Is Cheong Wa Dae’s architectural environment unconducive to democratic governance? Quite a few folk seem to think so:
Modeled after a royal palace, the compound has a number of architectural problems. The main building, about 30 meters tall, is as high as a 10-story apartment building. But it has only two floors with very high ceilings.
The main office of the president is larger than 99 square meters, or 1,067.5 square feet. The distance from the door to the president’s desk is about 15 meters.
“This is a place that suits authoritarianism, not democracy,” Choi Jang-jip, honorary professor of Korea University, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Even if a leader is elected democratically, it is impossible for him or her to become a democratic president in this environment.”
I like the main hall of Cheong Wa Dae quite a bit—I love the way it harmonizes with Mt. Bugaksan, just as Gyeongbokgung does. That said, I probably don’t have to point out that the site was originally the residence of the Japanese Governor-General*, a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque office demolished in 1993 to make way for the new building. Anyway, between the Joseon kings, Japanese governor-generals, American military governors and Korea’s post-independence dictators, there’s not a lot of democratic tradition to that piece of real estate.
* The first Governor-General’s Residence was a lovely neo-Baroque mansion in Yongan built by Katayama Tōkuma, one of Japan’s greatest Meiji era architects. It was destroyed during the Korean War.
The Seoul mayor will be conducting a much more dramatic change in residence, moving from the current official residence—a colonial-era home in Hyehwa-dong—to a historic hanok home in Bukchon.
Mind you, both the current residence and the hanok were built for pro-Japanese Koreans during the colonial era—if you read Korean, check out Han Sang-ryong’s Wiki page. But there new residence looks so much nicer. The JoongAng Ilbo took a tour of the hanok—which is almost always off-limits to the general public—to check out its more unusual features, including a rare second floor.