As an exercise in form-making and spectacle, the colorful, multidimensional South Korea Pavilion succeeds at grabbing attention. Architect Minsuk Cho and his firm Mass Studies made a playful composition of the three-story structure, using block-like configurations, stepped corners, and multiple cut-outs, then wrapping the building with alternating facades of Hongul letters cut into aluminum panels and colorful tiles designed by the artist Ik-Joong Kang. And they covered the central plaza with an abstract map of a typical Korean city, complete with stepped-seating “mountains” around a performance stage.
As a building, however, the pavilion proves less successful. The three-dimensional excitement of the exterior does not continue on the interior. Visitors enter the exhibition space on the second floor via an elevator and then walk down a simple single-story hallway to the exit elevator. More importantly, the big idea of the project—to create a lively public area framed by the building—fails in its execution. Long lines at the pavilion take over the plaza, offering only fleeting glimpses of the map and performers acting as integral parts of the country’s exhibition. In his defense, Cho states that he intended his design “to improve the typical inverted condition in which most visitors spend more time waiting than experiencing the exhibition itself.” But the reality of bodies pressed into a three-hour queue, more concerned about holding their place in line than seeing a show, is much different than Mass Studies’ renderings of happy Expo-goers enjoying the plaza. Those lovely viewing stands are in reality off limits to visitors, and what looks like a control tower perches above the stage (even though the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Pavilion is at the opposite corner of the Asian zone).The best way to experience the pavilion is to head straight to its northern end, where the building best shows its dynamic form and a stairway leads to a second-floor restaurant and third-floor terrace with one of the best views at the Expo.