Master Builder Lee Gwang-bok spread beauty of Korean architecture to the world

신태섭 기자l승인2021.02.23l수정2021.02.23 15:14

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▲ Master Builder Lee Gwang-bok

A South Korean master builder Lee Gwang-bok has built many temples and ancient buildings. Some of them to name are: Bulgwang Temple behind Seokchon Lake in Songpa District, Seoul, Jeokmyeolbogoong of Bongjeongam in Seoraksan, and Jondeokjeong of Changdeok Palace in Seoul.

Lee has built around 200 temples and ancient buildings. He took part in remodeling the Korean Gallery in the British Museum in 2001 and the House of Baek Inje in Bukchon, Seoul, in 2005, and the Haksajae in Ganghwado in 2000. 

"I found out that the architectural methods used for Jondeokjeong of Changdeok Palace 300 years ago was exactly matched with my methods. In other words, the techniques have been passed down to me all those years of wars and political turmoils for the last 300 years. And I was overwhelmed knowing that I'm holding these invaluable techniques" says Lee.

"For me, ancient buildings are more than just buildings because they have stories to tell and the spirit of the time they were built. For example, buildings in early Joseon dynasty were strong and powerful but buildings in late years seem to hiding the magnificence behind the scene. There's saying what's good for the goose is good for the gander. So I believe what's good for Koreans is good for the people in the world."

Trees are most common materials to build traditional buildings. If Europeans used fir trees and Japanese sun tress, Koreans used pine trees. Lee uses a 100kg pine tree for the pillars and give details to other parts. When a building is finished, he gives a ritual to spirits for the building to last over a thousand years. 

Lee was born in Jindo County. He learned carpentry from his father and carried on his expertise by majoring architecture at high school and university. He won the grand prize at a national competition when he was in second year high school and started his carpenter's career in earnest at the age of 20. Though young, he trained many carpenters during the course and served as a judge of the national certificate screening board.  

Lee learned skills under the instructions of master carpenters Jo Hee-hwan (deceased) and Shin Young-hoon (deceased) and obtained the master's title at the age of 45. Starting with the 5 story wooden pagoda of Botop Temple, he has built and engaged in around 200 buildings ever since.

He started Daejakbulsa of Wongak Temple in New York in 2013 and it is still ongoing for 7 years. He is using 850 year old woods for girders of the 280 square meter Daejakbulsa and the methods he is applying are  traditional which must meet the modern criteria. 

"A master builder is someone who values highly of tradition, of understanding the principles of the energy, wind and the earth as well as the universe. Also he must pass down the spirit of his ancestors and blow their souls into the building." PowerKorea.


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