Sewoon Sangga (1966-1976)/ 12. City Within City

Within the last few decades, Seoul had undergone a phenomenal growth to transform from a pastoral pre-industrial society to one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The rapid development could be traced back to the hope of re-birth of the city and the city planning approaches taken by the government of Park Chung-hee and the mayor Kim Hyeun-Ok in the 1960s.

Recovering from the various warfares and suffering from subsequent economic downturn, Seoul had an urgent need to accept concepts of modern architecture in order to redevelop and put back in track the country. Suggested by the military government of Korea at that time, architects, who were mostly born between 1910 and 1925, were sent to study abroad to gain experiences and to learn new technologies and concepts from other countries to speed up the modernisation progress of Korea. Kim Soo-Geun, one of the most influential Korean architects and the architect of Seun Sangga, was one of the group of post war architects who had a background of professional education under Japanese rule and had studied abroad.

Architecture in Korea in the 1960s was used as a way to express the government’s nationalistic ideology, which, in a way, was similar to the manner of Japan using it as a tool to display their imperialist power. The drive of nationalism and support of the military government created strong social and political motivations for the construction of monumental buildings in the city of Seoul. As one of the more important architects, Kim Soo-Geun had built the Liberty Center as well as the megastructure Seun Sangga to represent national advocacy as well as to solve problems of housing and transportation.

Fig.1 New Shopping Centre

Fig.2 Multi-function complex

In 1967, Space magazine, established by Kim Soo-Geun, published an article of interviews of the three architects who had primarily participated in the design of Seun Sangga. They regarded the building block as “a small urban unit that consisted of diverse functions to meet commercial, residential and traffic needs”. Having these elements packed within the compact area of the site, the megastructure complex could then be defined as “a functional, self-sufficient urban community unit that works with other blocks in the area. In other words, the complex was a “city within city” as it was able to accommodate most of the daily needs of the residents and the users. This idea of “unit”, claimed by Kenneth Frampton, was originated from Le Corbusier’s concept applied in Unite d’ Habitation where “the Unite was just as much of a ‘social condenser’… so the Unite was seen by its author as restoring the dignity of architecture to the simplest private dwelling” (Frampton, 1992, p.227). The Western and Japanese examples of urban planning, as claimed by architect Yoon Seung Joong in an interview, were widely studied and discussed by the architects and urban planners in post war Korea, as the professionals at that time was still young and did not have the opportunity to study and experiment due to various warfares.

Ahn, Chang Mo. (1966). Fifty Years of Korean Modern Architecture. Jaewon Press Co.
Marshall, C. (2016). Finding a New Seoul in the Old Buildings of Kim Swoo-geun – BLARB. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from
Jung. Inha. The Architecture of Kim Soo Geun. Migunsa, 1996.
Frampton, K. (1992). Modern Architecture: A Critical History. Thames and Hudson.

Image references:
Fig.1 Dong-A Newspaper (1967).
Fig.2 Kyuonghyang Newspaper (1970).

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