“Its luxuriousness and magnificence was unprecedented in a school building.” This is the last line of the description of Korea University’s (KU) Main Hall on the Cultural Heritage Administration’s (CHA) website. Indeed, the Main Hall is an official cultural heritage site, No.285. Along with its architectural design, its long history and its importance to KU were crucial factors in the Main Hall’s being designated a heritage site.
▲ The Main Hall under preservation. Photographed by Lee Jun Geon
Completed in 1934 after one and a half year of construction, the Main Hall was the first KU building on the Anam campus after the campus of Bosung College moved to its current location in Anam on 1933. The Main Hall, along with many other KU buildings, is considered one of the few examples of Gothic architecture in Korea. Preservation efforts on the building began in June and will continue until the end of the year.
The full-scale scale restoration project is the first in the hall's 79-year history. The budgets for this project is fully funded by the government; 70 percent from the CHA and the rest from the Seoul Metropolitan Government since the Main Hall is a cultural heritage and it is stated by the law that the government is responsible for funding such operations.
The focus of this project is to substitute the old parts of the building while preserving as much as possible in order to preserve its original appearance by renewing about 70 percent of the parts and keeping the rest. Specifically, the operation will include many detailed processes such as roof reinforcement and replacement of wooden supports which are operations often applied on such old buildings as the Main Hall.
“It is quite difficult to find the exact parts needed to be taken care of,” said Kim Guem Lan, the representative of Kyongbokyeonggeon, the company doing the preservation work, “and the fact that we have to preserve as much as we can makes it even harder.” Not to mention the fact that the date of completion might even be delayed as a result. These time-consuming works are worthy, however, in order to commemorate the history that the building holds as a crucial part of KU.
As its name suggests, the Main Hall represents KU as a school; for that particular reason, many historical events have occurred there. During the Korean War, most of the universities located in Seoul were temporarily moved to Busan, the southern and the second major city of Korea. KU students, on the other hand, moved to Daegu to avoid dangers of the war. After the fighting ended, on August 16, 1953, the faculty and students moved backed to the Anam Campus, which had not been substantially damaged.
However, it was not until late February of the next year that the buildings of the campus were fully utilized by KU. KU held classes at the Chung-Ang Middle and High Schools, also owned by the same group that owns KU, because the campus was a temporary base for the United States (U.S.) Army. The Main Hall, in particular, was used by the 5th Division of the U.S. Air Force as its communications base.
As the president’s and chief administrators' offices are in the Main Hall, the building has been the site of many demonstrations against the university. On October 11, 1996, approximately 30 professors from the College of Natural Resources took over the President’s office. The causes of this event were rumors of the school's plan to separate Food and Nutrition Department from the College of Natural Resources and move it to the newly founded Department of Biotechnology.
▲ The demonstration held in front of the Main Hall. Provided by www.korea.ac.kr/webzine.
▲ The police attempting to shut down KU. Provided by archives.kdemo.or.kr.
What It Was, Is, and Will Be
After its completion, the Main Hall was used for various purposes. Kim Sung Soo, the founder of KU, also known as Inchon, intended to use the Main Hall for classrooms for up to 550 students and for offices for all the administrative staff of the university. According to KU’s 100-year history, the Main Hall consisted of many different spaces such as the President’s office, 15 classrooms, one meeting room and six toilets.
As time passed, several more buildings were constructed on the KU campus, including the College of Liberal Arts in 1961, and as more staff and faculty were hired, the Main Hall was gradually transformed into an administrative building. However, until the late 1970s, there were still business courses being given in the Main Hall because Business School did not have enough lecture halls.
Currently, the Main Hall is being used solely for the central administration. Its past roles have been taken by newer department buildings; its function of archiving school’s data is now handed to the Centennial Digital Library and the KU Museum inside the Centennial Memorial SAMSUNG Hall and its task of commemorating Inchon is given to the Inchon Memorial Hall.
The Main Hall, however, remains the centerpiece of the Anam campus and the main representative of KU as a whole. No matter how useless the Main Hall might turn into in the near future, whenever high school students visit KU, the first thing they would take pictures with will be the Main Hall without question. The Main Gate and the Central Plaza cannot shift the spotlight from the Main Hall; if anything, they only make it more graceful and magnificent than it is.