Shoddy Construction Could Become New National Museum's Legacy

Article excerpt

``For the 21st century and in preparation for a unified Korea, a new museum, to serve as a cultural complex and to provide visitors with opportunities to appreciate Korean culture and arts in comprehensive manner, is under construction.''

These somewhat hackneyed remarks are from the poorly written English version of the National Museum of Korea's home page (www.museum.go.kr).

Though pompous in tone, the idea is worthy of support. It's the actual physical structure of the new National Museum of Korea (NMK) that has been drawing criticism from informed experts. They are concerned the future home of Korea's cultural and artistic treasures is itself a monument to Korean characteristics best forgotten.

In November 1997, the government broke ground for the construction of ``the fifth-largest museum in the world'' on a 303,600-square-meter lot carved out of a park bordering the United States Forces Korea's main base in Yongsan, central Seoul.

To meet deadlines, construction should finish by the end of 2003. And the mammoth building, whose total floor space is 151,800 square meters, is slated to open to the public one year after completion.

As of the end of February, construction was 33 percent complete, although the original plans indicate it should be nearly twice as far along.

Work delays are acceptable, especially given the turmoil of the 1997-98 financial crisis. It's the possibility of oversights and corner cutting to meet the deadline that has people worried.

Various problems have already cropped up since the work began, including a short planning stage, alleged shoddy designs, discord among project supervisors, lack of experts and budget shortfalls.

Many museum and engineering experts are urging the government to push back the opening date and inspect the construction process again.

``It's irrational to say such a museum must be built in six years and give only one more year for the cataloging and display of hundreds of thousands of art and archaeological objects,'' an expert said.

He pointed out that the construction period should be at least 10 years given the structure's scale.

``We shouldn't stick to the date set for the opening. In order to build a perfect museum, it must go through examinations and tests by experts at home and abroad,'' Lee In-sook, director of the Kyonggi Provincial Museum, said.

An art history professor said more time should be allotted to let the building air out and remove the possibility of damage from gases coming out of the fresh cement.

Critics also point to the building design, which they suspect was decided on without serious reflection.

In reality, the government rushed to approve an incomplete draft quickly put out by Junglim Architects and Engineers Ltd. …