Q&A Alejandro Zaera-Polo
Former partner with FOA, Alejandro Zaera-Polo, now of AZP Architects shares his experiences of working in South Korea
How did you start working in South Korea?
Seung H-Sang, who is artistic director of the Gwangju design biennale, invited me to give a lecture there in 1996. His friends keep inviting me back.
What have you worked on?
We were invited to design a folly for this year’s biennale. We also have two 180m towers completing in Busan.
What proportion of your work is there?
Very little. Over the course of my career, perhaps 5%.
Have you been influenced by the vernacular architecture?
If you mean the historical vernacular — temples, for instance — no, not at all.
But there are some powerful technologies that have been developed in the last 20 or 30 years that will influence anyone who works there.
What are the main cultural differences?
Korean business culture is much more transparent and less polite than China or Japan. They tell you straight away what they want and what they think. They have a quick temper. They say they are the Latins of Asia. They also say they are like the Irish because they like to fight! People just beat each other up.
It’s quite an extreme place and they expect a level of toughness from you too. The father of Korean architecture, Kim Swoo Geun, who built the Seoul Olympic stadium, died of overwork and so did the guy who took over his office.
You do something and it’s built straight away. It’s refreshing.
The disadvantage of this is that some things are lost in the process and what’s built is not quite what you wanted. There’s a degree of compromise but on the whole it’s an interesting place to work.
What advice would you give an architect wanting to work in Korea?
Concentrate on the essential parts of the project because the more superficial aspects of a project may be erased as it progresses.