Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Citizen's Hall, Downtown Seoul

The special interest group, Business and Culture Club of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch, made arrangements for their monthly lunch-time tour to be at the Citizen's Hall, downtown Seoul. The first and second basements are opened to everyone and have several continually changing exhibits for citizens to enjoy. 

Because the weather has been quite cold lately, citizens escaping the cold wandered from, to and between shops and temporary exhibits. The first basement is also a gathering spot for the homeless, I did notice were careful not to lay down on the benches. I get the impression that there's an unspoken rule that as long as they don't make Citizen's Hall obviously look like a homeless ward, they are welcome to enjoy it during the open hours (9am - 9pm). Sadly, many of the homeless seemed to struggle to stay upright. I felt quite bad for them; it's certainly a struggle to stay warm at night in the very, very cold weather, and in the warmth of the Citizen's Hall where their muscles can relax, they dare not to relax too much for fear of being expelled. 

Citizen's Hall is a history center. It's first basement has an excavation and development plan which shows the history of City Hall in archeological format: original street layouts with barely navigable paths between houses, wall delineations highlighting the fact that houses in former times were (as we think now) distressingly small. Also, according to archeological evidence, City Hall now sits on what was formerly a munitions factory. Quite the interesting place for a wander! Here's a little more detail on the purpose of Citizen's Hall Global Site:
Citizens Hall, situated on the 1st and 2nd basement levels of Seoul City Hall, serves as a Citizens’ lifestyle courtyard where citizens can create and share together. The hall is designed according to the principles of ‘void’ (emptiness) and ‘flexibility’ in such a way as to accommodate various types of citizen-oriented activities such as discussions, exhibitions, performances, lectures, and play programs. Its Chinese name uses cheong (聽) meaning ‘listening’, rather than cheong (廳), meaning ‘government office’, to express the idea of a courtyard where citizens’ voices are heard and where ideas and opinions are shared between citizens.
To go into the upper levels of City Hall, a pass is needed. A very fascinating place. One whole wall of City Hall is made of glass, allowing sunlight to flood in and kiss the leaves of the world's largest indoor vertical botanical garden ... or at least it was when it was first constructed in 2013. (It has since been surpassed in height by AeroFarms in New Jersey.)
7-Story Indoor Green Wall is an Enormous Air Filter for Solar-Powered Seoul City Hall 
Seoul’s new City Hall boasts a sprawling indoor green wall that's so big it set a Guinness World Record as the world's largest vertical garden in 2013. Designed by iArc Architects, the seven-story-high vertical garden was created to complement the new City Hall’s environmentally friendly features, including its numerous renewable energy sources from solar power to geothermal energy. Approximately 65,000 plants from 14 different species grow in the garden, which spans an area greater than 17,000 square feet.

The architecture inside the windowed grand foyer is bright and symbolic (the white chandier-looking glass mass near the ceiling symbolizes 'hope', one of several symbols). There are history corners too, e.g. details on the history of the plaster and stone work, the cornices, and the restructuring. Of big interest to me were large framed pictures on the wall showing City Hall and its development over the past several decades:

City Hall after the Japanese Colonial Period (late 1940s)
City Hall (late 1940s) with story-like explanations of what is actually happening in the photo
City Hall during the 1988 Seoul Olympics
City Hall during the 2002 World Cup - "Go Red!"
The former Seoul City governor's office is located in City Hall (and what a fabulous sunny view the governor had!) And recently added is a collection of the poet Go Un's books. South Korea excitedly awaited the 2017 announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature winner, hoping that nominee Go Un would win. However, Kazuo Ishiguro, the British author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, won much to Korea's disappointment. 

Books personally donated from Ko Un's personal library
Go Un as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 2017 
Described by Allen Ginsberg as “a magnificent poet, combination of Buddhist cognoscente, passionate political libertarian, and naturalist historian”, the Korean poet Ko Un is the author of more than 150 collections of poems, essays and fiction, and has long been named as a potential Nobel laureate. He became a Buddhist monk after the horrors of the Korean war and wrote his first few collections while under holy orders, going on to become a political activist, during which time he was arrested and imprisoned repeatedly. Andrew Motion has described him as “a major poet, who has absolutely compelling things to say about the entire history of South Korea, and equally engrossing things to say about his own exceptionally interesting life and sensibility”.
Ko Un, reading one of his many poems.
According to the plaque on the wall, he has written more than 200 poems,
and he still writes strong!

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