SEOUL/ Walkability as New Modernity: Treatment of Infrastructure as Historical Artifacts

According to the joint report [2] – Turning and Overpass into a Forest: Seoullo 7017, done by The Seoul Institute and Centre for Liveable City Singapore in 2018, the Seoul Station Overpass and other overpasses are “regarded in the 1990s as an ugly monster that ruined the urban landscape”. There were also “safety concerns [with the] increase in traffic caused the structure to deteriorate”. Therefore, the current Mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon, promised in the 2014 re-election campaign that he would create “a highline park in Seoul Station”. This decision shows the government’s favour towards pedestrian-use over automobile-use.

Different from the Cheonggyecheon Project done by former Mayor Lee Myung-bak, where the old infrastructure was torn down; we argue that  Mayor Park regarded the aged Overpass as an historical artifact and used “surgical way” repair it. This shall be explained in terms of what has been done to the “artifact” and how is the project described.

First of all, similar to a historical artifact, the Seoul Station Overpass is regenerated by conservation. Though the original structure has been diagnosed as Grade D, which refers to as “insufficient” under the “Special Act on the Safety and Maintenance of Facilities” [1], the government has chosen not to tear it down, but only repair and act on the existing structure. Image 1 [3] below is a catalogue of facilities that have been added to the highway, they are all drawn as individual plug-ins that could fit onto the highway flexibly, and are all small-scale when compared to the Overpass. Image 2 [3] that follows provide an overview of how these facilities, escalators, lifts and stairs are all added to the overpass without changing much of its primary form. This way of encouraging walkability without destroying the existing infrastructure promotes the government’s attitude towards respecting history, preserving historical artifacts and learning from failure instead of rejecting it.

Image 1: MVRDV’s catalogue of facilities – tea cafe, sun deck, street market, flower shop, street library, fountain, LED floor, observatory, street exhibition, green house
Image 2: MVRDV’s official image of the Seoul Station Overpass as Seoullo 7017 – the form of the overpass is still clearly seen, with plants and other amenities as intervention

Last but not least, various studies have described the project from a historical preservation perspective. In the joint study mentioned above, the preservation of the overpass is written as preserving “a historical and cultural asset” [2] ; likewise in a study carried out by Southeast University, the project is said to be a “preservation plan [that] has left traces of history” [1] . It is reasonable to conclude that  on one hand, walkability is promoted; on the other, a nation that respect history is also presented.

References:

  1. Hong, Yan. “Actual Condition of Seoullo 7017 Overpass Regeneration Project Based on Field Surveys.” Frontiers of Architectural Research, vol. 7, no. 3, 2018, pp. 415–423.
  2. NA. “Report: Turning an Overpass into a Forest: Seoullo 7017.” The Seoul Institute and Centre for Liveable Cities Singapore, 2018, www.clc.gov.sg/docs/default-source/reports/bc-2018-06-turning-an-overpass-into-a-forest-seoullo-7017.pdf.
  3. NA. “Seoullo 7017 Skygarden.” MVRDV Project, www.mvrdv.nl/projects/seoul-skygarden.

4 Comments on “SEOUL/ Walkability as New Modernity: Treatment of Infrastructure as Historical Artifacts

  1. I appreciate the way the overpass was conserved by “preserving historical artifacts and learning from failure instead of rejecting it.” Not only does Seoullo 7017 serve as a tool to promote walkability, it also represents history in an architectural way. I am particularly impressed by the new facilities that have been added to the highway such as tea cafe, street market, and street library, successfully transforming “an ugly monster that ruined the urban landscape” to a vivid and activated public area that encourages walkability.

  2. As an important symbol of modernization of Seoul as mentioned in a previous article, I find it gratifying how the government has chosen to improve on the existing Overpass instead of replacing it with a completely new infrastructure. However, the key to the success of the new Seoullo 7017 would turn to how the individual plug-ins connect with the city and its urban fabric in its connection with the bridge. The focus turns from the considerations of a comprehensive plan to examining smaller scale structures with the urban condition. It would be interesting to consider the possibility of these small facilities being removed or changed in location along the walkway to constantly adapt to the changing conditions of the city.

  3. In many of the adaptive reuse cases concerning historical architecture, plug-in system has been introduced as an intervention tool to update user experience while keeping the original structure intact, in the

    • In the case of Seoullo 7017 however, I’m wondering what is the historical value of the original overpass so significant that it’s better an option not to demolish it as interventions limit the possibility of any radical change. Is there any backup proofs other than its own image of respecting history on the government side proving demolishment is unnecessary ?

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