Saturday, October 8, 2011

Historical Reinterpretation, Renovation, Bureaucracy

UNESCO needs to negotiate with the local community.

This house I visited in Seoul, South Korea was fascinating in all of the powerful interests it was forced to negotiate in its reinterpretation and renovation into contemporary usability. This home is part of a strictly preserved neighborhood of old homes that have come to represent the ideal traditional Korean home. Over the last few decades, the active preservation has become more and more intense as Seoul strives to become a modern global capital on the level of Paris and Tokyo. The woman who renovated this house spent five years jumping through the many bureaucratic hoops, including community organizations, local and national government, and non governmental agencies that needed to be satisfied before she was even allowed to touch this home. Interestingly, she noted to me that the architect she was designing this renovation with was someone who did not survive those many negotiations.

In affect, through renovation, this woman revitalized a home that likely would have been razed to build a multi-story mansion when a more powerful developer obtained the property. So she did in some ways "save" the home and the history. The controversy is that she changed the nature of the home while simply maintaining the image. Paper windows became glass, interior mud walls gave way to plaster, and passive ventilation was replaced with a conditioned environment etc.

The greatest difficulty of this situation in many places around the world is the negotiation between the desire for preservation and the reality that in order to preserve, normal life and local communities must also continue to function. Normal life for the owner of this home was a need to create a 21st century design studio while maintaining a centuries old home. The conclusion is what is in the photographed above. As UNESCO’s power expands, we may begin to encounter more need for diplomatic solutions in situations like this.

*A fun fact of this neighborhood is that it is British residents that are the most active in pushing for preservation while majorities of Koreans prefer to modernize. **In addition to this, the houses are actually, in part, the making of Japanese colonial politicians who moved into the neighborhood at the turn of the 20th century.

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