Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Holy Book City!

Buried in today's installment of Shelf Awareness is a link to this amazing article from the Financial Times by Edwin Heathcote, about a place in South Korea called Paju Book City, about 30 kilometers northwest of Seoul. This urban space, zoned as industrial, "bounded by a motorway and the heavily guarded edge of a demilitarised zone," is a vision of ultra modern architecture and full of publishing companies and printers. It truly sounds amazing.
Plans for the Book City were first proposed in 1989, as the country was emerging from a period of political repression. Publishing had gathered momentum and status after years of underground activity and censorship, and it re-emerged after the liberalisation of the regime in 1987 in an explosion of small, often family-run publishers. Their beautifully crafted books attempted to re-engage the nation with the history and culture that had been distorted, manipulated and lost over a period which included colonial rule from Japan, brutal civil war and military dictatorship. The project was also, at least in part, a reaction to the rapacious redevelopment of Seoul, the loss of the city’s historic fabric and its rapid embrace of the culture of bigness and congestion. That it was christened a “City to Recover Lost Humanity” tells us much about its creators’ intentions.

It is useful to remember that in this time of everything and everyone being networked, there is much to be learned and resources to be used. In America, we push to be ahead of the curve, to build on what is there and get to the next frontier - often chasing profit. In this case, worthy of an even longer article it seems to me, we have a culture that was so badly damaged by immense political forces, that is being rebuilt with values rarely if ever found on this scale in America. As the writer states in a less than artful manner, "The idea that a city, right now, be dedicated solely to print and that an industrial estate could be a place of architectural pilgrimage could not be more heartening, more encouraging to anyone who delights in those very old information technologies – books and buildings."

So let's fantasize for a moment, especially those of us from hastily built suburbs who grew up in the shadows of strip malls that grew obese with box stores... what if these towns built around parking lots and warehouse buildings were converted into regional publishing centers, if the Walmarts and Bed, Bath & Beyonds and Best Buys and Michael's and Circuit City's and Targets became publishing houses and printers and IT centers for self-publishing, the architecture repurposed and opened up, made sustainable and innovative and more organic.

I gotta get my hands on the MIT Press book Big Box Reuse, by Julia Christensen. I saw it at Harvard Bookstore and really should have bought it!

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