Patterns of language become patterns of surface, space, inhabitation, creating a collecting and collective membrane outside and in.
For the 2009 Korean Biennale, we were asked to produce a 2 meter pavilion which would be a contemplation of notions of rest within the context of a landmark Korean garden Soswaewon. As the garden was created in the 16th century by Yang San-bo to honor the political murder of his teacher Jo Gwang-jo, we created a Summer Reading Pavilion (for Banned Books). An 18th century poem written both within and about Soswaewon provided by the curator served as our starting point. Korean and English characters wrap a stanza of the poem around the 2 meter space, defining the boundary and enfolding two seats where visitors are invited to read one of the selected Korean and English books that have been banned at various times in the two countries.
Patterns of language become patterns of surface, space, inhabitation, creating a collecting and collective membrane outside and in. Characters and book-surfaces accumulate and disperse in the pavilion as they gather in and draw out the views and the viewers.
The Gwangju Design Biennale 2009 requested the design of a pavilion that reflected on the issue of rest in the traditional Soswaewon Garden, in relation to its representations in historical poetry and in drawing. The second verse of the Soswaewon poem chronicling the experience of the garden reads:
At the reading place
Bright light from the window for reading,
The rock in the water reflects the book.
As this peaceful time passes and thoughts deepen,
Unfamiliar is this feeling I have.
At the reading place
제2영 개울가에 누운 글방
Soswaewon: the performance of opposites is such in the Korean garden that by the first verse of the Soswaewon poem you are already inside, in a pavilion — an inside looking to an outside. By the second verse you are already turning your attention away from the striking scenery to attend to reading, the bright light from the window focusing your attention to the scenery of and in the book, its story the yin to the yang of the garden story.
Out of our pavilion’s weave of walls of pages, the lines of the verse in Korean and English, and characters developed from the Korean language organizing system called hangeul — a window emerges. This window is an interface between the person sitting reading outside of the pavilion drawn to the inside and the person sitting reading inside the pavilion drawn to the outside, the view through the window of inside and outside is each to the other, this interface between faces. The window’s partial glazing is drawn from the partially glazed bookshelf containing books once so provocative they were banned in the United States and in Korea, but whose stories now seem perfect for peaceful summer reading. After all, Soswaewon itself was created by Yang San Bo, in honor of his murdered teacher, the provocative political thinker Cho Gwang Jo, as a retreat to actively contemplate the relations of culture and nature and society among some of the progressive thinkers and artists of the time.
Rest as an active, not passive, state: this inner view of the book in the Soswaewon poem leads back to the outer view of rock and water, only to lead back to the inner view again, as the rock reflects not the bamboo or gingko or zelkova trees, not the flowers or the sky, but the book.
The gathering of hangeul and characters creates the sedimentation of our pavilion’s base. The glazing from the bookshelf extending down unto this layered sediment, covering the banned books now open below the surface.
While the books we have collected for the pavilion now seems peaceful, even familiar enough for grade school children to read, like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or Heo Gyun’s Hong Gil Dong Jeon, they were once banned for their unpeaceful provocation. Time has now passed as the Soswaewon poem says, thoughts have deepened. But many of these books are being challenged still and there will be other books in the future that will also seem provocative, and will be banned, until they too will seem peaceful enough to read on a summer day in a pavilion in a garden.
The characters and book-surfaces in our pavilion accumulate and disperse, open and close, transforming spatially and temporally as they gather in and draw out the view and the viewers.
The push and pull of contrasting attention of culture in nature, nature in culture, which is after all the definition of the constructed environment called a garden, of whatever kind. This opposition is manifest in the 48 verses of the Soswaewon poem, half of which enact this tug and torsion of contrasting attentions and feelings.
Not meant to be totally familiar, architecture can — like the poignant garden and the provocative book — cultivates this push and pull, performing this yin and yang of familiar and unfamiliar feeling and form.