Korean architecture wins top honor at Venice Biennale

Posted on : 2014-06-09 15:09 KST Modified on : 2014-06-09 15:09 KST
Jury recognizes Korea for expanding “the spatial and architectural narrative into a geopolitical reality”

By Goo Bon-joon, staff reporter

At the Venice Biennale, the world’s premier architecture festival, which had its grand opening on June 7, Korea was awarded the Golden Lion for national participation, the top prize at the biennale. This is the first time in the history of the biennale - held every year, alternating between fine art and architecture - that Korea has won the Golden Lion in either category.

Prior to this, the world of architecture had rarely paid Korean architects any special attention, even as they developed and approached global standards. But the Golden Lion has raised the prestige of Korean architecture in an instant.

A total of 65 countries - more than ever before - were represented at this year’s architecture biennale, which was directed by well-known architect Rem Koolhaas. Each of the national teams planned their exhibition around the same theme: Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014.

In line with this theme, the Korean pavilion drew inspiration from the poem “Crow’s Eye View” by Korean poet and architect Yi Sang (1910-1937) to arrive at the topic “Crow’s Eye View of the Korean Peninsula,” examining how Korean architecture has changed over the past 100 years using material from architecture, as well as variety of other disciplines. The commissioner of the pavilion was architect Cho Min-suk, founder of the firm Mass Studies, and its curators were Bae Hyung-min, professor at the University of Seoul, and Ahn Chang-mo, professor at Kyonggi University.

The Korean pavilion took a look not only at South Korean but also North Korean architecture, putting the spotlight on the historical and architectural relationship between North and South, and the continuing conflict between the rival systems of capitalism and socialism. Since the division of the Korean peninsula is a microcosm of the diverging paths of capitalism and socialism, which run through 20th century history, the exhibition was designed to show how the cities and buildings of North and South Korea have changed under these different ideologies, following the separation of the peninsula, with its 5,000 years of history and culture.

“The jury wishes to recognize Korea with a Golden Lion for the extraordinary achievement of presenting a new and rich body of knowledge of architecture and urbanism in a highly charged political situation. Using diverse modes of representation that encourage interaction, it is research-in-action, which expands the spatial and architectural narrative into a geopolitical reality,” the biennale jury said.

“Through the Korean exhibition, we looked back over the past 100 years so that we could see ahead into the future. I hope that this will offer a small sample of how fascinating it will be when North and South Korea come together to talk about architecture,” said Cho Min-suk as he received the award.

The Silver Lion went to Chile, and Special Mentions, which are awarded to three national pavilions, were given to Canada, France, and Russia. The Venice Biennale will be open through Nov. 23.

Cho Min-suk, the first architect to win the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for the Korean architectural world, is regarded as one of Korea’s most outstanding architects. Not only is he the best-known Korean architect internationally, but he is also regarded as one of the top forty architects active around the world today. He has created a body of work that is highly imaginative and original, based on the idea of realizing in actual architecture his meticulously designed new program of space.

After graduating from the architectural department of Yonsei University and studying at Columbia University in the US, Cho operated overseas, working at OMA, the design office of world-renowned architect Rem Koolhaas. In 2003, he returned to Korea and opened Mass Studies.

Cho rose to prominence as Korea’s definitive architect with the design of the Dalki Theme Park and Pixel House at Heyri Art Village in Paju and Boutique Monaco near Gangnam Station in Seoul. Since then, he has designed a number of much-discussed structures, including the Korean exhibition at the Shanghai Expo in 2010 and Space.1, the Jeju office of internet portal site Daum.


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