Seoul: Yeouido// Orthogonal streets as a national image: why Yeouido exists as a grid when the rest of Seoul does not
In 1960s, South Korea became a new-born country and needed to start building its own national image of strength, prosperity, and growth. Seoul, as the capital city, acted as the national emblem and the government started developing the city with one city core. Yeouido was perfect, an island offset on the west of downtown closely connected south of the Han River, it served as an airforce military base for the Japanese colonial army and recently used for the South Korea Air Force. The flat grounds of the island allowed flexible master planning and for the state-sponsored architect Kim Soo-Guen, he planned Yeouido to be Seoul’s next Manhattan.
The streets of Kim’s Yeouido uses a grid system reminiscent of New York City. It allowed simple and easy division the land uses, for the governmental institutions on the east and west ends, the financial core along the east-west axis, then the residential sandwiching the financial core. His master Kenzo Tange’s Tokyo Plan of 1960 gave direct inspiration for Kim’s Yeouido to propose vehicular traffic running through the orthogonal streets while the pedestrian elevated on a deck and services the core. Yeouido would have the bridge expressway intersecting through to connect both sides of the Han River, and the three major intersections would be the location of the mass transit terminals.
Kim’s Yeouido was not implemented because the elevated highways and pedestrian decks were unfeasible and the city government was hesitant to build such a megastructure. At the same time, President Park ordered a large public square in the center of the island intended for large ceremonial gatherings, and Kim’s Yeouido was not compatible with such a square. The Yeouido island we know today kept the implementation of an orthogonal grid, divided well into cultural, educational, business and residential sectors. Park’s “Square” became a green park, a descendant of New York’s Central Park (see related post: Seoul: Yeouido Park// Striving for a new form of modernity in urban planning).
Why does the grid work for Yeouido? This planning method is ideal for such flat geography and the self-containment nature of an island would promote shared energy for the people who use and live on the island, in this case, maintaining the nationalist and emblematic image. The simple and direct roads would remove the alteration in emotional behavior for the driver produced by the vehicle, and the commuting experience would be enhanced as a whole.
When the rest of Seoul was subject to develop in the 1970s, a time where tensions between North and South Korea grew stronger, large residences were built and sewing factories stimulated economic growth and population increase. The city became a metropolis and needed to build more to accommodate the change. The construction of new buildings over a historic fabric of 600 years meant that it could only extend and expand instead of planning. The implementation of the Manhattan grid would mean an authority-level of renovation and the removal of history and ethnic root attachment to the land geography, something that would be against the South Korean ideals. As Rem Koolhaas reviews on his Delirious New York, “The Grid makes the history of all architecture and all previous lessons of urbanism irrelevant. It [forced] Manhattan’s builders to develop a new system of formal values, to invent strategies for the distinction of one block from another.”
It would clean out issues of informal settlements but at the same time, be a devastating conversion when the city was becoming one of Asia’s greatest metropolis.
- “KECC.” The Korean Pavilion – 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Accessed December 15, 2019. http://www.korean-pavilion.or.kr/18pavilion/en/kecc.html.
- Kim, Sun-Wung. 2015. Seoul Solution for Urban Development Part 1. Urban Planning, The Seoul Institute, Seoul: Seoul Metropolitan Government.
- Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York : a Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. New York : Monacelli Press, 1978.
- Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Plan of Manhattan Island” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed December 15, 2019. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/26e27e80-be8a-0131-bf1a-58d385a7bbd0
- Miller, Daniel. Car Cultures [electronic Resource]. Materializing Culture. Oxford ; New York: Berg, 2001.
- Stevens, Quentin. “Shaping Seoul’s Memories: The Co-evolution of Memorials, National Identity, Democracy and Urban Space in South Korea’s Capital City.” Journal of Urban Design 24, no. 5 (2019): 757-777.