Sewoon Sangga (1944-1966)/ 3. Complexity of History of the Site

It is believed that the history of the Seun Sangga site could be traced back to the year 1944, when Korea was still under the colony of Japan. The Japanese designated and built a 50 metres wide and 1.2 kilometres long area as a firebreak zone. All existing buildings inside the zone was forcefully ordered to be cleared.The First World War and Second World War were similar in many senses, however, due to a rapid development in the military technology, the Second World War had a more defining characteristics of producing much more extensive damaging power with the massive use of new, high-powered weapons just as aircraft and air-raids.

The Air Defense Act was first promulgated by the Japanese government in april 1937. However, after witnessing the striking power of air-raids of the military aircrafts of the European countries during the outbreak of Second World War, Japan revised and modified the Act in 1941 and the legal ground which enabled the establishment of firebreak zone(s) (fire-containment gap) was provided in this amendment. This forcefully implemented policy was brought up by the Japanese government who just witnessed the huge destruction of infrastructure and urban fabric composed of wooden structures under various bomb attacks of the Allies. As one of their provisions against emergency that might arise since they proclaimed upon the United States and England, the amendment on the Air Defense Act was passed by the Japanese government in November 1941, 13 days before Japan’s famous attack on the Pearl Harbour. The purpose of the amendment was also to arrange a transitional zone to buffer and intercept the spread of fire in case of incendiary bomb attack, especially those which were released in the centre of the cities filled with wooden structures. The shape of the firebreak zones varied from round or square to long linear forms, and such resembled the street and planned square arranged and cleared for the Act. Apart from Seoul, the establishment of firebreak zones was also previously carried out in major Japanese cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe and Yokohama.

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Fig.1 Slum area, Inhyeun-dong (1966)

The clearance of buildings in the Jongyo-Pildong area (Seun Sangga area) began in May 1945. In the operation, a 50m wide and 1180m long area was cleared. However, before the evacuation work was fully completed, Japan was defeated in the WWII and had unconditionally surrendered in August 1945. The firebreak zones (five in total in Seoul) were then left desolate. For a long time afterwards, the sites were not properly organised as the post war Korean government did not have enough capability and resources. Some of the zones were briefly used as thoroughfares and pedestrian walkways. The Jongyo-Pildong area, after various war fares, had been occupied by squatters and refugees.

The Korean government finally announced a competition for a new building design to redevelopment the district in 1958. However, the residents (squatters) claimed that they should be able to acquire ownership of the land and the claim was filed with Seoul and the Department of Treasury. The government had accepted the claim and began to sell the land to residents parcel by parcel. The illegal occupants were given pre-emptive rights but without surprise they were not able to afford the price of the land. Wealthy merchants nearby bought the rights to the land under the names of the squatters to make the purchase legal. The confusion of the ownership and the use of the land in the Seun Sangga site continued until Kim Hyun-Ok was appointed to be the mayor of Seoul, when he then consulted planners and architects to develop the Seun Sangga project.

 

 

Reference:
Ahn, Chang Mo. (1966). Fifty Years of Korean Modern Architecture. Jaewon Press Co.
Lee, J.J. (2006). The Partition of Korea After World War II – A Global History. Palgrave Macmillan.

Image reference:
Son, J.M. (2009). Seoul Metropolitan City.

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