Architect Jun Itami takes inspiration from nature

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Architect Jun Itami takes inspiration from nature

The Podo Hotel on Jeju Island is designed by Japan-born Korean architect Jun Itami. Courtesy of Jinjin Pictures

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Architect Jun Itami / Korea Times file
Jun Itami (1937-2011) was a Japan-born Korean architect known for his style of blending nature and environment in design. His most notable structures include the Podo Hotel, the Water, Wind, Rock Museum and the Church of Sky on Jeju Island.

Itami ― who was born in Tokyo and grew up in the seaside town of Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture ― might easily be mistaken as a Japanese architect, but he never gave up his Korean nationality and name. His real name was Yoo Dong-ryong and he used a Korean passport, going through alien registrations in Japan throughout his life.

He lived his life on the border and never truly belonged to either Korea or Japan, resulting in his identity as a diaspora architect.

In fact, his name came from being a marginal person. Itami is a name for Osaka International Airport, where he often boarded airplanes, and Jun is the Japanese name of musician Gil Ok-yoon, a close friend of Itami's.

"The Sea of Itami Jun," a documentary directed by Jung Da-woon, sheds light on the late architect who incorporated properties of natural elements into his designs.

"Itami understood that a different wind blows on different terrain," Jung, who makes her directorial debut with this film, said. "Maybe that is why he is called the 'Architect of the Wind.'

Jun Itami's sketch for the Museum of the Rock / Courtesy of Jinjin Pictures

Jun Itami's the Museum of the Rock / Courtesy of Jinjin Pictures

"Many of his iconic buildings are on Jeju Island and Jeju has environmental similarities with Shimizu, where Itami grew up. Sea is where the wind blows from and we thought the sea represents the materiality of nature, thus naming this movie as The Sea of Itami Jun."

Jung said she was shocked when she first saw the Water, Wind, Rock Museum on Jeju in 2006.

"As a person who majored in architecture and film and studied mise-en-scene, Itami's architecture left a strong impression," she said. "At the meditative space, I looked back on myself and the contemplation led me to make this film as an attempt to share the experience with others."

The film traces Itami's life from the perspective of a human's intrinsic loneliness and how his architecture conveyed healing and consolation.

"I think diaspora is not something just related to ethnicity or physical border, but something everyone from every generation has," Jung said. "When I saw Itami's structures, I felt that someone who understands existential anxiety and solitude built the place. As I looked into the architect deeper, he was a Korean-Japanese and I thought he pursued such warmth in his architecture based on his life."

The film features Itami's notable structures, from his debut piece Mother's House and other earlier works India Ink House and Onyang Museum, to his Jeju projects in the PINX Biotopia complex, including the Podo Hotel and Water, Wind, Rock Museum.

Jun Itami's 1995 oil painting "Work" / Courtesy of Gallery Woong

Desire for painting

Though mostly known as an architect, Itami had a passion for fine art throughout his life.

Some 25 of Itami's paintings, ranging from the late 1970s to the 2000s, are on view at the Gallery Woong in central Seoul through Sept. 7. They are from the personal collection of Yoo E-hwa, director of ITM Yoo Ewha Architects Co. and Itami's eldest daughter, who inherited over 200 of his paintings.

"Father introduced himself as a painter and architect," Yoo said. "When he found a likeable site for construction, he compared it to a canvas. Itami adopted architecture as his profession, but he never put down sketchbooks. For him, painting was something that could be done empty-minded, while architectural sketches should focus on certain function and usage."

Itami's paintings cannot be separated from the imagery of the sea. "He grew up in a seaside town under Mt. Fuji and had the memories all his life," Yoo said. "His paintings remind me of waves of the sea and a fisherman's net."

From the perspective of art history, Itami's paintings are related to the Mono-ha, an art movement developed in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, exploring materials and their properties. Itami took inspiration from Quac In-sik (1919-88).

"Quac was a master not only as a painter but also a philosopher," Yoo said. "My father's works, architecture as well as painting, share the philosophical root with the Mono-ha and it made Itami's architecture different from other contemporary Japanese architects."

Jun Itami's 1994 oil painting "Work" / Courtesy of Gallery Woong

Yoo said her father had a big collection of Korean porcelain jars and folk paintings. "He had an enormous affection toward them and took inspiration from them."

Itami was a person who believed in the power of handwork.

"He often said he is the last remaining analogue architect," Yoo said. "He could not understand architectural activities done on a computer. He said the digital world is ruining contemporary architecture and emphasized the warmth and wildness coming from hand-drawn architecture.

"Many young architects who join my firm do not have the experience of drawing blueprints or making models by hand. My father's paintings and designs throw a question in an era when digital architecture is prevalent."

The exhibit aims to raise funds for the Jun Itami Architectural Memorial, which is planned for Jeju Island.

"He wanted to spend the rest of his life on Jeju Island, but he passed away early," Yoo said. "Many of his major works are in Jeju, where his ideas could bloom the most."


The Podo Hotel on Jeju Island is designed by Japan-born Korean architect Jun Itami. Courtesy of Jinjin Pictures

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Architect Jun Itami / Korea Times file
Jun Itami (1937-2011) was a Japan-born Korean architect known for his style of blending nature and environment in design. His most notable structures include the Podo Hotel, the Water, Wind, Rock Museum and the Church of Sky on Jeju Island.

Itami ― who was born in Tokyo and grew up in the seaside town of Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture ― might easily be mistaken as a Japanese architect, but he never gave up his Korean nationality and name. His real name was Yoo Dong-ryong and he used a Korean passport, going through alien registrations in Japan throughout his life.

He lived his life on the border and never truly belonged to either Korea or Japan, resulting in his identity as a diaspora architect.

In fact, his name came from being a marginal person. Itami is a name for Osaka International Airport, where he often boarded airplanes, and Jun is the Japanese name of musician Gil Ok-yoon, a close friend of Itami's.

"The Sea of Itami Jun," a documentary directed by Jung Da-woon, sheds light on the late architect who incorporated properties of natural elements into his designs.

"Itami understood that a different wind blows on different terrain," Jung, who makes her directorial debut with this film, said. "Maybe that is why he is called the 'Architect of the Wind.'

Jun Itami's sketch for the Museum of the Rock / Courtesy of Jinjin Pictures

Jun Itami's the Museum of the Rock / Courtesy of Jinjin Pictures

"Many of his iconic buildings are on Jeju Island and Jeju has environmental similarities with Shimizu, where Itami grew up. Sea is where the wind blows from and we thought the sea represents the materiality of nature, thus naming this movie as The Sea of Itami Jun."

Jung said she was shocked when she first saw the Water, Wind, Rock Museum on Jeju in 2006.

"As a person who majored in architecture and film and studied mise-en-scene, Itami's architecture left a strong impression," she said. "At the meditative space, I looked back on myself and the contemplation led me to make this film as an attempt to share the experience with others."

The film traces Itami's life from the perspective of a human's intrinsic loneliness and how his architecture conveyed healing and consolation.

"I think diaspora is not something just related to ethnicity or physical border, but something everyone from every generation has," Jung said. "When I saw Itami's structures, I felt that someone who understands existential anxiety and solitude built the place. As I looked into the architect deeper, he was a Korean-Japanese and I thought he pursued such warmth in his architecture based on his life."

The film features Itami's notable structures, from his debut piece Mother's House and other earlier works India Ink House and Onyang Museum, to his Jeju projects in the PINX Biotopia complex, including the Podo Hotel and Water, Wind, Rock Museum.

Jun Itami's 1995 oil painting "Work" / Courtesy of Gallery Woong

Desire for painting

Though mostly known as an architect, Itami had a passion for fine art throughout his life.

Some 25 of Itami's paintings, ranging from the late 1970s to the 2000s, are on view at the Gallery Woong in central Seoul through Sept. 7. They are from the personal collection of Yoo E-hwa, director of ITM Yoo Ewha Architects Co. and Itami's eldest daughter, who inherited over 200 of his paintings.

"Father introduced himself as a painter and architect," Yoo said. "When he found a likeable site for construction, he compared it to a canvas. Itami adopted architecture as his profession, but he never put down sketchbooks. For him, painting was something that could be done empty-minded, while architectural sketches should focus on certain function and usage."

Itami's paintings cannot be separated from the imagery of the sea. "He grew up in a seaside town under Mt. Fuji and had the memories all his life," Yoo said. "His paintings remind me of waves of the sea and a fisherman's net."

From the perspective of art history, Itami's paintings are related to the Mono-ha, an art movement developed in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, exploring materials and their properties. Itami took inspiration from Quac In-sik (1919-88).

"Quac was a master not only as a painter but also a philosopher," Yoo said. "My father's works, architecture as well as painting, share the philosophical root with the Mono-ha and it made Itami's architecture different from other contemporary Japanese architects."

Jun Itami's 1994 oil painting "Work" / Courtesy of Gallery Woong

Yoo said her father had a big collection of Korean porcelain jars and folk paintings. "He had an enormous affection toward them and took inspiration from them."

Itami was a person who believed in the power of handwork.

"He often said he is the last remaining analogue architect," Yoo said. "He could not understand architectural activities done on a computer. He said the digital world is ruining contemporary architecture and emphasized the warmth and wildness coming from hand-drawn architecture.

"Many young architects who join my firm do not have the experience of drawing blueprints or making models by hand. My father's paintings and designs throw a question in an era when digital architecture is prevalent."

The exhibit aims to raise funds for the Jun Itami Architectural Memorial, which is planned for Jeju Island.

"He wanted to spend the rest of his life on Jeju Island, but he passed away early," Yoo said. "Many of his major works are in Jeju, where his ideas could bloom the most."


Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr


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