Event: New Design in Seoul
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.22.11
Speakers: Jinsuk Park — Senior Associate Principal, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF); Taeman Kim — Principal, Haeahn Architecture + H Associates; Du Nam Choi — Professor, Seoul National University; James von Klemperer, FAIA — Design Principal, KPF
Moderator: Clifford Pearson — Senior Editor, Architectural Record
Introduction: Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIANY; Noushin Ehsan, AIA — Chair, AIANY Global Dialogues Committee
Organizer: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee
Sponsors: Kohn Pedersen Fox
With a strong economy and a proficiency in high-rise construction befitting peaking land values, the Republic of Korea has enjoyed a decades-long architectural boom despite recent decelerations. This AIANY Global Dialogues panel presented many of the distinctive projects and approaches drawing attention, investment, and talent to the southern half of the peninsula.
Seoul’s built environment, noted Moderator Clifford Pearson, like those of Rotterdam and other cities that have gone through cycles of wartime destruction and postwar rebuilding, is almost completely modern. It is largely the result of a post-Korean War building binge designed to serve the rapidly industrializing and urbanizing nation. Korea’s older culture continues to guide certain aspects of the nation’s development, imparting a connection to nature along with a practicality in accommodating social practices and norms. (There is a high prevalence of three-bedroom apartments, for example, in contemporary Korean buildings; this scale preference comes naturally in a society where several generations of a family often live together.)
Jinsuk Park, senior associate principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF), provided historical background on the tendency of Korean cities to define themselves in relation to nearby mountains and water. The massive urban influx has developed Seoul into a megacity of 10 million comprising what Park’s colleague James von Klemperer, FAIA, identifies as interconnecting “separate subcities, not exactly villages but basins of built area and dense population, cradled between mountains.” Much early postwar construction — housing towers, megablocks, wide highways, ambitious landfill projects — emphasized regularity, replicability, economy, and speed over architectural distinction. More recent work, however, has blended global greening tendencies with local ideas, an approach that Taeman Kim, principal of Haeahn Architecture + H Associates, described as “Third Nature,” in which a new structure mimics natural features. Tradition and innovation engage in productive dialogue in projects like the Seongbuk district’s Gate Hills (a Haeahn design completed in 2008), 12 terraced, L-shaped private houses whose sedum-covered roofs create a pattern that frames and optimizes natural views, internally and externally, without compromising privacy.
Tomorrow’s Korea should have no shortage of arresting icons. The Northeastern Asian Tower, the nation’s tallest, is one of 10 planned “supertalls” marking separate communities on the skyline, von Klemperer commented, somewhat in the manner of the hill towns of Tuscany or 18th-century London’s church steeples. The Lotte Tower, a double-pointed “celery stalk” rising as a discrete “vertical city” 123 stories above a somewhat undefined area of repetitive slabs; its multiple green atriums and recurrent scalloped forms will be a welcome alternative. The Hyundai Global Business Tower, sited in a forest, cantilevers above the trees and uses a triangular geometry designed along the principles of pungsu (Korea’s version of feng shui).
New Songdo City near Incheon Airport has attracted wide interest as a large-scale green-urbanist venture, incorporating harmonious aesthetic features (e.g., artificial skylines resembling nearby mountains) as well as measures that strengthen its environmental performance, importing American LEED standards and advanced technologies such as pneumatic trash collection and graywater recycling. Like New York, New Songdo City is organized around a Central Park, focusing density and fostering higher levels of pedestrian activity than is seen in most of Korea’s sprawl-era development. KPF and the developers of this unique Korean/American joint venture have taken risks on a vast scale, planning from scratch a city for 300,000 residents, but it’s unlikely to be another Brasilia; its biophilic and cultural roots run deep.
Bill Millard is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in OCULUS, Icon, Content, The Architect’s Newspaper, and other publications.