Undeniably, architecture and art is inseparable. Architecture houses the lives of people, who instinctively turn their heads toward beauty. Thus, architecture has gradually developed into a form of search for art. It relentlessly pursues the peaks of aesthetic performance, revealing a never-ending crave for the beautiful. The exploration has never remained still, as the perspectives of people are changing over time. Yet behind the demand for beauty, there remain flaws to be mended. Further search for the relationship between art and architecture will help us find the solution. Prior to delving into the biting reality, the artchitecture's aesthetic evolution must be analyzed.
For centuries, art in architecture has undergone a series of evolution. Deeply rooted in human nature, artistic architecture dates back to the advent of mankind. Even in the Neolithic era, our ancestors applied aesthetic elements to architecture, building elaborate tombs and houses adorned with paintings done in natural pigments. The grand agora and temples also reveal their early interest in artistic architecture.
When Art Meets Architecture: Now
Today, humanity faces modernism. Although it is a broad term that is difficult to narrow down, modernism is generally characterized by its focus on rationality and experimentation with the variety. The experimental aspects of modern art introduced various forms of art, allowing the coexistence of exquisiteness and minimalism. Architecture today thus reveals many of the features of modern art. A number of architectures focus on simple yet unique designs that often seize practicality.
Many people may envision grand, neatly designed buildings when they think of “modern architecture.” Indeed, newly constructed buildings today share some common traits. Take some examples of the famous Opera House, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and a number of new university buildings. They have simple, easy-to-remember features, often making them as iconic landmarks. Designs are sometimes, however, unusual and experimental, which are quite notable among the unilateral buildings.
▲ MUSAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León) in Spain. Provided by duranvirginia.wordpress.com
The motive for artistic architecture is to gain public attention. People are naturally drawn to buildings that are aesthetically pleasing. Thus for public facilities such as museums, parks and tourist landmarks, catchy appearance is one of the fundamental elements to attract plenty of visitors. The Lotte Group, for instance, is currently finishing the construction of the second Lotte World. Including the highest skyscraper, Lotte Tower, it is expected to gather approximately seven trillion won. Architecture can become a powerful incentive for people to stop by, often generating substantial economic effect.
▲ The ancient tomb of the Neolithic era. Provided by visitwales.com.
Modern era of architecture not only focuses on aesthetics, but also practicality. Thus architects utilize technological research to increase the efficiency of architecture. Deciding how to enhance architectural functionality requires reflections on major global concerns, including the environment. Human development has eroded nature, and the limited amount of natural resources requires people to search for energy efficiency. This is where nature takes its part in enhancing both the artistic and functional qualities of architecture.
▲ The Colosseum in ancient Rome. Provided by quoteinsta.com.
The introduction of nature to architecture revitalizes buildings in various aspects. For a long time, nature has been at the center of aesthetic standards, and natural elements are praised as being beautiful, making coexistence with nature as one of the pursuits in architecture. For example, some people choose to design houses that emphasize harmony with nature. Such houses are noticeable in certain aspects that they are focused on both eyepleasing designs and architectural functions such as energy efficiency.
Focus on nature is leading the increasing trend of sustainable architectures. This refers to the ecofriendly architectures that attempt to lower adverse effect on the environment. Rooftop greening, for example, exhibits nature as an artistic element in architecture. Literally, this trend refers to planting gardens on the tops of buildings. Such gardens reduce heat island effects and help maintain comfortable temperature. According to the Korean Green Roof & Infrastructure Association website, these gardens also enhance landscapes by replacing visually undesirable elements on the rooftops. Instead of derelict, achromatic view, gardens provide pleasing scenery in our daily lives.
▲ The Opera House. Provided by theoperahouse.org.
A rising number of environmental architecture implies not only the increasing interests for artistic architectures. It also reflects its emerging effectiveness in solving current concerns, such as environmental issues in this case. Implying the practical aspect of modernism, aesthetics of architecture tend to seize functionality beyond beauty. Various ways to give more meanings to architecture as a mere means of habitat are activating the dynamics between art and architecture—a limitless possibility of further development.
▲ A rooftop garden located at the building in the Amsa 1(il)-dong. Provided bythe Gangdong-gu community center.
Korea, Architecture, and Art
In Korea, the distinctive styles of the traditional house hanok are noticeable. A hanok consists of soft curves and edges that remind ridges on the Taebaek Mountains. Usage of natural resources as construction materials and natural color patterns express the pursuit of harmony with nature. A number of traditional patterns such as danchung, are still used in various modern products as well as in some buildings. Referred to painted adornments on wooden buildings, danchung was one of the key elements in Korean traditional architecture. It not only adorned and served as an indicator of the social status of a building, but also lengthened the building’s durability by protecting the surfaces from humidity and pests.
▲ The Korean traditional design in architecture, danchung. Provided bydanchung.or.kr
One of the notable places that involve traditional artistic architecture of Korea is the Bukchon Hanok Village. Located in Samchung-dong, it is one of the few places where modern and traditional forms of buildings merge. Even coffee shops and foreign brand shops are in the form of hanok, using Korean banners as well. The harmony distinguishes the area from others, establishing the village as one of the notable landmarks in Seoul.
▲ The Bukchon Hanok Village. Photographed by Jung Woo Jae.
Some young Korean architects have endeavored to promote artistic architecture. Shin Ho Soub of Shin Architects is one. As a resident of the Bukchon Hanok Village, he has been seeking art inside architecture. “In architecture, it is important to maintain would be harmony with the existing urban environment, along with the possibility of changing the surroundings,” said Shin. He emphasized that the power of architecture, saying that even a single, carefully designed building can change the whole view of a village.
▲ Architect Shin Ho Soub explaining his thoughts on architecture. Photographedby Jung Woo Jae.
“Although we see architecture all the time, a good architecture will be able to turn even small routines into pleasant novelty,” he added. The novelty he explained was not coming from something entirely new, but from the “unique familiarity.” Shin emphasized that the architecture should possess a naturalness. “It is tiring for both architects and residents to be overly focused on entirely new things all the time. Architecture remains unchanged. Thus, I pursue placidity in buildings, so that they can last for a long time, gradually melting into daily life,” he said.
▲ The outlook of the Duruk School in Jeju-do. Provided by naverjeju.com.
“I noticed that people have their own standards of ‘good architecture.’ They all have different perspectives,” he noted. “I believe standards are inevitably embodied in architectural beauty, rather than intentional and artificial ones. It is my goal to express the diverse attitudes of life through architecture—a complex but worthwhile process. Thus I gain sources by talking with other people,” said Shin.
▲ The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). Provided by e-architect.co.uk.
Some buildings, including the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) are examples of modern art collaborating with architecture. The MMCA is noticeable for its minimal colors and unique design. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) building is also renowned for its distinctive exterior. The building implies the dynamic image of Seoul, which is reflected in its bold outline that adds to a futuristic atmosphere. These buildings not only contain art inside, but also become art itself.
▲ The night view of the Gwangahn bridge. Provided by kr.newtopic.org.
Some landmark buildings of Korea also reveal the influence of modern art. The Convention and Exhibition Center (COEX) is characterized by its grand size and its contemporary design evocative of a futuristic city. Bridges in Youngwang, Ganghwa, Hangang, and Jindo are noted for their iconic appearances. Due to their aesthetic design, when lit up, they adorn the night view. The newly constructed city of Songdo is also renowned for the sophisticated outlook of its architecture. One example is the Kernel Walk, where paths are neatly paved along the river, and bridges and statues entertain many visitors.
▲ Overall view of the Seoul Arts Center. The building slightly to the right fromthe center is the Opera House and the one on the very right is the ConcertHall. Provided by Huffington Post.
Art Revives Architecture
Some buildings have experienced a positive turnaround through artistic enhancement. A notable example in Korea would be the Duruk School in Jeju-do. As a part of the Color Project supported by the Samsung Electronics and colorist Jean Philippe Lenclos, Duruk School was chosen to undergo a dramatic transformation—to be painted colors on the school walls. The result of the project was quite successful. Once a nearly derelict school due to the lack of students, Duruk School continues to provide a learning environment, also standing as one of the must-see tourist attractions. Even with a change of color, the whole destiny of architecture was reversed.
▲ The Aqua-Art Bridge that is supposed to act as the solution to uncomfortableroads and transport to reach the Seoul Arts Center. Provided by Silvernet.
Art and architecture indeed share an undeniable union. Architecture composes the living area of people, where people live, visit, and see all the time. Human nature is the pursuit of beauty, and indeed this is why people favor the beauty in architecture they contact in all of their lives. Art is often referred to as the life of architecture, which allows it to function to its full capacity. Thus many architects today still endeavor for greater beauty in contemporary architecture, and people fix their eyes on more eye-catching, stunningly beautiful buildings. The aesthetic evolution of architecture still continues to rewrite its history at this very moment.
Looking Around With A Different View
Architecture may at first seem like a concept that requires great specialty and knowledge. However, human beings are surrounded by architecture. People make architecture, and architecture in return completes them. Perhaps because it is so close to human—beings, it can be used maliciously by those in power. The effect of architecture becomes more powerful as it becomes more artistic, and its power reaches its peak when it is recognized as being artistic and influential. People should realize that such power can be used in ways that were not originally intended.
Art can be very subjective; therefore, an artistic work can be defined or interpreted in a variety of ways. Since interpretations depend on the viewer, even though the intentions of the artist may be truly artistic, some can view it as lacking artistic merit, and in some cases, the opposite can happen. Sometimes, seemingly artistic constructions cloak the complicated political influences which are applied during the process of their construction.
Park Jae-Young, a junior majoring in formative arts at the Korea National University of Arts, said that as a student studying the arts, he is very satisfied that art in architecture is becoming increasingly accepted and recognized. However, he often feels uncomfortable when he witnesses cases in which artistic architecture is intentionally used to fulfill the greed of corporations or government. He stated, "I am happy that more people are understanding how to appreciate art. However, sometimes being artistic means being elegant, and people pretend to understand art that they do not actually understand in order to appear like a member of the upper class."
Architecture is often grand in scale and requires a reasonable understanding of mathematics and technology. For this reason, meanings within artistic architecture are easier to manipulate. Since positive reactions toward artistic architecture can cover up the dirty background on which it was constructed, it can be abused by political figures, and sometimes even a whole government can deceive its citizens.
Behind The Scenes
The Seoul Arts Center (SAC) is what first springs in mind when thinking about art in Korea. While it is a greatly respected building in terms of artistic taste, not many know the background behind its construction. The SAC was constructed during the regime of President Jeon Doo Hwan. Politicians often use architecture to leave behind something cultural and artistic, and the SAC was built for this purpose, along with the Independence Hall of Korea and MMCA.
Its designer, architect Kim Seok Cheol, was unknown at the time. Although designs by more famous architects such as Kim Soo Geun or Kim Joon Yeop were put forward, Kim Seok Cheol's design was chosen because it was in perfect tune with the political intentions for the building. Prior to constructing the SAC, those in charge wanted the building to face the main road, allowing it to be seen better. Since Kim Seok Cheol's design was closest to what the administrators planned, it was chosen.
However, Kim's initial design changed, in this case because some high-ranking officials thought that it should include traditional Korean traits. The concert hall was changed to resemble a traditional Korean fan and the Opera House came to have the design of a ghat, a traditional Korean hat made out of bamboo and horse hair. The sudden modifications were criticized by architectural critics such as Lee Yong Jae, who said, "Its design is as if one put on a ghat while wearing a suit, or a fedora while wearing full dress Korean attire." Changes made to the building's design without considering the original intentions wrecked the balance that was clearly present in the initial design.
Artistic Taste VS. Realistic Practicality
Problems continued even after the construction of the main buildings was completed. Initially, the government planned to create a more convenient way to reach SAC by connecting Metro Line 3 with Nambu Bus Terminal, which is close to the art center, along with an underground shopping mall heading to the center.
In 2004, a pedestrian overpass was designed by David-Pierre Jalicon, a French architect famous for designing the Central Point Bridge in Haenam. To construct the overpass, named the Aqua-Art Bridge, 5.5 billion won was spent. As its name implies, its outer design includes water dripping from the side which looks marvelous in the sunlight. This bridge aimed to reach high levels in both art and technology. Therefore, it was built as a cable-stayed bridge. This type of bridge or pedestrian overpass is economical when constructed at a great length above water; However, in order to satisfy the artistic needs of the Military Mutual Aid Association, which funded this project, the Aqua-Art Bridge was built anyways.
Just In Korea?
Such wastes of time, money, and effort are not only found in Korea. In countries where the government is, or was, corrupt, such manipulations are often found. The Russian government, for instance, is shown to be corrupt in many aspects as President Vladimir Putin rules it with great individual power. Whether or not Putin actually has interests in architecture, the artistic meanings of the new buildings, as claimed by the government, are doing their job in covering up his trails.
Four hundred meters west of the Red Square located at the very center of Moscow, the construction of numerous skyscrapers is in progress. This was to be the new Moscow International Business Center, which is now called Moscow Skyscraper City. What was initially planned to be a new center of European business is now just a group of skyscrapers because Russian aims for business have been thwarted by international condemnation of Putin’s actions in Ukraine.
The night view of the Moskva City reveals the beauty of modern architecture. The shimmering light from the uncompleted buildings makes one anxious for their completion, imagining the moment the completed art of lights from these skyscrapers in the center of Moscow can be seen. Even the Russian government has shown its expectations regarding the Moscow Skyscraper City. However, behind its potentially grand beauty, there are issues regarding its practicality. Russia's task seems to be to find a way to raise Moskva City's level of realistic usage.
The increasing appreciation and recognition of artistic architecture is certainly great to see. However, whether these appreciations and intentions of artistic designs are truly and solely based on art is questionable, regarding the hidden stories that the public hears years after construction is completed. Appreciation for artistic architecture should remain as appreciation. Once art becomes more important than the practicality of the construction, the building or structure just becomes a waste of money.