Olympic Effect: Korean Architecture and Design from 1980s to 1990s

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA)
Gwacheon Gallery 1 and Main Hall
December 17, 2020 ~ April 11, 2021

Choi Yongjoon, Diagonal Thoughts (Kim Sara), seoulstage, Sunwoo Hoon, Gary Hustwit, Jin Dallae & Park Woohyuk, Koo Bonchang, Kwon Minho, Lee Manik, Seoul Model Shop, texture on texture

The Olympics has a long history and has been the world’s preeminent sporting competition since the 19th century. Although the Olympics has had many ups and downs, it has continued to be a renowned and respected event. Though the ancient Olympics were focused on strength and competition, the modern Olympic Games are the result of capitalism and increased globalization. While the Olympics can be very beneficial economically for host nation, any issues that arise during the Olympics can be damaging to the reputation of the host country. Furthermore, a different perspective on diplomatic overture between the host country and the International Olympic Committee can create conflict. Regardless of any conflicts that may occur, many countries still try hard to be a host for the Olympics because of the positive effects.

It is extremely rare for the Olympics to be cancelled. In the past, the only times this has occurred were because of the World War I and II. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IOC and Japanese government made the hard decision to cancel the 2020 games. Currently the Olympics are postponed to 2021 but it’s still uncertain if they will be held. Huge economic loss incurred by Japan because of the cancellation shows that the importance of the Olympics goes beyond just athletics – it has economic benefits as well.

After the Korean War ended in 1953, South Korea went through period of rebuilding. During this period, Seoul was selected as a host city for 1988 Summer Olympics, and it brought sudden growth all around. The exhibition, Olympic Effect: Korean Architecture and Design from 1980s to 1990s presents the process of organizing the Olympic Games and also shows how the Olympics influenced the nation’s architecture and product design. There are various exhibit objects such as paintings, photographs, books, sculptures, figures, scale models, objects, and digital media.

One of the memorable exhibits was the interviews of the architect and the designer who built the Olympic stadiums and parks for 1988 Summer Olympics. The interview clip was quite long and viewers needed to invest a little time to watch but their stories detail the process of building stadiums and parks, from planning to construction. CAD was not generalized at architecture firms in South Korea, so the firms organized a workshop to learn CAD in the US before the Olympics. It was very interesting to listen their experiences of learning new software to build stadiums and adopting new skill sets. The other fascinating exhibits were the small figures and architectural scale models. The craftmanship and detail of each component were amazing to observe and fun to compare with the actual architecture in the city. Although they are admirable exhibits, there was little explanation about how the architectures and designs were influenced by the Olympics and what the rationale behind the processes were.

The exhibition had a few interactive displays which made me bit surprised because of COVID-19, but I was also impressed by how the museum managed to handle it carefully. Hand sanitizer was available in front of each interactive display with a caution message to remind visitors to be careful. It seems bit challenging to have interactive elements during this time period but the interactive displays engage visitors more than just observing objects.

Virtual Tour:

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