National Museum, Seoul’s Architecture, Veggie Kraze Burger
23rd June 2013.
Labelled as the most representative museum in Korea and as one of the six major museums of the world, people who wrote this mainly refer to size.
Seoul’s National Museum is a big historical museum. With vast and spacious architecture. Megalomania comes to mind when trying to describe the building structure. But it can withstand earthquakes and the displayed items stand on shock resistant platforms. The museum uses natural light and fire resistant building material. The resemblance to an overground bunker cannot be denied.
Location: 137 Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul. Line 4, Jungjang Line Ichon Station, Exit 2 or take the underpass. Admission: Free! And you can take pictures (no flash nor tripod).
When getting off at Jungjang Station, we took the museum’s nadeulgil (underpass) which featured double moving walkways to direct pedestrian traffic towards the museum. Like at an airport. The walls had digital displays of Korean sculptures and crafts. Tomek got all exited.
A picturesque setting in front of the main museum building. With a traditional pavilion making it look like we had just entered a secret garden of Seoul‘s great palaces.
A typical photo shot scenario of Dasza and Tomek. Dasza: Let me just get my hair out of my face… Tomek: has taken picture.
Tomek: patiently repeats the procedure. Dasza: smiling.
Also, because flowers.
Tada, the museum.
It does look like some kind of defensive military fortification with room for planes with an airport on its rooftop, including a shelter for all of Seoul’s inhabitants.
The view is equally mind blowing. It paints a picture of global urban development and maybe, the hideous architecture of the future. Seoul has had traditionally low build housing in the past. Only few Hanok examples in Seoul stand today, displaying Korea’s ancient style of home building with sweet woodwork and arched roof tiles.
After the armistice agreement ended the war between the North and the South in 1953, the city gradually shaped itself towards vertical look-alike seoulless apartment buildings.
Partly because under Korean dictatorships up until the 1980s, conformism seemed to be the only idea of ‘creativity’. But also, simply due to economic reasons. If you have cities levelled to the ground, people need new homes – functional design for many was a quick fix, just like in my home country Poland.
Every time I see conglomerations of tall residential blocks with architecture stripped of any ornamentation, I think of the pioneer modernist urban planner Le Corbusier. And communist housing solutions with its hideous concrete high rises. Would the world without Le Corbusier look the same? His ideas seem to best meet new age needs for affordable housing for a growing population. Steel, glass and concrete are still forming post war damaged cities.
Let’s go inside now!
The impression is grand, marble and modernist. There is a place for phone booths.
What I really liked about the museum was that it did not only outline Korea’s national history but that it touched on cultural aspects of other Asian countries as well, on the whole of third floor.
On floor one you can learn about the origins of Korean culture and follow its development from ancient times to the unification of the wealthy Silla, Baekje and Goguryeo kingdoms (beginning in 57 BC, unified under Silla in 668). Medieval and early modern history shows items from the Goryeo kingdom (replaced Silla in 935) and the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) with its walls, gates and palaces shaping Seoul to this day.
Floor two is the least interesting with private donations and calligraphy. It was so much more fun to watch the art of Korean calligraphy in the centre of Seoul, where we could choose a lucky phrase and see it being drawn on a paper wall scroll by skilled writers.
The highlights of the museum are the pensive Bodhisattva figure, the celadon incense burner, the gold crown from the Silla kingdom, the gold diadem ornament of the Baekje kingdom and the ten storey pagoda you can see in the picture.
Forming the entrance to the exhibition was the quotation of Kim Gu (1876-1949), the founder of the Republic of Korea, from his autobiography ‘Baekbeomilji’:
I want our nation to be the most beautiful in the world. By this I do not mean the most powerful nation… The only thing that I desire in infinite quantity is the power of a highly developed culture. This is because the power of culture both makes ourselves happy and gives happiness to others.
One exhibition focused on Korean society and religion. I was amazed how successful Christian beliefs have crawled upon Koreans, in a land that believed in the spirits of nature and was an undisturbed Confucian and Buddhist state until the late 18th century. In 1945 only 2% of Koreans identified as Christian. Today an army of neon red crosses lights Seoul’s night scene, marking the faith of a rising 30%.
The patriarchal system of the church was by many Koreans regarded as an antagonist force to Confucian hierarchy, under a semi-divine king. The church prohibited polygamy, concubinage and arranged marriages and reached out to the oppressed. Christianity is associated with Western prosperity.
There was a whole section about the hierarchical order of a Confucian society during the 500 year long Joseon dynasty and how within those boundaries the class of commoners achieved high levels of expertise in various scientific and academic fields. An old Korean book of acupuncture – translated into Japanese.
A neat thing to see on this map, after we have visited all the palaces, was how Changgyeonggung and Changdeokgung palace were initially interconnected. After the Japanese occupation, this map was a valuable source that helped to reconstruct destroyed sites.
The zoodiacal monkey figurine is stone-hard evidence that Planet of the Apes was not just a movie.
And this helmet looked just so futuristic, like out of a fantasy episode.
We recognised characteristic Indian art, we had marvelled at at temples during our India trip years back, depicting sensuous deities, mainly in erotic postures. Sacred religious Asian art does differ greatly from Christian depictions of mainly depressed and suffering saints, sad holy Marys’ and dying Jesus’. When you walk through an exhibition of smiling Buddhas or dancing deities, your mood lightens up.
A final gem, the painting of a Japanese dancer from the early 20th century.
Time to grab something to eat. In an act of curiosity (and desperation to find meal without meat), we checked various Korean restaurant menus. To our surprise Korean-owned chain Kraze Burgers (see their site for locations) offered a pure veggie burger! This is how we ended up at Koreas ‘healthy and handmade’ hamburger place in Myeongdong. America’s hamburger domain is lost – Kraze Burgers has expanded to the US.
We ordered garlic potato wedges.
Awesome veggie burger with tofu and a multi-grain bun! The size is enormous, so we shared what is supposed to be one meal – as usual in Seoul. The bill was 9,000 won for the veggie burger, 8,500 for the fries and 7,000 for two Cass beers = 25,300 won.
No, I can’t do that! I can’t eat a burger in front of a camera. Seriously.
That’s such a mess.
On our way home, I was still thinking back to my first impressions of Seoul, the fascinating ugliness of block housing, the problems of (not intended) ghetto architecture, depressingly grey satellite suburbs surrounded by motorways and how, in the rapid pace of modernization, a lot of Seoul’s history is being paved over. Seoul is a city overshadowed by freeways. The beauty of the Han river is clouded by endless clusters of well apartment-mini-cities, like these.
We currently rent apartment 1420 on the 14th floor of a massive residential construction, right in the centre of one of the most modern global cities of the world. Do we live future?
You are welcome to share your ideas on museums, veggie burgers or on desirable/future architecture.