Landscaping Pros Give Historic Site Preservation Boost

As any keen traveler with an eye for history will attest, East Asia is home to some of the finest and most arresting stone-and-wood structures on the planet. People in Korea, Japan and China, in particular, used these two materials to craft unique temples, stunning palaces and ornate tombs – all of whose cultural value is incalculable.

But the age-old challenge for generations of Koreans, Japanese and Chinese lies in providing maintenance for these structures, and preventing them from succumbing to the test of time.

Left unattended, vegetation can break though stonework, rupturing intricate carvings. Termites and other parasites can gnaw through wooden pillars and sculptures, while lightening or forest fires risk destroying them completely.

So Yeong Jeong is a researcher at Korea’s National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage (NRICH), with expertise in dealing with wooden structures. Jeong says that the conditions of modern times can lead to greater preservation challenges. “Due to global warming, a larger variety of organisms are flocking to wooden structures and staying there for longer than ever, increasing the risk of biological damage,” explains Jeong.

Fortunately, humankind has developed ingenious ways of preserving national treasures. East Asian governments and a few pioneering enterprises in particular have become specialists in this sort of care.

Although most people would assume that cultural preservation is a largely public sector affair – a matter mainly for governments and NGOs to concern themselves with – in many instances this is not the case. In recent years, private sector organizations have stepped up to offer their assistance in projects that have wider social impact.

With the resort group’s considerable landscaping expertise, Samsung C&T has decided to lend its aid to efforts to preserve Korean historical sites. In 2013, the company struck an agreement with Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration, and has since carried out preservation and restoration efforts at some 60 historical sites in the country.

The efforts have included tree preservation, plant cultivation and the creation of new walking trails at royal palaces and tombs. Tackling issues like pest-related damage is something that Samsung C&T’s resort group, with its considerable landscaping and botanical expertise, has come to specialize in.

Preservation in Action

Most preservation efforts, be they private or public sector initiated, begin with effective research and monitoring. This can involve taking 3D photographs or inspecting sites with powerful microscopes and ultrasonic detectors.

If monitoring tests show that a building needs work, preservation specialists can take immediate measures. In the case of stone structures, this can involve some serious work – gently scraping off weeds, lichen and debris before washing with distilled water, performing micro-abrasive scrubs and ice blast cleaning. Experts can also perform chemical procedures, including stone-specific gluing, gap-filling and strengthening using ethyl silicate.

“As stone structures often sustain physical, chemical and biological damage, preservation work has to take in all of these factors,” says Myung Sung Lee, stone structure research specialist at the NRICH. “Organizations in most East Asian countries conduct similar types of preservation work, and these matters are discussed and shared at China-Korea-Japan symposiums and seminars.”

For wooden buildings and details, debris is often removed with cotton buds or smooth brushes. This is followed by dust removal efforts, applying strengthening products and drying to prevent warping. Arguably the most important step in dealing with wood of this kind involves the application of sophisticated materials that can strengthen restored wood.

Stone Buddha by Aotaro is licensed under CC BY 2.0, Kobe Sights: Moegi House by Mark Mrwizard is licensed under CC BY 2.0, Japanese Temple by stevenocchipinti is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Conservational Coatings

Shinichi Shimizu from Japan’s Nara Research Institute for Cultural Properties, explains, “Traditional wooden structures in Japan are often coated with colorings, lacquer or other materials, while modern buildings may be coated with paint. The coating is of course an important design element and also has a protective function, hence periodic reapplication is required. Where several coats have been applied, the undercoat may be quite old and careful inspection is necessary.”

In many cases, restoration projects have had a very noticeable impact.

The Moegi House, also known in Kobe, Japan, as the White House, is a famous wooden building that was once the residence of a prominent family. In recent years, however, city residents have begun to call it the “Light Green House” following its recoating restoration. Despite its slight change in hue, though, the preservation efforts may ensure that future generations will also be able to enjoy visiting the White House for decades to come.

Keeping History Alive

In June this year, Samsung C&T resort group CEO Bong Young Kim joined a group of 40 employees at UNESCO World Heritage-listed Jongmyo, a Confucian shrine in Seoul that was originally built in the late 14th Century, to take part in preservation work. In the late 1500s, invading Japanese forces destroyed the original, which was reconstructed in 1601, and survives to this day.

Kim and the rest of the group at Jongmyo took part in weeding activities aimed at preserving stone paving, and used sticky roll traps on age-old trees at the site to control the spread of oak wilting disease. This disease can occur when insects move around mold particles on oak trees, blocking the water passageways in their stems.

“We need to keep growing in sync with modern society.” Kim said at the event. “We want to use our abilities and professional landscaping knowledge in cooperation with historical organizations, in order to provide a service to the community.”

In addition to its profit-making ventures, the resort group has also intensified its cultural work, making a wider range of promises to protect Korea’s many heritage sites. The group has already pledged to become the dedicated protector of a range of Joseon-era (1392-1910) historical sites. The sites, which include traditional houses and schools, are located in Yongin and the surrounding area, near the group’s landmark Everland theme park.

Across East Asia and beyond, the challenge is on for all governments and NGOs to preserve the many treasures their ancestors have bestowed upon them. With Samsung C&T and other like-minded enterprises lending a hand,  will be able to enjoy the same priceless treasures as the people of today.

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