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How 1988 Olympics shaped Korea's architecture and design

Installation view of 'Olympic Effect: Korean Architecture and Design from 1980s to 1990s' at the MMCA Gwacheon / Courtesy of MMCA
Installation view of 'Olympic Effect: Korean Architecture and Design from 1980s to 1990s' at the MMCA Gwacheon / Courtesy of MMCA

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Though held over 30 years ago, the 1988 Seoul Olympics left many legacies in the city from the Seoul Olympic Stadium and the Olympic rings adorning walls of the riverside expressways of Seoul to the downtown skyline on the Olympic marathon course and the industrialization of the design and architectural process.

"Olympic Effect: Korean Architecture and Design from 1980s to 1990s," a new exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon (MMCA), examines Korea's modern architecture and design before and after the country's first major international sporting event.

MMCA director Youn Bum-mo said the exhibition provides an opportunity to revisit the legacy of international events.

"The exhibit expands the visual culture discourse in Korea that have been transformed after the 1980s, centering on architecture and design," Youn said, adding that the museum will continue to seek balance among genres including architecture, design and craft.

The exhibit aims to defy dichotomous awareness on mega international events such as the Olympic Games during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was postponed a year, an unprecedented decision caused by the pandemic.

"The exhibit is more about the changes in visual culture triggered by the 1988 Seoul Olympics including urban planning, architecture, environmental improvement and design," curator Lee Hyun-ju said.

"Moving beyond the dichotomy of Korean-global, old-new and vanished-remaining, the exhibition explores the conditions for understanding and recording the present. The MMCA aims to take a multi-faceted perspective on Korean architecture and design practices leading up to and following the 1988 Seoul Olympics."

Gary Hustwit's 'Olympic City, Seoul' (2015-2020) / Courtesy of the artist
Gary Hustwit's 'Olympic City, Seoul' (2015-2020) / Courtesy of the artist

Jin Dallae and Park Woohyuk's "Master Plan Harmony and Progress" works as a prologue to the exhibit. The installation in the Main Hall of the MMCA Gwacheon combines and overlaps various images and patterns of architecture and design of Korea before and after the 1988 Summer Games, creating a virtual stage.

The first section "The Olympic Effect" begins with the Model of Seoul Olympic Main Stadium, designed by architect Kim Swoo-geun and the model created by Kee Heung-sung, a renowned architectural model maker here.

Artist Lee Man-ik, who served as art director of the opening and closing ceremonies, unveils his sketches and the materials that inspired him in organizing the spectacle featuring Korean aesthetics.

American photographer Gary Hustwit's "The Olympic City" series traces former Olympic host cities as he documents how Olympic legacies are prevalent in the present.

"Hustwit visited Korea in 2015 for his Olympic City series and said Seoul was one of the top cities where Olympic legacies blend with daily life," curator Lee said.

Then the exhibit zooms out from the Olympic Games to see the changes in architecture and design in the "Designers, Organizations, and Processes" section. The social status of architects and designers changed drastically before and after the big event that took all kinds of resources Korea had to prepare.

Sunwoo Hoon's 'Modularized 1988' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA
Sunwoo Hoon's 'Modularized 1988' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA

Sunwoo Hoon's pixel animation "Seoul Scroll" shows how the city went through a variety of changes around the time of the 1988 Olympics.

Also available are interviews with designers and architects who worked as part of large corporations and organizations such as Samsung, Goldstar (LG), KBS and Junglim Architecture during the time when design was considered revolutionary and futuristic.

The Sunwoo created digital drawing "Characterized" turns the interviews into a webtoon style animation as well.

An archive on the development of Mokdong New Town project in the 1980s shows how large-scale apartment complexes were developed with detailed plans from urban planning to information design.

"Perspectives and Facades" focuses on the new forms of architecture and the renewed urban landscape constructed in line with the Seoul Olympic Games.

The current cityscape of the Euljiro 2-ga area and Teheran-ro area was shaped as many high-rise buildings emerged as the urban planning aimed to beautify the scenery along the marathon course of the 1988 Summer Games.

Choi Yong-joon's '37°33'21.0N 126°58'37.4E' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA
Choi Yong-joon's '37°33'21.0N 126°58'37.4E' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA

Photographer Choi Yong-joon took pictures of some of Seoul's iconic architectural structures as well as familiar office buildings in downtown, which were in fact designed by top architects of the era, and apartment complexes. Some of the photos are displayed with the architectural model of the actual building.

While Kee Heung-sung's architectural models showcase how architects traditionally presented their work in three-dimension, Seoul Model Shop's "Diorama Seoul" series is made with 3D printers, showing how technology has changed model making.

Seoul Model Shop's re-created some of the notable buildings and structures built around the time of the Olympics such as the Renaissance Hotel designed by Kim Swoo-geun, the Jangkyo Building, and Banpo and Jamsu bridges, and drafts for bus stations signs in Seoul.

Koo Bohn-chang's photo series "Clandestine Pursuit in the Long Afternoon" captures the sudden change in the cityscape and subtle discord found in the Olympic fever after the photographer returned from studying in Germany.

Koo Bohn-chang's 'Clandestine Pursuit in the Long Afternoon, LA 105' (1988) / Courtesy of MMCA
Koo Bohn-chang's 'Clandestine Pursuit in the Long Afternoon, LA 105' (1988) / Courtesy of MMCA

The "Tools and Technology" section showcases how high industrialization and development of technology changed the way architects and designers work along with the introduction of personal computers and the World Wide Web.

On pedestals in the shape of drafting boards are traditional tools for design such as lettering rulers used by typography designer Kim Jin-pyung and mechanical calculators, rulers and compasses used by architects, now replaced by computers and CAD programs.

Kwon Min-ho's "Working Hands" is an enlarged version of drafting boards for various designers, paying tribute to their handiwork. Texture on Texture's "Planning Tools" interprets the idea of a still life with tools used in the 1980s.

Texture on Texture's 'Planning Tools' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA
Texture on Texture's 'Planning Tools' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA

At the exit of the exhibition is "2 0 2 0 1 9 8 1: Behind the Scene," a 15-minute video that encompasses various objects in the exhibit and juxtaposes them with everyday spaces, created by Kim Sara of architecture and design studio Diagonal Thoughts.

The exhibit also expands beyond the museum via Seoulstage, a collective of post-Olympic generation urban documenters. On their Instagram (@seoulstage) are interesting tidbits and snippets about Seoul such as the now-lost stained glass celebrating the 1988 Games at the Dongdaemun Stadium Station, now Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Station, and a special edition vinyl "Seoul Subway," released to commemorate Seoul subway lines 3 and 4.

"Olympic Effect" runs through April 11. The museum can be visited upon advance reservation.


Installation view of 'Olympic Effect: Korean Architecture and Design from 1980s to 1990s' at the MMCA Gwacheon / Courtesy of MMCA
Installation view of 'Olympic Effect: Korean Architecture and Design from 1980s to 1990s' at the MMCA Gwacheon / Courtesy of MMCA

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Though held over 30 years ago, the 1988 Seoul Olympics left many legacies in the city from the Seoul Olympic Stadium and the Olympic rings adorning walls of the riverside expressways of Seoul to the downtown skyline on the Olympic marathon course and the industrialization of the design and architectural process.

"Olympic Effect: Korean Architecture and Design from 1980s to 1990s," a new exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon (MMCA), examines Korea's modern architecture and design before and after the country's first major international sporting event.

MMCA director Youn Bum-mo said the exhibition provides an opportunity to revisit the legacy of international events.

"The exhibit expands the visual culture discourse in Korea that have been transformed after the 1980s, centering on architecture and design," Youn said, adding that the museum will continue to seek balance among genres including architecture, design and craft.

The exhibit aims to defy dichotomous awareness on mega international events such as the Olympic Games during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was postponed a year, an unprecedented decision caused by the pandemic.

"The exhibit is more about the changes in visual culture triggered by the 1988 Seoul Olympics including urban planning, architecture, environmental improvement and design," curator Lee Hyun-ju said.

"Moving beyond the dichotomy of Korean-global, old-new and vanished-remaining, the exhibition explores the conditions for understanding and recording the present. The MMCA aims to take a multi-faceted perspective on Korean architecture and design practices leading up to and following the 1988 Seoul Olympics."

Gary Hustwit's 'Olympic City, Seoul' (2015-2020) / Courtesy of the artist
Gary Hustwit's 'Olympic City, Seoul' (2015-2020) / Courtesy of the artist

Jin Dallae and Park Woohyuk's "Master Plan Harmony and Progress" works as a prologue to the exhibit. The installation in the Main Hall of the MMCA Gwacheon combines and overlaps various images and patterns of architecture and design of Korea before and after the 1988 Summer Games, creating a virtual stage.

The first section "The Olympic Effect" begins with the Model of Seoul Olympic Main Stadium, designed by architect Kim Swoo-geun and the model created by Kee Heung-sung, a renowned architectural model maker here.

Artist Lee Man-ik, who served as art director of the opening and closing ceremonies, unveils his sketches and the materials that inspired him in organizing the spectacle featuring Korean aesthetics.

American photographer Gary Hustwit's "The Olympic City" series traces former Olympic host cities as he documents how Olympic legacies are prevalent in the present.

"Hustwit visited Korea in 2015 for his Olympic City series and said Seoul was one of the top cities where Olympic legacies blend with daily life," curator Lee said.

Then the exhibit zooms out from the Olympic Games to see the changes in architecture and design in the "Designers, Organizations, and Processes" section. The social status of architects and designers changed drastically before and after the big event that took all kinds of resources Korea had to prepare.

Sunwoo Hoon's 'Modularized 1988' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA
Sunwoo Hoon's 'Modularized 1988' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA

Sunwoo Hoon's pixel animation "Seoul Scroll" shows how the city went through a variety of changes around the time of the 1988 Olympics.

Also available are interviews with designers and architects who worked as part of large corporations and organizations such as Samsung, Goldstar (LG), KBS and Junglim Architecture during the time when design was considered revolutionary and futuristic.

The Sunwoo created digital drawing "Characterized" turns the interviews into a webtoon style animation as well.

An archive on the development of Mokdong New Town project in the 1980s shows how large-scale apartment complexes were developed with detailed plans from urban planning to information design.

"Perspectives and Facades" focuses on the new forms of architecture and the renewed urban landscape constructed in line with the Seoul Olympic Games.

The current cityscape of the Euljiro 2-ga area and Teheran-ro area was shaped as many high-rise buildings emerged as the urban planning aimed to beautify the scenery along the marathon course of the 1988 Summer Games.

Choi Yong-joon's '37°33'21.0N 126°58'37.4E' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA
Choi Yong-joon's '37°33'21.0N 126°58'37.4E' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA

Photographer Choi Yong-joon took pictures of some of Seoul's iconic architectural structures as well as familiar office buildings in downtown, which were in fact designed by top architects of the era, and apartment complexes. Some of the photos are displayed with the architectural model of the actual building.

While Kee Heung-sung's architectural models showcase how architects traditionally presented their work in three-dimension, Seoul Model Shop's "Diorama Seoul" series is made with 3D printers, showing how technology has changed model making.

Seoul Model Shop's re-created some of the notable buildings and structures built around the time of the Olympics such as the Renaissance Hotel designed by Kim Swoo-geun, the Jangkyo Building, and Banpo and Jamsu bridges, and drafts for bus stations signs in Seoul.

Koo Bohn-chang's photo series "Clandestine Pursuit in the Long Afternoon" captures the sudden change in the cityscape and subtle discord found in the Olympic fever after the photographer returned from studying in Germany.

Koo Bohn-chang's 'Clandestine Pursuit in the Long Afternoon, LA 105' (1988) / Courtesy of MMCA
Koo Bohn-chang's 'Clandestine Pursuit in the Long Afternoon, LA 105' (1988) / Courtesy of MMCA

The "Tools and Technology" section showcases how high industrialization and development of technology changed the way architects and designers work along with the introduction of personal computers and the World Wide Web.

On pedestals in the shape of drafting boards are traditional tools for design such as lettering rulers used by typography designer Kim Jin-pyung and mechanical calculators, rulers and compasses used by architects, now replaced by computers and CAD programs.

Kwon Min-ho's "Working Hands" is an enlarged version of drafting boards for various designers, paying tribute to their handiwork. Texture on Texture's "Planning Tools" interprets the idea of a still life with tools used in the 1980s.

Texture on Texture's 'Planning Tools' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA
Texture on Texture's 'Planning Tools' (2020) / Courtesy of MMCA

At the exit of the exhibition is "2 0 2 0 1 9 8 1: Behind the Scene," a 15-minute video that encompasses various objects in the exhibit and juxtaposes them with everyday spaces, created by Kim Sara of architecture and design studio Diagonal Thoughts.

The exhibit also expands beyond the museum via Seoulstage, a collective of post-Olympic generation urban documenters. On their Instagram (@seoulstage) are interesting tidbits and snippets about Seoul such as the now-lost stained glass celebrating the 1988 Games at the Dongdaemun Stadium Station, now Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Station, and a special edition vinyl "Seoul Subway," released to commemorate Seoul subway lines 3 and 4.

"Olympic Effect" runs through April 11. The museum can be visited upon advance reservation.


Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr

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