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Centuries-old building inspires latest Pitt Nationality Room

Jason Cato
| Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, 8:08 p.m.
Maxine Bruhns, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Nationality Rooms, stands in the new Korean Room in the Cathedral of Learning.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Maxine Bruhns, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Nationality Rooms, stands in the new Korean Room in the Cathedral of Learning.
A Douglas Fir door in the Korean Room, the University of Pittsburgh's newest Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
A Douglas Fir door in the Korean Room, the University of Pittsburgh's newest Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning.
The hinged wooden shutters in the Korean Room, the University of Pittsburgh's newest Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
The hinged wooden shutters in the Korean Room, the University of Pittsburgh's newest Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning.
The Korean Room, the University of Pittsburgh's newest Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
The Korean Room, the University of Pittsburgh's newest Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning.
Douglas Fir Phoenixes and a Pearl of Wisdom carving in the ceiling of the Korean Room, the University of Pittsburgh's newest Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Douglas Fir Phoenixes and a Pearl of Wisdom carving in the ceiling of the Korean Room, the University of Pittsburgh's newest Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning.

Inspired by a Korean lecture hall built more than 600 years ago, the latest Nationality Room to open inside the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning also will be the most technologically advanced.

“Not many countries have 600 or 700 years of history with higher educational institutions,” Dr. Sang C. Park said of the Myeongnyundang, or “Hall of Enlightenment,” on the campus of Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul.

The Korean Heritage Classroom mimics that historic structure and will be featured Sunday as the 30th installment of Pitt's Nationality and Heritage Classrooms — a tradition started in 1926.

“We are really honored to have this opportunity,” said Korean room co-chair Park, 76, of Shadyside.

South Korean Ambassador Ahn Ho-Young is expected to join university and community leaders.

The ceremony will be followed by a Korean cultural festival.

The third-floor room is designed after the Myeongnyundang, the main building in South Korea's royal academy during the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties, which lasted from 918 to 1910.

Pitt requires that all Nationality Rooms represent a time prior to 1787, the year of the university's founding and the signing of the U.S. Constitution.

Though the Korean room design harkens to a time longer ago than that, it will be the first Nationality Room equipped with an 85-inch, 3-D monitor, Wi-Fi connection and a central speaker system.

“From now on, all rooms will have that kind of technology,” said E. Maxine Bruhns, 91, who has been director of the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange programs for 50 years.

The Korean room will be the 11th addition under her tenure, which began in 1965. Two years into her work, an effort to add an Israeli room began. It was dedicated in 1987.

“Then they all came bing, bing, bing,” Bruhns said.

Planned are Iranian, Philippine and Finnish rooms.

Plans for the Korean room started in 2007, and Park said he is proud to see the project completed in a relatively short time.

Most of the time was spent raising the $850,000 needed to build the room. Major contributors include the Korea Foundation, Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation, Poongsan Corp. and private donors, including about $240,000 raised locally, Park said.

Materials came from various regions in South Korea.

Korean master carpenters built the room there and shipped it in pieces to Pittsburgh, where they reconstructed it from May to late October. No nails or screws were used, in keeping with Korean building practices.

The room is designed to look like three connected rooms, similar to the Hall of Enlightenment. Windows are covered with paper produced from mulberry tree fibers. Twin oak columns form a symbolic boundary, with a central room featuring a lofted ceiling adorned with two hand-carved phoenixes flanking the “Pearl of Wisdom.”

Bruhns said that's her favorite feature. But she said the entire concept is special.

“I like the fact that it is designed after an old, old structure that is still part of their education system,” she said.

Park said he is proud to see Korea represented among the Nationality Rooms.

“We like to show the beauty of a Korean structure,” he said. “It is quite unique.”

Jason Cato is a writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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