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Architectural Hallyu Attracts Young Architects from Abroad
“Fascinated by Korea`s innovative and elegant design, I have studied architecture for the past few years with an aim of working in Korea. I hope to have an opportunity to learn more in your company… Sincerely yours.”
Architect Roh Eun-joo, 43, head of Studio Gaon, recently received this e-mail message from the United Kingdom. At first, the message written in Korean made her think it was from a Korean, but the sender turned out to be a Briton. Emilia Ross, 21, a student of architecture at the University of Edinburgh, asked if she could get an internship at Studio Gaon, attaching her courteous cover letter with an application form and her portfolio, all written in Korean. She did not forget to add that her Korean proficiency is at introductory level.
The Seoul-based studio interviewed Ross by exchanging a few rounds of e-mails in Korean, and decided to employ her as an intern. “We`ve had employment inquiries from architects in Spain, Uruguay, Poland and other countries, so the inquiry [from Ross] itself was not so extraordinary, but her eagerness and effort to communicate in Korean aroused my curiosity about her,” Roh said.
Lately, there has been a rising number of architects and students of architecture who contact Korean architectural design firms in the hope of working in Korea. In some renowned firms, receiving employment inquiries from abroad is not rare anymore. At Iroje Architects & Planners, run by the architect Seung Hyo-sang, 60, the staff has always included one or two foreign architects at any given period for the last several years. Currently, there are two of them – one from the United States, the other from China.
This tendency is also found in Archium, headed by Kim In-cheol, 65, professor of Chung-Ang University. Recently, two foreign staffers – one from the U.K. and the other from Thailand – completed their one-year stints and returned home. Shortly afterward, an Irish architect came for an interview. Gansam Architects & Partners, one of the large architectural design firms in Korea, has hired up to 10 foreign applicants at a time.
Korean architects, recalling how difficult it was for Koreans to find a job at prestigious architectural firms in other countries, say they are amazed at how things have changed. They agree that hallyu, or the Korean Wave, has reached architecture. Seung Hyo-sang of Iroje comments, “Architecture is a saturated market in America and Europe. In Korea, on the other hand, various kinds of dynamic, short-term projects that can`t be experienced in those regions are frequently carried out.” He asserts that young architects still in their twenties from abroad should find Korea to be the “best country for training.”
“Since the Lehman Brothers crisis in 2008, large-scale architectural projects have virtually disappeared in the U.S.,” says Clayton Strange-Lee, 30, an American architect working at Iroje. He adds, “I appreciate that I can work in Korea, where a relatively higher number of new architectural projects are going on.”
Professor Kim In-cheol ascribes the “architectural hallyu” to the development of Internet media. He states that young foreign architects who learn about outstanding Korean architects and their works through prestigious international architectural websites feel at ease about contacting their Korean offices. Lee Kwang-man, president of the Korean Institute of Architects, notes, “As K-pop`s popularity has led to the heightened interest in Korean culture in general, an increasing number of foreigners want to come to Korea to study architecture as well as experience a new culture.”