Sewoon Sangga (1945-1966)/ 9. Symbol of Rebirth

Korea had been colonised and ruled by the Japanese government from 1910, when the Joseon dynastic monarchy in Korea ended, to 1945, when World War II concluded. Under the rule of the Japanese government, Korea, at that period of time, was treated as a backup of resources for the colonising country. To affirm the colonial rule and the superiority of the Japanese Empire, grid pattern network and radial streets were introduced in terms of the city planning/reshaping of Korea, especially her capital city, Seoul.

The actions taken by the Japanese Empire in terms of Seoul’s city planning, as they were not aimed at solving the existing social and cultural problems and instability at that time, had further created problems like development inequalities (among different areas of the city), and inadequate urban housing (with the rapid growth in  population of the capital).  

After World War II ended with Japan’s surrender, Korea, as Lee mentioned, “found herself in a situation similar to Arabia at the end of World War I”. (2006) Both countries, even after the defeat of their colonising countries, did not achieve independence but were instead led to an arbitrary partition into two halves along the 38th parallel line, namely North Korea occupied by Soviet Russia, and South Korea occupied by the United States. And starting 1950, North Korea started the Korean War in order to unify the border through forceful attacks. The two main parties of the war, North Korea and South Korea, were respectively backed by powers like the Soviet USSR and the People’s Republic of China, and the United States.

Korea was under various wars throughout the period of 1930s-1950s. The country was unstable and both the citizens and the country’s technology were not given a chance to develop and to catch up with the other powers around the world. Therefore, Koreans began working towards a rebirth of the country. Students were sent to study abroad in different countries to learn advanced technology and skills and to bring all these back to the developing country. Kim Swoo-geun, the architect of the Seun Sangga project we are covering, for instance, was one of the very first group of Korean students who studied Architecture at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music after WWII. The import of foreign talents and technologies allowed the country to develop and reborn in a more efficient way. It was when Korea started to become independent from Japanese styles in the wake of Japanese colonial rule. Also, the Korean architects at the period of time suggested merging Western modernism into Korean traditions, especially in such an era marked by the Cold War and the face-paced development of the country. Seoul, as the capital city of the country, experienced a large change in the concept of the city planning.

The historical background of Korea being colonised by the Japanese Empire and undergoing the partition ignited the citizens’ willingness to redevelop the country and to create a more advanced living environment with development equalities. The social and cultural changes illustrated a transformation of the architectural style of the buildings in Seoul.

Lee, J.J. (2006). The Partition of Korea After World War II – A Global History. Palgrave Macmillan.
Image Reference:
Official U.S. Navy Photograph. From National Archives collection.

1 Comment on “Sewoon Sangga (1945-1966)/ 9. Symbol of Rebirth

  1. It’s interesting to see how rapidly Korea has progressed as a result of globalization and as put in this post, adoption of western styles and sensibilities. Having been to Korea recently, its clear that from a cultural standpoint, youth groups have been absorbing “western” culture such as cafe joints, food and even music.

    Urbanistically however, its worth asking just how “western” Korea’s cityscape really is. Despite several cases of destruction of traditional Korean houses, the Hanok is still widely preserved in Korea as seen in Bukchon Hanok Village. Likewise, apartments in Korea often preserve or try to create balcony imitations, all architectural elements borrowed from traditional Korean housing where fermentation was an essential activity. Recent developments like Cheonggyecheon are arguably also the complete opposite of the Western city, with its emphasis of human scale and removal of cars. Are these subtle ideas derived from more traditional Korean ideals, or are they also inspired by those of the West?

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