By Ines Min, J.R. Breen
Staff reporters

While Seoul gears up to be the next World Design Capital, Gongju is looking to keep in step. The South Chungcheong Province city has transformed the old town hall into a design cafe, with the help of four renowned British designers.

“Happiness for Daily Life,” a community gathering place for creative minds, is a 6-month project that opened last week to combine the aesthetics of traditional Korea with contemporary Britain, in hopes of bringing an inspirational ambiance to the small city in a cultural exchange.

Sponsored by Gongju City, the British Council and the Korean National University of Cultural Heritage, the renovation of the Japanese colonial-era (1910-45) building was completed by Michael Marriott, Anthony Burrill, Linda Brothwell, Fabien Cappello and Korean architect Kim Paik-sun.

A major focus of the undertaking is an emphasis on eco-friendliness, compatibility with the surroundings and overall efficiency.

Marriott, a products designer and teacher at the Royal College of Art in London, said he left the red-brick building largely as it was “partially to reveal the handsomeness of the building _ it was a very handsome space but I felt it couldn’t breathe. We stripped away what was inside and it can breathe again.”

Brothwell fired up ceramic mugs that could hold liquids when held upside down or right side-up. “The general message I have when I work is everything should be used, and don’t worry if it breaks, just keep working,” she said.

A smooth melding of the traditional Korean culture with modern British ideals was eased with a short assimilation period. Each designer had an opportunity to take up residence at the university, in order to become acquainted with the students, faculty, and cultural perspective.

Burrill, a graphic designer who has done work for the London Underground, Playstation and Nike, integrated touches of modernity into “dancheong,” or traditional Korean paintwork on wooden structures, while Cappello created a series of outdoor furniture alongside wood specialists from the university.

For a further collaboration of myriad perspectives, the second floor of the building was designed by Kim, a professor at Gyeongwon University. Combining oriental lines with wooden accents, the space will later be turned into an exhibition gallery to showcase local artists.

This concept of reaching out to the community was a core motivation. “The village cafe is central to everyday life in a rural town in the United Kingdom,” said curator Clare Cumberlidge. “This project was aimed to show a village cafe of the U.K. to Korea based on local culture. Creating a vibrant and dynamic environment uniting historical craft techniques and contemporary design, it will present a different understanding of resources.”

The chief of Hzone, the organization supervising the event, was hopeful about the active change the project would catalyze.

“The village cafe of the U.K. has taken its role as a cultural meeting point,” Lee Dae-hyeong said. “Such a duty will also be carried out in the ‘Design Cafe of Gongju City.’ I hope it will contribute to enliven dreary city life by creating a venue for cultural communications.”

However, whether or not the cafe will be successful has yet to be seen. Though the project is scheduled to be maintained for half a year, the future is uncertain past that.

“We don’t know yet what will happen to this building in six months time,” Marriott said. “The council will decide what they want to do with the building for a more long term use.”

To get there from Seoul, take a bus from Nambu Terminal. Departures are every 20 minutes and take one-and-a-half hours. Visit blog.naver.com/bcculture for more information.

– Koreatimes 2010/5/26