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Modern architectural legacy renewed at French Embassy in Seoul

By Park Yuna

Published : July 25, 2023 - 17:57

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Architect Cho Min-suk speaks to the press on July 14 about the renovated French Embassy building located in Chungjeongno, central Seoul. The renovated building, “Le Pavilion Kim Chung-up,” and new Tour Monclar are seen behind Cho. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald) Architect Cho Min-suk speaks to the press on July 14 about the renovated French Embassy building located in Chungjeongno, central Seoul. The renovated building, “Le Pavilion Kim Chung-up,” and new Tour Monclar are seen behind Cho. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

The French Embassy in Korea has been known as a masterpiece that displays Korean aesthetics and the exterior form of which is reminiscent of "cheoma," Korea’s traditional overhanging eaves that gently curve upwards. The embassy building, designed by pioneering Korean modern architect Kim Chung-up, has stood near Chungjeongno in central Seoul since its completion in 1962.

Following a five-year revamp, the building has been reborn with both a renovation and two newly built buildings that will be used for offices as well as exhibitions.

The renovated building is named Le Pavilion Kim Chung-up in tribute to the late architect. The renovation project was led by Korean architect Cho Min-suk, founder of Mass Studies, and Yoon Tae-hoon of Sathy Korea.

Kim was the only Korean architect who is known to have worked at Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier's atelier, between 1952 and 1955. He applied Le Corbusier's signature style to the architecture, adding pilotis, columns that hold the building above the ground. Cho left the pilotis intact.

“We tried to aggregate information as much as we could to learn about the space (designed by Kim) for renovation, and we received much help from the Kim Chung Up Architecture Museum,” Cho said at the press tour held July 14 in commemoration of Bastille Day, the national holiday of France.

Inspired by traditional Korean cheoma, Kim had originally given the building a concrete roof with each edge curved upward, but the roof partially collapsed later and was replaced with a rather angular roof. Cho revived Kim's original roof, bringing life back to the design.

"Architect Kim's goal was to showcase the beauty of Korean architecture while incorporating unique French elegance. I believe that the beauty of Korean architecture lies not just in the materials or the external appearance, but in the spaces between the buildings," said Jeong Min-joo of Sathy Korea during the press tour.

The two new buildings -- called the Tour Monclar and Jetee Jean Louis -- were named after two individuals who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the 1950-1953 Korean War, Ralph Monclar and Jules Jean-Louis.

The new buildings gather in one location facilities and offices of the French Embassy that were formerly dispersed. Previously, some of the facilities and offices of the embassy were spread across Seoul, including near Sungnyemun and in Gangnam.

"Seoul has changed a lot in the past 60 years and the population strikingly increased as well. I am grateful that the embassy has kept this place and created a quiet, empty space in the heart of the capital city despite land prices having risen over time," Cho said.