UNSW Built Environment Alumni: Minu Lee in Korea

6 05 2010

I must admit, coming to Korea has been one of the biggest transformations to date.

Last month in Seoul was the coldest in 100 years and this month was the worst in 40 years, crazy stats.

It wasn’t all weather though. Coming to a new country, new university, new home, have all contributed to a brand new experience.

Apartment living is the norm here, where house means apartment. I live on the 11th floor at the southern part of Seoul, a metropolitan city that is divided by a long river (Han river) that stretches east to west, out onto the Yellow Sea. The house is obviously smaller than what I had back in Pymble, no corridors, no rumpus, no separate dining room, smaller kitchen and smaller room; but I seemingly had no problems at all adjusting to my new home. The fact that I no longer have my brother next to me probably played a big factor in adapting to a smaller house. He is back in Sydney, working during the day and doing the masters program at night.

Poor bro. It’s the first time he’s been on his own now that my parents are back in Seoul with me. As much as I consider myself lucky in that respect, I still don’t get to see them a lot throughout the day. This leads me on to my university life 🙂

The masters program in architecture at Seoul National University requires students to be at the university every working day from 10am till 6pm. It is very rare for me to leave at 6pm due to ongoing projects that I am part of. With regular seminars and design studio finishing late, I would get home around 10-11 most nights.

10 academics majoring in architecture each have their own research lab with distinct specialisations; architectural design, history and theory, Korean traditional architecture, environmental sustainability, urban design, architectural urban space and so on. I applied for a professor who runs the research lab called ‘Lab for Architectural Urban Space‘.

The lab has 20 researchers including masters and PhD students and is the second biggest lab in terms of research works and members. The lab was established in 1999 and conducts researches into spatial analysis, interpretation of architectural and urban space from social and cultural perspectives, and design and maintenance of educational facilities.

I’m only touching the surface at this stage; using the visual access and exposure model to analyse different types of space, learning to read and understand axial maps and so on. Looking into a more quantitative side of analysis into architecture and urban design is interesting also.

In all, the masters program, for me, consists of 3 separate works. First are the courses that I have to take each semester, as I have done throughout my time at UNSW. This includes a design studio, and two other faculty electives. Second is a study that I have to do on my own, related to space syntax, as well as other researches related to the field. The outcome of this study is a written thesis at the end of the program.

Third work is what I have spent most of my time on since I started the semester. It’s essentially carrying out the projects that my professor gets, as a team. There are 5 different projects running at the moment, and my team was allocated to work on organising an international design competition for a new social housing complex in Seoul. Some projects that the lab gets relate to the realm of spatial analysis and some don’t. This project obviously has no relation as it is about starting up the competition, organising briefs, setting guidelines, hosting design presentations, inviting external jurors, participants and so on.

The project is in collaboration with the government so the load is not as heavy as it sounds. As the only member of the lab to speak decent English, my main role is to translate the competition documents, organise QnA sessions, and communicate with overseas jurors and participants through mail and phone. As well as the domestic competitors, overseas participants for this competition are Riken Yamamoto from Japan, Architekten Cie and MVRDV from the Netherlands.

I have had quite a few experiences working part time back in Sydney, but working on something of this magnitude is definitely new and exciting. The work is fun as I get a chance to practice my Korean, and get paid for it at the same time!! It’s not a lot, but enough to make up a big portion of my university fee.

I am looking forward to working on other projects later on that would especially help my portfolio.

One thing I was quite surprised at was the amount of exposure that this university gets from overseas. I was going through some of the projects conducted by this lab previously and came across Jon Lang’s profile. He was here last year as an external panel for another housing competition in Korea.
Last week I was asked by the Korean Architectural Accrediting Board to go to the airport to greet Paul Berkemeier who arrived here few days ago to oversee the architectural education system as well as the accrediting board. I knew him as an architect but didn’t realise he taught at UNSW, so I was pleasantly surprised. We had a long chat from the airport to the hotel where I was supposed to check him in and it was great fun. It has been a while since I spoke to someone who can speak Australian, and not in broken American accent which seems to be the norm here so thumbs up!

The photos I attached are of Seoul National University, which is situated on a mountain within the metropolitan. Department of Architecture (building 39), which as part of the engineering faculty, is situated on the higher part of the mountain so it’s chillier than downtown Seoul, but has great scenery and better air quality. 🙂  You can see my lab and the desktop image on my computer which shows how much I miss home, despite all the fun I’m having here.