In an era of boom for South Korea’s capital, Seoul’s economic backdrop isn’t the only thing accelerating. Urban design and architecture have been high on the agenda to create a dynamic city that can keep up with its own pace of progression.
Yet Seoul’s architecture assimilation is one of intrigue. The integration of the traditional and the modern has created a unique backdrop of differing shapes, lines and structures that makes up the city’s skyline of today.
War-torn to architectural leader
Seoul is a product of the late 20th century. After the tribulations of the Korean War, it took the city a decade to re-establish its economic footing, allowing growth and prosperity to return. At first, traditional hanok villages were razed in favour of danji – uniformed, utilitarian-inspired buildings. These blocks homed citizens, hospitals and schools to help bring Seoul out of the post-war dip and into the present.
The Seoul metro system (now one of the world’s largest and most innovative) and the Han River Bridge, joining the Gangnam district to the city centre, were both built in the 1970s, providing the city with key infrastructure from which to develop upwards from.
The booming decades which followed have turned Seoul into a blossoming architectural hub. The transformation the city has undertaken is unheralded, creating a juxtaposed urban landscape, mixing the hanoks in the north with the modernist structures of the 21st century.
The coexisting of modernity and neighbourhood
With any prospering city comes the clash of new versus old, integrating the modernist and futurist ideas alongside the traditional design and blueprints – and Seoul is no exception.
The city’s commitment to investing in its architectural backdrop has created a designer’s playground – with an ethos towards new buildings that is eccentric and extravagant, yet environmental and efficient. Yes, this new breed of building needs to stand out and drop jaws, but it also needs to coexist with Seoul’s traditions, citizens and structures.
Examples can be seen all across the city. Dongdaemun Design Park, with its almost futurist spaceship appeal, could be seen as looking wildly out of place within the neighbourhood suburb it’s in – but it doesn’t. Designed by Zaha Hadid, this creative hub brings curvaceous forms to an otherwise uniform, block-based design plan, breathing new life into Dongdaemun’s blueprint.
In the Seocho-gu district, The Illusion by local architects OBBA deviates from the monotony of the traditional Seoul office block. A façade of hexagonally-shaped mirrored cladding juxtaposes against its dark concrete counterpart – a reflective view of modern against traditional.
The Illusion isn’t the only to building to have prospered from Seoul’s architectural boom.
Seoul City Hall by iArc Architects
Seoul’s city hall was designed to promote the idea of transparency and interaction – what happens in government buildings doesn’t need to be hidden from public view. But this architectural gem takes the idea of ‘having nothing to hide’ to an entirely new level.
It’s become a symbol of forward-thinking design and sustainability thanks to the visions of iArc Architects being brought to life. In reference to the mountainous terrain surrounding Seoul, the dramatic modernist curved shape casts impressions of a giant wave in motion. Glass is used throughout to metaphorically promote Seoul, and South Korea’s, devotion to democracy, and allows natural light to flood the building – unsuspectingly the brightness accentuates the interior’s artistic features and glittered beams on the escalators.
Yet like most of Seoul’s architecture, it sits next to the old town hall, with a bridge connecting the two buildings. Perhaps this entwinement is to juxtapose the historic Seoul with the modern day and showcase the overwhelming architectural, and living, styles – that was then, this is the now.
Kolon One & Only Tower by Morphosis Architects
The golden age has brought the future of architecture to Seoul’s suburbs. In the ‘industrial ecosystem’ of Magok, Kolon One & Only Tower has been designed with environmental stewardship, energy efficiency and resource convention at its very heart. The dramatic appeal is the work of Morphosis Architects, with the structure homing offices, social spaces and laboratories.
The exterior façade pays homage to Kolon’s heritage – a monolithic woven fabric aesthetic draws comparisons to the textile industry in which Kolon operates, and one of the company’s own fabrics, aramid, has been used in the build thanks to its pure tensile strength. This brise-soleil system on the west-facing side features interconnected sunshades to deflect sunlight and keep the tower feeling cool and airy.
The interior design adds to Kolon One & Only Tower’s intrigue. The building’s 40m tall, 100m long atrium acts as the social hub – a grandeur staircase offers ease of access around the tower yet integrates itself as a gathering space on in its own right.
Sustainability too is a key precedent. Green rooms, recycled materials and, photovoltaics and geothermal design have brought that ‘green’ edge to the tower, whilst a bubble deck slab has enabled a 30 per cent reduction in the use of concrete.
Unicity by D-Werker Architects
In Mapo, one of Seoul’s oldest districts, sits perhaps the city’s biggest example of juxtaposed architecture. The brainchild of D-Werker Architects, Unicity’s irregular linear style is modernist design at its finest yet is inspired by the danji surroundings it is nestled among.
From street level, you’d almost miss this hidden gem, tucked away in Seoul’s utilitarian backdrop. The building’s façade is made up of pine wood and bare concrete, an aesthetic described by D-Werker as being created with the “human skin without makeup” as its inspiration. Rather than the tall tower blocks that surround it, Unicity almost seems clumsily put together, with each storey unaligned with the one above and below – its appearance sits almost like an ungainly tower of Jenga.
The development of Seoul’s skyline has made the city an architect’s paradise, creating an eclectic palette of designs and inspiration across South Korea’s capital.