Sewoon Sangga/ Beginning of the Modern Korea

In the 20th century, the population of Seoul once raised from 3% to 80% of that of the country of Korea. The housing, public health and social problems associated with rapid population growth, along with the influences of previous wars such as the WWII and the Korean War, pushed the country to develop in a more efficient and modern way, which was also when the aggressively modernisation-minded government of Park Jung-hee started to build numerous modernised projects and structures around the country.

Seun Sangga as one of the main buildings in Seoul, Seoul Museum of History 2014, 58
Seun Sangga as one of the main buildings in Seoul, Seoul Museum of History 2014, 58

After its independence from the colony, Korea still had its urban planning influenced by the “Japanese legacy in planning culture, systems of approach, and urban form” (Jung, 2014). In the 1960s Oswald Nagler and the Housing, Urban and Regional Planning Institute (HURPI) suggested and applied an “interdisciplinary approach to the Korean urban situation and made substantial efforts to apply and localize Western planning principles in accordance with the Korean context, and educated young talented individuals” (Jung, 2014). Park Jung-hee once mentioned in his speech in 1962 that “taking collective co-modern lifestyle by moving away from feudal lifestyle will improve people’s lives and cultures”. This was also when radical transformations of central areas of Seoul occurred with block-based massive projects such as the Kwangjang Sijang, Pyounghwa Sijang and the Seun Sangga. It was claimed that the cityscape of Seoul and its surrounding areas were then changed with destructive power and domination of the government as well as the influences of foreign countries and capitalists.

The Seun Sangga, a set of megastructure complexes of housing and commercial units, designed by Kim Swoo-Geun, was an example of pure developmentalism. The kilometer-long linear development, which stretched across blocks and blocks of downtown Seoul, synthesised the changing conditions of postwar Korea. It was built in 1966 when Korea was undergoing the process of modernisation which was greatly supported by the government and different social groups, with the aid of foreign urban planning philosophies and technologies. With the initial concept of “city within a city”, the complex contained first-class apartments and was a experimental projects that strived to suggest new ideas and to bring solutions to Korea at that time. Upon the first few decades of the completion of the construction of the project, the Seun Sangga was a symbol of the fast growing economy of postwar Korea as it was able to attract investors and boost consumption in the district. Other than its cultural and conceptual meaning, the complex was also a symbol of modern Korea because of its use of cutting edge technologies. Glass atria and advanced transportation and circulation system were used to connect all the blocks of the complexes. Together with the use of expensive building materials and ornaments, the Seun Sangga was once a symbol of luxurious living environment and was also a symbol of Korea going through the process of modernisation postwar.

Colin Marshall. (2016). Finding a New Seoul in the Old Buildings of Kim Swoo-geun – BLARB. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from
Jung, S. H. (2014). Oswald Nagler, HURPI, and the Formation of Urban Planning and Design in South Korea: The South Seoul Plan by HURPI and the Mok-dong Plan. Journal of Urban History, 40.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.