reach it directly through a central, monumental staircase that feels somehow like a Seoul subway entrance (yes, as advertised, Seoul HOUR is connected to the Sejongno underground network, which means among others City Hall, and the subway). Furthermore, halfway down, your first glance at the inaugural exhibition (about Vienna public housing) is from above, which makes it look smaller and weaker behind its scaffoldings. Video projections on the wall to your right don't quite make for the big dark void in front of you. I understand the architectural logic to prolong Deoksugung's walls, but from this angle, this corner is really too dark, and not exactly awe inspiring.

But that can be fixed easily; a towering exhibit, or why not an ethereal SUH Do-ho fabric house?

To truly appreciate the hall's volume, this is the best angle, facing lighter structures, the glass connections to the other floors and exhibition spaces, the window towards the street:

" Inauguration with mayor :" (20190328

Here are the 4 inaugural exhibitions: 
  • 'Vienna Model - the past, present, and future of public housing', with a resolutely no-frills museography
  • 'The social role of architecture' (starting with Seoullo 7017, just to make the mayor happy, I presume)
  • 'An-other Seoul', with a 3D map of the capital city reminiscent of the bigger one at the Seoul Museum of History, and an interesting scenario: what if, instead of reducing every year greenbelt areas (see "Land mining Seoul"), urban planners made better use of the sites related to infrastructure, which represent almost two thirds of Seoul's total surfce?
  • 'Documenting the city', curated by LEE Sang-koo, with a focus on familiar lost villages (Sinwol-dong, Sanggye-dong, Geoyeo-dong).

" at () one day before its inauguration, for Symposium. Expo on in , (reminiscent of )... " (20190327

Seoul Village 2019
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* for instance City Hall in 2012 ("Seoul Tsunami City Hall, The Other Korean Wave"), the DDP in 2013 (see "Sneak peek inside Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park")
** see "500 m, 80%, 100% urban crappuccino"

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