Sewoon Sangga (1966-1976)/ 15. Kim Swoo-Geun upon Seun Sangga: From Pride to Shame

The architect of the Seun Sangga, Kim Swoo Geun, despite the fact that not all his works were universally loved, was widely agreed to have set the tone for Korean architecture nowadays. According to Seung H-Sang, who is an internationally recognised architect and also an student of Kim, “Kim was the first in Korea to promote such a concept – that the exterior of a building is just to cover up the space inside, and it is the space inside that’s the most important” (2013). Also he quoted Kim’s saying of “architecture is not about structures, but really about space” during his interview with the JoongAng Daily. These quotes illustrated the changes in the ways Kim Swoo Geun tackled the problems, social and architectural, throughout his 25 years of career in the field, from applying megastructure for a direct and significant solution, to moving towards more of a more mild approach to solve problems from a cultural and spatial point of view.

Kim Swoo Geun spent most of his younger years in the Bukchon area which was famous for its concentration of hanok and narrow alleys. It was believed by many that the years when Kim lived in the area impacted his philosophies of design in his later career, particularly “marked by mysteriously yet organically twisted spaces”.

Fig.1 Mayor Kim Hyeun-Ok’s Sketch of Seoul

The Seun Sangga was meant to be a project to stand as a sign of Korea’s rebirth after the wars and to solve the problems of population growth and slumps in Seoul. With an extended modern vision, Kim took an approach of building a (set of four) megastructure(s) in the heart of the city with influences, physically and culturally, radiated to the surrounding areas. The project took place when Kim just returned to Korea from his studies in Japan. As one of his very first projects, Kim practised his idea and design philosophies, which matched with the government of Park Chung-hee at that time, in order to improve the city and the country. With all the cutting edge technologies and appliances and the newly introduced concepts, the Seun Sangga did successfully attracted citizens of middle and upper class to move in which triggered a new apartment town development in the late 1970s. However, since in between in Seoul there was a rise in the number of department stores and that changed the consumption habit of citizens thus causing a decline in the commercial activities of the Seun Sangga. The complex was then gradually transformed into a large electronics market. The decline went even more severe when new electronic markets were set up around the city in the 1980s to 1990s. The complex, since then, had less and less impact on the culture and consumption of the city, and was finally requested by the government to be redeveloped.

Fig.2 Transformation of the apartments within the complex

Built as a pride of the city of Seoul with high ambition of the architect and the government at that time, the Seun Sangga declined to be a complex waiting to be demolished and redeveloped, which some even regarded its occupation of such large area as a shame. The complex was detested by professionals and the public.

Joonwoo Kim. (2016). Apartment Urbanism – The Logics of Apartment Development in Seoul. University of Leuven.
Saving Space: Kim Swoo-Geun Buildings At Risk. (2013). Retrieved from

Image Reference:
Fig.1 Kang, Nan-Hyoung. 2011. Mayor Kim Hyeun-Ok’s Sketch of Seoul.
Fig.2 Seoul Metropolitan government. 2015. Design Description of International Competition for Re-structuring the Seunsangga Citywalk (2015).

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