Korean Pavilion Wins Venice Biennale

Korean Pavilion Venice Biennale ArchiLoci

The first prize, the Golden Lions award went to the  Korean Pavilion for it’s exhibition in a “highly charged political situation.”

Korean Pavilion Venice Biennale 2014 ArchiLoci

Commissioned and curated by Minsuk Cho, founder of Mass Studies, the exhibition is a collection of 40 different works from architects, urbanists, artists, writers, filmmakers, collectors and photographers.

The jury awarded it first prize for “the extraordinary achievement of presenting a new and rich body of architecture and urbanism in a highly charged political situation.”


The agenda and format of this Biennale allowed us to venture into dangerous experiment in bringing the two Koreas together.

Korean Pavilion Venice Biennale 2014 ArchiLoci

Photo by Ahn Sekwon_Cheonggye Streams View of Seoul Lights 2004

On receiving the award Cho commented that Rem Koolhaas’ theme ‘Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014,’ was “particularly timely as the region has only been looking forward, and not looking back much.”

‘It didn’t happen quite as we planned, but I hope it’s a small, positive demonstration on how interesting it is when the two Korea’s get together and talk about architecture”.

Entitled Crow’s Eye View: The Korean Peninsula, the exhibition is named after a poem by Korean architect turned poet Yi Sang who had aspirations to become an architect, but was impossible under Japanese rule.

Korean Pavilion Venice Biennale  2014 ArchiLoci

Poem ‘Crow’s Eye View’ by Yi Sang.

Divided into four main themes: Reconstructing Life; Monumental State; Borders; and Utopian Tours, the exhibition compares the everyday life and architecture of the north and south. It considers how, although once a single nation, it’s division after WWII created divergent paths.

Korean Pavilion Venice Biennale  2014 ArchiLoci

Demilitarized (DMZ) Map, Dongsei Kim. Click to enlarge.

Throughout, a collection of works reveal how after extensive bombing (almost 95% of buildings were destroyed), Pyongyang in North Korea was rebuilt on the ideals of the socialism, whereas South Korea’s Seoul’s renewal was driven by economic forces.

Korean Pavilion Venice Biennale 2014 ArchiLoci

Architect unknown, Kim II-sung University, Pyongyang 1946.
Photo by Charlie Crane.

Reconstructing Life illustrates Pyongyang’s tabula rasa became the founding myth for a new socialist and heroic nation while Seoul development is steered by economic forces, memories and desire.

The Monumental State room draws comparatives between the ideals and roles of architects in each nation. Photographs show how the architect of the Kim II-sung University remains anonymous, with credit given to the mandate of “great” leaders. This is placed next to a photo of Kim Swoo standing proud at the centre of his Olympic designed Stadium in Seoul.

Korean Pavilion Venice Biennale 2014 ArchiLoci

The architect Kim Swoo Geun Olympic Stadium, Seoul.
Photo by Osamu Murai.

Borders takes a look at the DMZ dividing line that is “most radically mediated, the most militarized, and most politically charged boundary in the world.” Photographs show two entry point buildings where there is a tourist zone, universities, agriculture and religious buildings where free travel is permitted.

The final room, is Nick Bonner’s Utopian Tours, and contains the only works from North Korea. Bonner, a filmmaker and collector, runs Beijing based tour company, Koryo Group, and has been introducing everyday life in North Korea to the rest of the world for the last twenty years.

Korean Pavilion Venice Biennale 2014 ArchiLoci

Image from Commissions for Utopia.

 “All architects in North Korea, although they do have the CAD, they have the training and ability to paint. I asked an architect – who remains anonymous – to do ‘Commissions’, imagining what they future might look like.”

The room contains a number of futuristic paintings as well as linocuts, photo’s and posters with national messages of unity. “The photographs are the human scale of the city as I think what a lot of people miss is how people use the cityscape.”

Photograph’s show families, children couples engaging in social weekend activities such as dances, parades and ball games. “Its about the strength of human nature in a city that had three buildings left after 1953.”

Korean Pavilion Venice Biennale 2014 ArchiLoci

Upon receiving the award, the curator and historian, Hyungmin Pai, commented; “The agenda and format of this Biennale allowed us to venture into dangerous experiment into bringing the two Koreas together. The exhibition became a text, and the text seeped into an exhibition, and then the exhibition creates a discourse, and I think that’s what the Biennale is supposed to do; create new things and ideas.”

You can watch an tour of the Korean Pavilion by Hyungmin Pai and Minsuk Cho here.



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