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00707012
2012.01
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KOREAN

Korean Traditional Garden Opens in Central Paris  A Graceful Icon at Europe’s Heart of Korean Studies

A traditional Korean-style garden recently opened on the rooftop of a building that houses the Department of Oriental Languages and Civilizations at the Paris Diderot University (Université de Paris 7). A four-year project of planning, design, and construction created a handsome garden that serves as a vivid symbol of this university’s foremost Korean Studies program in France, and perhaps much of the European region.


Atop a gentle mound, the centerpiece of L’ile au Pin (Island of Pine) is its elegant pine tree. The Center of Korean Studies in France
The recent dedication ceremony for the Korean Garden at the University of Paris 7-Denis Diderot was an even more meaningful event for the Korea Foundation because of its longstanding cooperative relationship with this prestigious French institution of higher learning. One of my first assignments, upon joining the Korean Studies Department, was to review the four works of Korean poetry which would be inscribed onto the garden’s ceiling. The French university selected on its own four traditional and modern Korean poems: “Songs of Flying Dragons” (Yongbi eocheon ga) of the early Joseon era, “Grass” (Pul) by Kim Soo-young, “Invocation” (Chohon) by Kim Sowol, and “A Night for Counting Stars” (Byeol heneun bam) by Yun Dong-ju.

Anyone familiar with Korean literature would recognize the last work, which is known for the lyricism of its poetic expressions, while “Songs of Flying Dragons” was among the early literary works written with the Korean alphabet. As for myself, I especially like “Invocation” and “Grass” because of their ability to convey the Korean people’s tenacity that was needed to overcome Japanese colonial oppression and Korea’s political authoritarianism in the 20th century. In fact, I was overwhelmed with emotion by a French student’s recital of “Invocation” to the large gathering of participants at the dedication ceremony. It was gratifying for the Foundation to have contributed to this graceful symbol of Korea’s cultural beauty at the center of Paris, the so-called city of culture.

University of Paris 7 is one of the two French institutions along with INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) to have established a Korean Studies department for the first time in France, where Professor Li Ogg, one of the founding members of the Association for Korean Studies in Europe, served as a faculty member. The Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures of Denis Diderot is noteworthy for offering Korean Studies programs for BA, MA, and PhD degrees.

With the Korean Garden situated at the center of its campus, Denis Diderot will be able to reinforce its status as the center of Korean Studies in France. Just beyond the garden area, there is a reading room of the department library, which houses the largest Korean Studies collection in Europe. Hereafter, students of the department, including Korean Studies majors, can read materials in the midst of the Korean Garden’s traditional setting. Moreover, the garden area leads to the department’s conference room, so that board members and administrators can appreciate the delightful charms of Korean culture whenever they meet at the conference room.

Expression of Korea’s Traditional Beauty

Although the project’s completion required considerably more time and effort than expected, if you closely examine the intricate design elements that have been incorporated into the garden, you can understand why so much hard work was needed. Philippe Yoonseux took over the project’s design when it became necessary to overcome certain structural problems. Nevertheless, his impressive design brings to life the traditional Korean concept of yin and yang, as well as the artistic principle of “fullness and emptiness,”

The glass panels are decorated with traditional motifs and images from folk paintings of the Joseon period.

through the deft application of modern architectural technology. As suggested by the French name for the garden, L’ile au Pin (Island of the Pine), the focal point is an elegant pine tree standing on a gentle mound at the center of the square garden area. The pine tree is surrounded by glass panels that are decorated with traditional motifs of Korean folk painting from the Joseon period,
including the image of a tiger. In particular, the ceiling eaves are carved in openwork with the Korean poems, such that when sunlight passes through the perforated characters, the surface below is illuminated with the lyrics, revealing another dramatic element of the garden’s creative design.


Sparking Interest in Korean Culture

It is fortuitous for the Korean Garden to be located on the University of Paris 7 campus grounds, as the EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales) and INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) are now also situated in the same district, 13 arrondissement of Paris. The Korean Garden project required a significant investment and a relatively lengthy period of construction. However, the true value of this project can be found in the fact that it serves as an impressive example of the richness of Korean culture in the very heart of Paris, for the enjoyment of the university’s students and faculty, as well as visitors to the campus.

Side view of the L’ile au Pin area.

An Ryeong Korean Studies Department

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