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Changdeokgung: Jewel of a Palace

Changdeokgung: Jewel of a Palace

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Published by inomanalo
An article by Ino Manalo about Changdeok Palace in Seoul, Korea showing how this UNESCO World Heritage building may be understood in terms of the three pillars of Education for Sustainable Development: Society, Economics, and Environment.(With photos by the writer)
An article by Ino Manalo about Changdeok Palace in Seoul, Korea showing how this UNESCO World Heritage building may be understood in terms of the three pillars of Education for Sustainable Development: Society, Economics, and Environment.(With photos by the writer)

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Published by: inomanalo on May 15, 2010
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05/15/2010

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Changdeokgung: Jewel of a Palace
 by Ino Manalo A remarkable example of the global nature of contemporary culture is the way Filipinoaudiences have taken to Korean drama series like
 Jewel in the Palace.
Something in thesetales of intramural intrigues and courtly passions must have appealed to our localviewers. One wag even suggested that we could actually make our own version and call it“Jowa in the Palace” with “jowa” being gay lingo for “spouse”.On the part of the Koreans, court intrigues are nothing new. For there is no lack of sumptuous settings for such Machiavellian plots. Seoul has the privilege of being home tofive grand palaces. Now islands of serenity in the bustle of city life, they had witnessedmany tumultuous events. One palace, Gyeongbukgung, was completely destroyed duringthe Japanese invasion of 1592. It was eventually restored only to be damaged whenJapan again occupied Korea in the 20
th
century. The Japanese built a huge Neo-Classicaladministrative building on top of the ruins, creating a virile image of their imperial might.This office was such a despised symbol of foreign domination that the Koreans wouldinsist on its destruction upon regaining their independence. In the 1990s, Gyeongbuk Palace (“gung” is the Korean word for palace) would rise once more. Clearly, even hugeedifices are vulnerable pawns in the pageant of power.Of Seoul’s many royal residences, perhaps the most beautiful is Changdeokgung. Thoughhaving had its share of the ravages of war and fire, it has retained many structures fromits past. It is the only palace in Korea to appear on the UNESCO World Heritage List.Wandering about Changdeokgung, one feels close to the bosom of the earth. For this is a building that embraces its setting. Every pillar stands with the strength of trees, floorsstretch out with the vastness of the sea. In contrast, the structures of Gyeongbukgunghave a linear orientation. State ceremonies are carried out in a regimented orderly procession. Not so with Changdeok Palace where courtyards wrap around mountains,gardens reflect the contours of the land.
 
A few years ago, I had the honor to be tasked by UNESCO’s Dr Molly Lee withdesigning modules for training teachers to explain the features of Changdeok Palacewithin the framework of Education for Sustainable Development or ESD. This meantanalyzing the buildings and gardens of the royal compound from the perspectives of Environment, Economics, as well as Society and Culture.I was of course quite nervous about the assignment, not being a scholar of Koreanmatters. Fortunately, I was working with local experts such as Dr Sun Kyung Lee as wellas the officers of the Korean National Commission for UNESCO.The Environmental modules were probably the easiest to conceptualize. The UNESCOHeritage List inscription citation makes specific mention of the organic relation betweenChangdeokgung’s layout and the surrounding terrain. Indeed, the Palace is a wonderfulenclave of rare flora and fauna, a micro ecosystem in itself.
 
Dr Lee explained to us that the many ancient trees and the various ponds helped cool thearea so that the average temperatures in Changdeokgung were lower than the rest of Seoul. More importantly, it was demonstrated how the various courtyards of the buildingswere thoughtfully positioned so that, throughout the day. each one did not receive thesame amount of sunshine as the rest. The dissimilar degrees of exposure to solar energyresulted in different temperature gradients which in turn aided in the formation of natural breezes. In this way, the Palace halls actually had an efficient air-conditioning systemwhich did not require wasteful energy consumption. The eaves of the buildings were carefully designed so that they kept away glare and rainwhile allowing the maximum amount of light to enter. I was also impressed with themany sliding doors. Their wooden grids and delicate paper panels reminded me so muchof our own capiz windows. What was most interesting though was that, during the warmSeoul summers, these sliding doors could actually be hitched up so that the whole roomwas completely open on all sides.

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