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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.

Seoul Village 2019
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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  -

Seoul Village 2019
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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"

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

KIM Soo-chul fast forward

You'd think that would be the perfect day to simply, gently press 'rewind', and then 'play'..., but no, KIM Soo-chul keeps pushing 'fast forward' all the way, because he always needs to project himself toward his next projects.
For the final concert of his return to Hakchon, and on his 62nd birthday, the legend did remind us who and what he is: a great singer, an amazing guitar player, a wonderful songwriter, a multifaceted composer, a producer, a broadcaster, an actor. a genuine artist, and a true star, the kind of sun that brightens your day, makes you laugh or cry along with him.

KIM Soo-chul 20190407 (photos Stephane MOT)
If his hits have rocked and moved generations of Koreans since 1978, Soo-chul is even prouder of promoting gugak long before that was cool (one of his university friends told me that he was actually surprised to see him start with occidental music), and of helping its unique sounds reach new audiences at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 2002 World Cup opening ceremonies, or with original soundtracks (like the one he composed for IM Kwon-taek's 'Sopyonje'). And yes, KIM is also very proud of performing live at the UN in NYC, of composing the delicate KBS jingle, or the cult 'Chikichiki chakachaka' (animation series), which he even played live on Sunday in Daehangno.

His show started unconventionally, with a lecture that was both fun and inspiring, even if he could have reduced the number of illustrations by half and still make all his points - but such is the man and the artist: always willing to communicate, and to share. 

Then came the concert. Did he bring the house down? You betcha. 'Little Big Man''s old band mates cheering from the audience, KIM Soo-chul teamed up with younger talents on stage: just one drummer, one bass, and one heck of a guitar hero, who jammed for a while with young gugak players, before returning to his greatest hits. A musical and emotional overload ending up in tears, before a touching finale: four songs merged into one, simply delivered by a soft voice, discreet strings, and pure melodies.

Happy Birthday, KIM Soo-chul, and thank you again for this very special moment.

Seoul Village 2019
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