Seoul / Developing Gangnam with Four Tools(-1990) : 4-1 Entertainment

Note: Gangnam(江南) means the entire southern part of Han river. Gangnam District is the government-appointed autonomous district that includes sub-districts such as Apgujeong-dong, Daechi-dong, and Samseong-dong.


1960s Seoul, especially Gangbuk(江北, north of Han River), was congested. For the even distribution of inhabitants, Seoul City government started to tackle with necessities of living: relocation and new development of apartments, schools, and shops at the previously empty Gangnam(江南, south of Han River). It was part of the first ever masterplan of Seoul proposed in 1966, envisioning a city that brings maximum productivity.

Figure 1 Bird’s eye view drawing of Gangnam District before development (1966.12.5 ) (From Seoul Museum of History Digital Archive)

The government wanted to make sure Gangnam could become an attractive place for people to live, learn, and buy. By 1990, Gangnam did become attractive, but more in another sense: as a place where you can be entertained. It was filled with all sorts of entertainment industries, cinemas, theatres, and nightlife clubs. It was a result of active intervention by the government which viewed entertainment as an important tool of control.

Figure 2 Dotted area: development-constrained area, Hatched area: development promotion area (from 1970.01.13 Maeil Economics)


From 1970 under the approval of Seoul Ministry of Construction, Gangnam had been enjoying the freedom of built-first, approval-after system.[1] Taek-Shik Yang, Seoul City mayor (1970-1974) accelerated the speed of development by permitting unlimited construction of all types of businesses, including hotels and nightclubs at Gangnam, while totally freezing the number of them in Gangbuk area.[2] Next city mayor Ja-choon Ku(during 1974-1978) further hindered the overpopulation of Gangbuk area by imposing a heavy tax on nightlife businesses[3], and banning new openings of nightclubs and cabarets inside tourist hotels.[4]

Figure 3 Advertisement of nightclubs in Gangnam posted on (from left to right) SundaySeoul 517 Edition(1978), Weekly Trend 59 Edition(1970), Weekly Women(1986)


Figure 4 Yeongdong District before initiating Yeongdong District Development Promotion Plan started (from 1971.4.16 Yeongdong-District-2 Status Drawing)

Such contrived one-way development later produced problems in what Gangnam became, but it was not only the procedure that was problematic. What had been laid underneath such reckless development was Yeongdong District(old name of Gangnam District) of Gangnam. Yeouido, another district of Gangnam, was following a specific plan and spatial composition of building government buildings and etc to fulfill the purpose of becoming a new city centre. However, Yeongdong district was left with a rather vague picture of what it will become, other than placing Gyeongbu Highway, which was the most representative election pledge of President Jung Hee Park. [5]



Figure 5 Gangnam showing mix of concrete jungle of apartments, nightlife entertainment buildings, and not-yet developed lands (from 1986.03.03 Donga Ilbo)

On this foundation was the haphazard influx of adult entertainment industry. Thus, the 20 years of Gangnam development resulted in the scenery of apartments mixed with nightclubs and vacant lots in between. It became a city that wakes up at night. Apgujeong-dong among Yeongdong District can be looked at as a representative cross-section of such phenomenon. Four-to-seven-storey-high buildings filled with eating and drinking stores were embedded within housing district that was sharing one street with big New Hyundai Apartment complex. Kwanglim Church and Apgujeong Cathedral buildings were under the siege of light from neon signs and noise of shops touting customers.[6] Apgujeong greeted an influx of businessmen travelling across Han river to escape from the restraints of Gangbuk to enjoy the newly-built nightclubs bars.[7] Residents of Apgujeong were left with a burden of rapid over-development imposed onto an undeveloped plan of Gangnam that mainly focused on its commercial function.[8]

Figure 6 Photo of cars going to Gangnam on the Third Han River Bridge (taken at 8pm)
(from 1982.10.21 Kyung Hyang Newspaper)


[1] “Basic Guidance to deal with Capital City Overpopulation” p. 982. Seoul Ministry of Construction, 1970.

[2] “Relocation of hotels and nightclubs Not Allowed (for Gangbuk).” Donga Ilbo, February 08, 1972.

[3] “Difficult tasks faced by City Mayor.” Donga Ilbo, September 02, 19757.

[4] “Ban on nightlife facilities inside tourist hotels.” Kyung Hyang Newspaper, December 19, 1975.

[5] 50 Years of Urban Development Policy of Seoul : Yesterday and Today. Seoul Institute. 2016.

[6] “20 Years of Seoul Gangnam Development, Vanished dream of once-countryside city (1) Area with a prosperous nightlife that wakes up at night.” Donga Ilbo, March 03, 1986.

[7] “Gangnam’s New Cultural Landscape (2) Nightlife Entertainment Industry [2] Great Escape through the Third Han River Bridge.” Kyung Hyang Newspaper, October 21, 1982.

[8] “My District New Years Plan (1) Gangnam District.” Donga Ilbo, January 05, 1979.


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