Last Thursday I had lunch on a hill overlooking Imjin River and North Korea. Lee Hwangu Sangmunim and I had made an appointment with Ms. Kim, a graphic designer who runs a company called Design Vita. She saw my designs the Rainbow Building and felt that our approach to design is sympathetic to hers. This was our second meeting, and knowing that I enjoy health-conscious food, she took us to the Jeonmang-dae Porridge and Chicken restaurant near Heyri. At this restaurant they raise their own chickens and grow their own vegetables. It seems to be the last place before the demilitarised zone between South and North Korea.
I hope that by the time you read this letter the demilitarised zone no longer exists, and that people can freely travel across the whole Korean peninsula. What had been a single country since the seventh century was partitioned into two countries seventy years ago. As one of last vestiges of authoritarian communist rule, the North lives now in conditions of great poverty. Someday if the border does open, there will be a great need for sensitive and thoughtful development, and it is my dream to play a role in that work.
From our lunch table we were able to see across the river to a small village on the North Korean side. As we spent the meal conversing about studio culture and the book, “Sapiens,” that we had all recently read, I found myself thinking ahead to the future.
Right now our little studio is small, and taking its little baby steps. I do hope that we will evolve to be a beautiful and flourishing office that is capable of taking on substantial work like the planning of North Korean cities. But for now it has been the right decision to take care and grow slowly. Growth is important, but it needs strong foundations.
Culture is something delicate in its infancy, but incredibly resilient once it has taken root. Each month Ms. Kim buys a book for everyone in her studio, and they read it together and discuss it. Sharing ideas and talking about the work we do in the context of society as a whole is one way of building a common culture. When I told Beth and Weronika about that idea this week, they both enthusiastically supported the idea. Perhaps we will have a go.
Those in North Korea have lived in a different kind of culture to ours for seventy years. But I take faith in the fact that they shared with us a common culture for more than a thousand years before that. Someday when it becomes possible for us to get to know one another again, we may find there is more that brings us together than hold us apart. I hope that when that time comes, I will be ready.
All best wishes, your grandfather. 25 November 2016.