Latvia, a country on the Baltic Sea in Northeast Europe, celebrated the centennial of its independence last year and has since been conducting diverse programs enhancing its presence on the global scene. In Korea, the Latvian Embassy, together with the Korea Foundation, presented the exhibition “Latvia. Architecture at Convergence.” On the occasion of the exhibit, Dr. Ilze Paklone, an emerging architect of Latvia, came to Korea and held a special lecture on Latvian architecture and culture. The KF interviewed Dr. Paklone and spoke with her about her views on her country’s architecture that embodies its history and cultural identity.
Is this your first visit to Korea? What is the purpose and/or meaning of this visit for you?
Yes, this is my first visit to Korea. I have come for the exhibition “Latvia. Architecture at Convergence.” which opens in May and June and is co-organized by the Korea Foundation and the Latvian Embassy in Korea. I have been here for a week thus far, during which I gave a lecture at the KF Gallery on Latvian architecture and design, the history of urban culture, and the arts in general. I also gave a special lecture at a university in Seoul. I have not been here for very long, but it was meaningful that I could walk the streets of Seoul.
Would you brief us on the exhibition, Latvia. Architecture at Convergence, which is being featured at the KF Gallery?
As stated by the title, the exhibition is an event that presents the most outstanding characteristic of Latvian architecture—that is, convergence. The exhibit shows how past historical influences on Latvian culture are rendered in its contemporary architecture: the architectural photographs on display convey the 10 keywords and phrases, including “evolving archetype,” “inherited symbols,” and “harmony,” that define this exhibition. It is not a simple showcasing of Latvian architecture but a comprehensive event that celebrates the country’s design, the arts, history, and culture.
It is particularly noteworthy that the exhibition features buildings and structures that were newly built, restored, or remodeled over the past 25 years.
What are some points that visitors should pay attention to in order to gain the fullest possible experience of this exhibition?
People feel differently and have different fields of interest. The crucial point here is to view the exhibition with an open mind. I don’t want to give specific guidelines or drop any special hints (laughs). Personally, I found the historical timelines of Latvia and Korea fascinating. It was intriguing to see the flow of historical happenings and changes that had taken place in the two countries at similar times.
Would you give us a short explanation of the characteristics of Latvian architecture?
There are lots of wooden buildings in the Latvian capital of Riga. I cannot give an exact number, but there are over 4,000. Buildings in neoclassical and art nouveau styles exist in a very special harmony, creating a refined and balanced urban landscape. To protect, maintain, and restore the wooden buildings and other types of architecture, we need much more than the modest budget that we currently have. We will need greater interest from more people as well as government policies that support our efforts.
You have stayed mostly in Japan. We are curious to know what you have been doing in a country so far away from your native Europe.
I wanted to experience and study architecture in a completely different culture than Latvia and Europe. I dreamed of doing something with a new approach, free from my previous architectural studies and any stereotypical concepts and prejudice about architecture that I have gained over the years. A Japanese supervisor of mine with whom I had worked together on diverse projects in the Netherlands in the past recommended me for a research grant with which I could study in Japan—the factor that ultimately brought me there. I heard from my family that my great-grandfather had worked in the Russian port city of Vladivostok about 100 years ago, engaging in various exchanges with Asian countries like China and Japan. I think I may have been influenced by my great-grandfather.
Is there anything about Latvia and Riga, the capital city, that you’d like to introduce to KF Newsletter readers?
This may be the easiest and the most difficult question to answer. Latvia and Riga have a rich architectural culture. I think the Latvians have a unique sense of space and space utilization. People need their own mental and physical spaces in order to maintain a certain distance from others. This is a Latvian way of thinking that is revealed through its architecture and culture.
For those who plan to visit Riga, I recommend that they look around the center of the city. They will see a wonderful, refined model of Latvian cities where beautiful buildings constructed in the early 20th century remain intact. If you wander aimlessly around the streets and get lost, there is no need to worry. It is at streets full of unfamiliar buildings that outsiders can gain a true “taste” of the everyday life of the Latvian people.
As an architect, what is your impression of the urban landscape of Korea and its architecture?
I like walking around the city aimlessly. When I walk, I enjoy the overall sights and sounds of the city, and I don’t look at or take particular interest in the buildings separately from the general atmosphere. Therefore, it is difficult for me to give my impressions of specific buildings. I can say, however, that Seoul offers a sense of peace and relaxation despite being a very big, busy, and crowded city. Before I came to Korea, I had an image of Seoul that was mostly related to work or business, but from now on I won’t be thinking that way.
Many people find architecture and architectural studies difficult to understand. How would you explain architecture to these people?
I think everyone has a certain knowledge of architecture. In a sense, it is much easier to understand and get to know architecture than music or literature. Music and books can be understood only after we choose and reach out to them, but no one can live a life separated from architecture. I think architecture, in the simplest terms, is the utilization of space and the act of living in that space. People may be able to broaden their understanding of architecture by viewing the exhibition “Latvia. Architecture at Convergence.”
Interviewed by Kim Daniel