The advent in New York of a new building for the Korean Cultural Center will be an important moment in the cultural history of the city. The introduction of strange element in the urban fabric will, like theproverbial grain of sand in the oyster, create the opportunity of the freak beauty of a pearl. Korean and New York culture have of course specific ways of being, their mix will be providential as those unique individual qualities coexist without betrayal.
It will be fitting to a Korean understanding of architecture that the building wraps around a natural presence that animates it and creates a context for its understanding. New York City is not the space of nature, it exists instead in a context of allowable building envelopes, zoning classifications, floor-to-area ratios and maximized land values. In this rarified urban world, nature occupies a realm of accommodating compromise to profit while coexisting in conditions of extreme physical congestion and cultural excitement.
THE COLOR AND IMAGE OF KOREA, THE EMBLEM OF KOREA IN NEW YORK CITY
The Korean Cultural Center is not just another building in the city but, in fact, quite an exceptional presence, one that presents the color and image of Korea in New York. Although it will physically occupy its place amongst the other buildings on 32nd Street, its content will be quite something else. We can think of it as a cultural gift to New York City, not unlike the Statue of Liberty out in the harbor or the “Bell of Friendship” given to the people of the US by the people of Korea in 1976 and located in San Pedro, California. With the right architectural design, perhaps the building can be made to “ring,” like the “Bell of Friendship,” for Korean-American friendship in New York. It can “ring” not with sound but with a space where Koreans, Americans and everyone else can share together the contributions of Korea to world culture and human development so far, and also witness the unfolding of its future promise.
The project then, to be successful, must envision a building like no other, either in New York, Korea or anywhere else for that matter, and aim to achieve its own unique architectural “sound,” like that wisely conceived alloy of copper and tin come together to create something that did not exist before (bronze) and to give a bell its own unique pitch and sound color. Korea and New York then mix in this project to create original spaces uniquely conceived to share and learn about the multiform richness ancestral of Korean cultural heritage. The Korean Cultural Center must of course be alive with the possibility of the future, as Korea is a country blessed with a long history of cultural achievement while at the same time today empowered with a renewed vigor to tackle the scientific and technical challenges of the 21st century. The very substance of the Korean Cultural Center, the emblem of Korea in New York City will be this bipolar theme of past and future.