Seoul / Gangnam : The City With Four Tools (1990-2000) 3-5 The Gangnam Style of Architecture

The buildings in Seoul especially in Gangnam are so different in styles. From the distribution of the skyscrapers and low concept stores to overstating residential buildings, the skyline is like a roller coaster track, up and down. Despite the fact that there is a high degree of difference among different functional zoning buildings, when it comes to architectural appearance, there are few urban buildings that are so rich and interesting as in Gangnam. This is a city that can realize the coexistence of long – term value and modern thinking even with a street and alley.

The 117 – meter – high Boutique Monaco, was mischievously drawn out of several cubes, like an eaten cheeses. Gangnam Bogeumjari District Officetel, a combination of hotels and office rooms, has numerous terraces stacked blocks. Even a small building with low cost is not always normal right, but deliberately added to a slope, or dig out several pieces in the cuboid, and construct a strange geometry.

From late 1980s to now, with the completion of the projects funded by large consortiums, Gangnam-gu has become the stage of ambition for many European and local architects. As a typical example, the Jongno Tower by Samsung Group in Bell Road, was designed in 1999 by the Uruguay architect Rafael Vinoly.

The existence of all this kind of strange buildings is not the result of the free creation of the architect, but is related to the strict limit of the building volume rate regulated by the Seoul city government. Building volume rate is an important technical index in urban planning, which refers to the ratio of the total building area to the area of the building land. The higher the volume rate, the higher the utilization of the land, but it also means the greater the pressure on the surrounding urban infrastructure.

Up to 2008, the population of Seoul reached 10.3 million, with 650 thousand in Gangnam-gu. High volume buildings, despite the ability to place more urban population, have made a big discount for the urban facilities and the extent of their livability. After the financial crisis, the government has to put forward a strict limit on the building volume rate. Because the terrace is usually not included in the calculation of floor area ratio, architects usually dig out some parts of the building, build balconies, or build balconies extending outwards in the building to meet the government’s volume requirement and protect the interests of the owners. Gangnam-gu, the highest degree of urbanization in Seoul, is the most densely distributed of these buildings. When they are combined, they form a phenomenon that brings a very fresh sense to the foreign tourists.

Some owners have dismantled and rebuilt the houses to gain more economic benefits and even relax the volume limit. The buildings in Gangnam will also show different forms because of the adjustment of government policies. Therefore, the building of Seoul will be in a continuous change and become an interesting epitome of the development of the whole city and the country. According to the conditions of economic development, the government may adjust the limit of the volume rate from time to time. For example, the South Korean government in 2014 held the second ministerial meeting of economic policy reform, put forward the comprehensive development of Gangnam, Seoul, on the main transport hub facilities, which will substantially relax the building volume of such facilities, land use rate and height limit rate. The government believes this measure will bring new investment of 1.5 trillion won each year.



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  1. Pai, Hyungmin, and Hejung, Choi Helen, Imminent Commons: Commoning Cities: Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism. Seoul: Actar, 2017.

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