The Space Group building in Seoul

BN-AM566_1121SK_G_20131121041407Changdeok, with traditional and modern architecture.

Space Group’s four-story studio in downtown Seoul is no ordinary property, which is why the architecture firm’s decision to sell the building earlier this year was met with fierce opposition.

The structure was designed by Kim Swoo Geun, one of South Korea’s first modern architects. Its admirers consider it to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the capital. They fear it could be modified or demolished by a private buyer looking to turn it into office or retail space.

Mr. Kim, whose other designs include the main stadium for the 1988 Summer Olympics and the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, used the building as his studio from its construction in 1971 to his death 15 years later. Since then, his protégés have run the company he founded, Space Group.

The current director is Lee Sang Leem, who decided to put the building up for sale after the company filed for bankruptcy protection in January.

At a press conference this week, the Kim Swoo Geun Foundation, which commemorates Mr. Kim and promotes arts in the country, said the Seoul municipal government must buy the property and open it to the general public. More than 100 artists have signed a petition in support of the proposal.

Mr. Lee said he will only sell to a buyer who promises to keep the building intact. “I feel as passionately about this as anyone else,” he said.

A government official said the city had planned to buy the property in April but council members later voted against the purchase, citing a lack of funds. The official said the city government was no longer considering an acquisition.

This week, Mr. Lee told The Wall Street Journal that a ballpark figure for the 1,018 square meters of land and 1,577 square meters of floor space was 15 billion won ($14.1 million). Getting that price would help his company recover from a squeeze that pushed him to put the property up for sale in the first place, he said.

The company was accepting bids from buyers Thursday, but it didn’t receive an offer. Mr. Lee’s son, Lee Choong-hun, who is an assistant manager at Space Group, said three potential bidders showed up but they all left without making an offer.

He said they were worried about the negative publicity the proposed sale had generated. He didn’t name the three parties.

From a business standpoint, the property isn’t an attractive investment, two property developers said. The low ceilings and labyrinthine layout of the building and its annexes would make alternate use difficult without making structural adjustments. A height restriction is also in place due to the proximity to Changdeokgung, a royal palace and Unesco World Heritage Site.

The Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea says it will decide early next month whether to add the building to a list of national heritage sites. But even that wouldn’t guarantee its survival, as South Korean law states that buildings less than 50 years old don’t receive complete protection, a spokesman from the administration said.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s