Letter to the Editor of the Financial Times

Subject: Re: New life for an old way of building (Oct 6 2006)
Date: 09/10/2006
To: letters.editor@ft.com
Sent from the Internet


In last Saturday's FT Anna Fifield quite misses the point in her account of the controversy regarding building development work in Seoul's historic district of Bukchon.

The issue is not whether developers should be allowed to construct modern Korean buildings that reflect historical styles but whether the last two streets in Seoul that were populated entirely with hanoks from early in the last century should survive.

One small enclave of Bukchon, called Kahoi-dong, where I have lived since 1988, remained completely untouched by change. Here, until recently, was a glimpse of how much of Seoul once looked until the economic revival of the 1970s.

When, in 2001, the Seoul Metropolitan Government published plans for the preservation and conservation of Kahoi-Dong and other parts of Bukchon, they underpinned these with an elaborate architectural survey of surviving hanoks, including my own, and envisaged restoration work using traditional materials and techniques as far as possible. In their view, at that time, comprehensive restoration was possible, affordable, and desirable.

Instead, nearly all the original hanoks have been demolished, with the help of government funds allocated to preservation work.

Sadly, South Korea does not have the safeguards or protection that old buildings enjoy in the UK via the National Trust, English Heritage, the Listed Buildings Program, and so much more. Nor is there much attention paid to other aspects of conserving the country's remarkable cultural heritage. There is a hanok exhibit in London's V&A Museum, courtesy of Samsung. Soon, that may be all that remains of an architectural style unique to the Korean peninsula.

David Kilburn


The letter was not published. My E-mail exchange with Anna Fifield is here.
Readers interested in the cultural history Bukchon can read more here

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