Sewoon Sangga (1966-1976) / 13. Behind Failure: Immature Economic Conditions and Social Conception

Ten years since Sewoon Sangga was built, it was considered the most luxurious apartment complex ever in Seoul and it became the architectural legend. People in Korea at that time seemed to think that a new era with modern living conditions and the modern lifestyle was about to emerge. Still, the popularity of Sewoon Sangga could not last forever. Soon, the living environment at Seun area started to deteriorate. Sewoon Sangga then became a problematic area in Seoul. Despite all ideal initial intentions, the outcome of this modern development did not seem to be as successful as hoped. It does not mean that the idealistic proposal itself was a failure. Instead, Sewoon Sangga was not built as it was originally planned. There were actually eight blocks planned to be built but only four was constructed in the end. And during the construction process, the scheme had been modified subsequently. Rather than criticizing the design concept of Sewoon Sangga, it would be more down to earth to relate those changes leading to the failure to the economic and social context at that period.

comparison of economic index (1966 and 1992-1994), Seoul Metropolitan Government, Urban Planning of Seoul. 1997
comparison of economic index (1966 and 1992-1994), Seoul Metropolitan Government, Urban Planning of Seoul. 1997

By 1966, the last year of the first Five-Year Economic Plan, the economic condition of Korea had just begun to be improved. The population of Korea was estimated to be about 29,4 million including 3.4 million residents in Seoul and the national per capita income has risen to 114 dollars. The number of automobiles in Seoul reached approximately 20,000 (in the year 1993 – 1.8 million) which means one out of 170 people owned a car. Under these improving circumstances, the architects in the urban planning team at that period were then stimulated to do something modern. Most of them thought that they would produce a positive design suggestion for the city’s future and that the urban-scale development project could end up provide an optimistic direction for the nation’s urban development. Yet, the economic conditions and social conception of such development project at that time were not yet fully established. Yoon, one of the architects worked on Sewoon Sangga design, suggested that the idea of this project might have been successful if it had been developed ten years later. It was suggested that such an urban development project was too early for such ideal to be realised. The architects also later confessed that they did not have enough experiences to successfully coordinate and execute the whole planning process of Sewoon Sangga and their understanding of urbanism was limited. However, their experience and knowledge on urban design improved considerably through their involvement in Sewoon Sangga project, which would, in turn, become a strong design  foundation in working on Yoido master plan two years later.

It was suggested that the deviation of the outcome of Sewoon Sangga should not totally fall on the architects. Instead, the municipal authority should take most of the responsibility. First, the municipal authority should have taken the initiative for the development was not able to financially support the project and lost its decisive power of investment and administration. In addition, the construction agents were divided among six companies and followed their own capitalist logic by sacrificing the idealistic proposition that the architects initially suggested. And more significantly, the ideas attempted in Sewoon Sangga overlooked that nation’s economic condition and the citizens’ lift style. Thus, in the end, the program and design concepts of Sewoon Sangga were alienating.


Seoul Metropolitan Government, Urban Planning of Seoul. 1997

Yoon. Seung Joong. Ibid. 1997.

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