Sewoon Sangga (1966-1976) / 6. New Rise of Urbanism under Foreign Influences
“Style can mean many things”, Kim Soo Geun was known to have said. “It can refer to our mental structure that doesn’t like inhumanity. It can also refer to our natural tendency to prefer familiarity to precision”. Well known as one of the most influential architect in Korea in the past century, Kim Soo Geun had a liking for style and manipulation of structure to create space and to even raise a political or cultural concept (Lin, 2010). With the push of the Park government towards modernisation and Kim’s belief of rejecting purely western models on the one hand and extreme nationalism or patriotism on the other, Korea, especially the city of Seoul, underwent a huge change in the cityscape thanks to a shift of focal point to mega structure and modern urbanism.
In 1960s and 70s, the concepts of urban architecture and functional programming ideas were greatly influenced by Le Corbusier and Team X’s theories, of which the three main architects involved in the Sewoon Sangga design, including Kim Soo Geun, were also fascinated by those foreign urbanism ideas. When they first started the project, they were very enthusiastic about it and believed that it would be a significant piece of urban architecture in Korea’s modern architectural history. They had emphasized a few important concepts and one of which are the creation of building blocks. They regarded the building block as a small urban unit that consisted of diverse functions to meet commercial, residential ad traffic needs, By providing these elements within a compact area, they defined the block as a functional, self-sufficient URBAN COMMUNITY UNIT that then works with other blocks in the area. And this urban community unit was actually coming from Le Corbusier’s concept applied in Unit d Habitation which Frampton claimed as, “Uniting its 337 dwellings with a shopping arcade, a hotel and a roof deck, a running track, a padding pool, a kindergarten and a gymnasium, the Unite was just as much of a ‘social condenser’…” (Frampton, 1992)
Apart from the rise of urban blocks, the idea of the linear connection throughout those blocks also shared similar concept with CIAM’s notion of urbanity, especially that of Alison and Peter Smithson. The Smithsons’s idea for their Golden Lane Housing competition entry (1951-52) proposed a radical solution to the urgent need for mass housing. According to them, the street has been ‘invalidated’ by the motor car, so the Smithsons designed their street decks as ‘equivalent to the street form for the present city’, like what Korean architects did in the design of Sewoon Sangga. Kim and other primary architects utilized the ground level from through traffic and parking spaces and they expected the third level to form a 1km-long commercial pedestrian street by providing an elevated deck. Through this connection, they pursued interlinked super blocks as a form of modern urban architecture that would accommodate diverse urban functions.
Still, at the same time, Kim had paid an effort to adjust those Western ideas to better accommodate Korea’s reality as he did not believed in purely western models. In the design of Sewoon Sangga, the architects provided more building depth on the upper levels above the fifth floor where they installed elevated land. They aimed at providing more space for the private layer and the minimum psychological enclosure for the commercial areas facing an elevated pedestrian deck on the third level with the upper level providing a less public residential layer. And under of influence of foreign urbanism and the adjustment for locality, in the end, Sewoon Sangga had become a new prototype for urban development in the 70s (Yoon, 1997).
Lin, Z. (2010). Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement: Urban Utopias of Modern Japan. Routledge.
Kenneth Frampton. (1992). Modern Architecture” A Critical History. Thames and Hudson.
Yoon. (1997). Seung Joon. Architecture in Urbanism. Gan Huang Media.