“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
― Winston S. Churchill
We’ve been living in Seoul for over a year now and it continues to amaze us. In this ever-changing metropolis, gleaming peaks of grey quickly fill out blank spaces in the skyline and quirky artworks transform quaint neighbourhoods into popular tourist hubs. There is a deliberate attempt to eliminate the old (unless it has a historical or cultural element) and refurbish it with something more abstract — in a bid to cave in to modernism. Last month, the Oil Tank Culture Park joined the ever-increasing list of newly unveiled tourist attractions in the city. The buzz around this new oddity was palpable.
The Oil Tank Culture Park has an interesting backstory. Back in the 1970s, during the oil crisis, ginormous tanks were erected to store nearly 69 million litres of gasoline and diesel. The area was cordoned off for nearly 4 decades and had never been seen by the public.
In 2017, in a new avatar, each one of the 5 tanks is redesigned to echo a particular theme or purpose. The sixth, newly erected tank serves as a cultural information centre. Walking around the park is akin to taking a high school geometry lesson. Curves dominate the frame and lines struggle to cut across. It’s the ultimate tussle between shapes and it’s not very hard to see why circles win hands down.
“A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.”
― Frank Lloyd Wright
T 1 was perhaps the smallest of the 5 tanks. The glass rooftop and architect, Lee Sungkwan’s designs were the highlights of this space. Lee was present at the venue and was happy to explain his designs to eager visitors.
“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”
― Michelangelo Buonarroti
T 2’s corroded, stony facade looks like a prehistoric site — deserted by a dying civilisation. The lower floor was empty, cold, and musty. Its terrace had been converted into an amphitheatre of sorts — attracting an equal number of photographers and posers.
“I guess a sock is also a geometric shape—technically—but I don’t know what you’d call it. A socktagon?”
― Stephen King
T 3 doesn’t look very exciting on the outside. Once you enter inside, you realise the sheer size of the tank and the gaping hole it makes with the wall. T 4 was closed for visitors.
“Less is more!”
― Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe
The lower level of T 5 projects an interesting documentary and the first floor — a timeline of events leading the inauguration of the Oil Tank Culture Park. But the beauty of this tank lies outside closed doors. The stony walkway leads you to a celebration of curves. Everything you’d set your eyes on: will be round.
“A circle has no end.”
― Isaac Asimov
T 6 had the best of everything. A cafe in the basement, an exhibition of the Seoul Architecture Festival at the first level, and an observation area on the top. T 6 was also an ode to the future or at least what we perceive it to be.
“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”
― Pablo Picasso
It’s hard to leave the park without mixed feelings or unanswered questions. Can sheets of metal truly coexist with green spaces? How does time shape popular culture? And will the future look like this?