To honor the Ninth Architecture Biennial of Venice 2004 and this year's theme of Metamorph, the Architecture Exhibition at the Korean Pavilion presents 'City of the bang,' an exploration of the micro-spatiality of daily urban life and the representation and reinvention of urban architectural space in the metropolis.


The contemporary city fascinates us not so much with the new typologies it introduces as with the manner in which established space-designations have shifted and been reconfigured. One such space-designation is the Korean bang, roughly translated as 'room'. While the room has traditionally been considered a walled segment in a domestic space, the banghas infiltrated the Korean urban landscape of commercialized space with enterprises such as the PC bang, Video bang, Norae bang, Jjimjil bang, Soju bang, and others. The Norae bang, a scaled-down version of the Karaokebar, is the primeval cave festival in the midst of the contemporary city. Visual, audible, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory sensations are simultaneously experienced in this tiny black box.

Meanwhile, the Jjimjil bang, which combines a steam bath, fitness room, lounge, restaurant, and sleeping area, provides space where half-clothed bodies intersperse between a variety of functional areas. The Jjimjil bang blurs the lines between the collective and the individual, normal and deviant behavior, privacy and voyeurism. The bang is an incarnation of the room, the house and the city, but it does not belong to any of them. The city of the bangoscillates between the domestic realm, institutionalized place, and urban space.


The proliferation of the bangin the cities of Korea has been correlated to ethnic and linguistic homogeneity. Koreans do not simply retreat from the public to these privatized milieus, but use these places to relieve their fear of alienation by constantly reconfirming their sense of relatedness, which Emile Durkheim called mechanical solidarity. Explosive Internet and mobile phone usage, coupled with hyper-dense conditions, serves to intensify and diversify the expression of these mechanical solidarities. Internet users in Korea, called "netizens,"enjoy activities via online communities, cyber cafes, or chat rooms in portals and game sites that often turn into offline activities. The city of the bangabsorbs these seemingly heterogeneous but exclusive socio-cultural networks into its fabric.


Vertical spread profiles of commercial city spaces from the secular to the ecclesiastical can form a single building: a Norae bang on the basement, a fast food restaurant on the 1st floor, a PC bang on the 2nd, a plastic surgery clinic on the 3rd, a commercial learning institute on the 4th, a church on the 5th floor, etc. The layering of these spaces, of which the bang is a major part, functions to conceal irregularities of urban fabric behind the street. And while the chaotic signboards attached to the external walls represent extremely dense but random spatial configurations inside, they do not really reveal the way in which the buildings are perceived, conceived and inhabited.


The bang does not generate a new typology, nor is the bang accommodated in an indeterminate space. Instead the bangis in a constant state of metamorphosis to accommodate the banal but strict prototype of the building itself. It is fundamentally beyond the control of architect and planner: it is 'other' architecture without architects. The city of the bangleaps directly from the village to the city of information technology, without passing through the utopias of the modernist city and the revisionist model of the postmodern city. The holistic concept of a continuous and organic spatial configuration spreading across the city is replaced by the discontinuous and transpatial network instantiated by the emergence of the bang.


What is the architect to do with all these unreceptive front-line realities? Is he simply to ignore or protest it? Or is he to suspend value judgment by recognizing and simulating it? Marco Polo said this to Kublai Kahn: "The inferno [is] where we live every day There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you canlonger see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not [the] inferno, then make themgive them space."


At the Korean pavilion, three emerging architects will search for critical references in the unique socio-spatial nature of the bangin Korean cities. Such references might depend not so much upon a question of what exists, but upon a reconsideration of what does not exist in the city of the bang. In the end, we are presented with the redefinition of the architecture of dwelling in the invisible cities of the bang. In seeking to avoid the pitfallsof obscuring the immediacy and eradicating the heterogeneity of urban life, the traditional approach of individual work has been supplanted by a new form of collective research. Both the empirical space and cognitive space will be contested by the lived space, as ambivalent life in the ubiquitous bang is explored through drawings, images, and installations.



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