▲ A preliminary sketch, above, of part of Jeju Global Education City by master architect, Itami Jun. Photo courtesy Itami Jun
Jeju is no stranger to the architectural vision of Itami Jun. His structures can be seen in several locales across the island, thus it is fitting that last year Itami was selected as the chief architect of Jeju Global Education City.
Following the recent contract signing with North London Collegiate School and memorandums of understanding with prestigious schools in Canada and the United States, construction of the city will soon be underway. Itami is unfazed by the size of the project, which will be his largest artistic endeavor to date. “He accepted right away,” said Ehwa Yoo, chief creative officer for ITM Architects and also Itami’s daughter.
“The one promise I can make for Jeju Global English City,” Itami said in Seoul in late February, “is that I will build a city inspired by wind. Wind is a symbol for many things, such as freedom, but wind is also one of Jeju’s symbols. If I had to define the city in one word, that word would be wind.”
Itami speaks in metaphor, abstracts and concepts. “He appears to me more than an architect, but rather an artist,” said Christopher Bogden, JGEC project manager. “He is one of those people who goes well beyond.”
The act of designing the English city is a complex process. Each partner school will select and hire an architectural company to design their particular building. Itami’s responsibility is to forge an overall design concept that the other architects must adhere to. Bedecked in a fedora and sporting a goatee, Itami was animated as he talked about his position. “My major role is to be the conductor of the orchestra, or a movie director. I believe that each school is like a player in the orchestra. Each school is like a character within the movie. I have to suggest the basic concept, but it is a collective collaboration.”
▲ Jeju Global Education City by master architect, Itami Jun. Photo courtesy Itami Jun
Though the basic concept is still in its infancy, Itami has specific inspirations and a strong idea for the direction of the design. Having worked on Jeju several times before, he believes that the island’s distinctiveness lies within its natural environment, specifically its many oreum, or secondary volcanic cones. He stated that many expect the city to be “modern,” but he is opposed to stark lines and sharp edges that he feels lack warmth and originality. He has already rejected a proposal by NLCS’s design team for this reason. “Many modern architects use sharp, clear lines, with no curves or circles - no oreum shapes. I want to include Jeju’s uniqueness and Jeju’s culture in the buildings. I’m doing it in a humble way by asking nature if I can put my buildings there,” he said.
Itami cited the Podo Hotel, which he designed for a Jeju golf club in 2001, as an example. Itami attempted to harmonize the buildings with their environment. The hotel is in the shape of several oreum and he explained that the structure does not distract from the nature that surrounds it. Podo means grapes in Korean and the rounded roofs look from the air like a bunch of grapes.
“Without Jeju’s locality, without its nature, there is no creativity in the project,” Itami said. “It sounds really abstract, but the concrete images should come from these abstract ideas and create a new reality from there.”
▲ A view of Podo Hotel, one of Itami Jun’s designs already built on Jeju Island. Photo courtesy Itami Jun
Trying to incorporate Jeju’s natural beauty into the specifically functional space is of the most interest to him, he said, and he believes that this will be achieved through finding inspiration from the island’s wind and oreum. The two elements are similarly shaped, he said. “The wind on the island blows in the shape of a bowl, which is reminiscent of the oreum.” Though neither is consistent, because the wind is constantly changing and “even though it [each oreum] is similar to the bowl shape, every oreum is different.”
This notion of constant change will influence an asymmetrical plan for the city, which will not only help harmonize the buildings with nature, but also afford dramatic views of the landscape with the purpose of encouraging students, teachers and visitors to reflect inward and commune with nature. “The city is not only a place for study, but it should also be a place for meditation and to talk with nature. I see the entire city as a place to learn. I want it to be a romantic and creative world,” Itami said.
“The most important factor is that even though it is an international city, the design should be based on its locality, on the local originality. Without that, there is no meaning. The most important thing is to blend the buildings in with nature and make harmony with nature and get the unique Jeju culture into the architecture.”
The more than 3.7 million square meter city will be comprised of about 12 elementary, middle and high schools, a university zone, cultural facilities, residential and commercial amenities. All Itami’s designs are done without the aid of a computer for he feels that computers take away from the creative process. “My employees use computers,” he said, “but I use my hands and paper.”
“He always says, ‘I’m the last paper architect,’ ” his daughter, Yoo, said.
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