Jamsil District Apartment and Middle-Class Dream (Pre-88 Olympic / 1976-1986)

(Estimated reading time: 4 minutes)

Jamsil apartment boom from 1976 to 1986 arguably was only possible by the 3-lows: low oil price, low interest rates, and low exchange rates from the stagflation during the 1979 Second Oil Crisis. Jamsil apartments and the middle-class dream of South Koreans coincided with the oil shock, where oil market reactions and economic recession decimated the number of Saudi Arabian construction projects available for South Korean companies. Majorly-hit gulf countries and the United States saw steadily high unemployment rates and broken supply chains. South Korean Chaebols, particularly the founder of Hyundai corporation Chung Joo-Young, reacted to the recession by lobbying the 1988 Summer Olympics bid with other Korean ambassadors to the International Olympics Committee (IOC). Seoul won the bid and the press dubbed it the Baden-Baden Miracle (바덴바덴의 기적). Chung’s Hyundai corporation undertook construction projects in Jamsil district in preparation for the Seoul Summer Olympic. Manpower and equipment idling in Saudi Arabia were brought back to the country for the Jamsil housing and infrastructure constructions.

This essay focuses on Jamsil’s mass housings, the Danjis, through the Olympic Athlete Village Apartment Danji and Jugong Apartment Danji, and dissects the unique socio-economic imperatives during the Olympics fever.

Apartment Danji in Jamsil district was the embodiment of upward mobility, characterized by the new urban bourgeois. Danji (단지/团地) refers to campuses of apartments usually equipped with Sangga (상가/商街), often linear-form commercial complexes harboring eateries, convenience stores, and prep-classes. Living in Danji is a social concept rooted in Korean society, but the diction was popularized by Japanese Danchi, typically referring to mass public housings built in suburban areas. Korea National Housing Corporation (now LH corporation) rebranded the Japanese Danchi typology in new river-south districts of Seoul, including the newly-reclaimed Jamsil land.

Apartments in Jamsil district became the icon for “standard housing”. Housings meant more than simple shelters for the public’s echo-chamber – it was train ticket for upward mobility and promised basic survival in the aggressively-modernizing Seoul.

The spatial distribution of commercial facilities in Jamsil’s apartment Danjis is significant because it marks the advent of a new Danji-Sangga type. Learned from modern housing types in the West, shops in early 70s Korea were placed on the ground floor of apartment buildings. Since the late 70s, separate commercial complexes were built in a linear form along the Danji’s major streets or in a radial form in the center of the Danji. Jamsil Olympic Athlete Village is a prime paradigm for the combination of both types, where the major radial-form sangga is located in the center of 3962 units and multiple linear-form sanggas placed adjacent to major roads inside the danji.

The Olympic Village apartments were equipped with a shopping complex, cultural amenities, and parks that provided for convenient lifestyles. The sizes of these amenities are built in sizes according to neighborhoods and the frequency of uses they predicted. This large living zone was a self-contained urban system equivalent to a large city. These apartments for athletes and journalists during the Olympics were sold as permanent housings after the event.

Olympic village was designed by Woo Kyu Sung who worked closely with Josep Luis Sert and Oswald Nagler after he obtained an urban planning degree from Harvard (see Post-War Lineage). The apartment’s duplex units are the catalyst for the trend of larger apartment units since 1988. These apartments rendered new ways of living, attracting the affluent and the elites, opening new possibilities for western delicate finishing inside a modernist exterior. The Olympic Athlete Village was the first apartment danji to implement underground parking system. Before the surge of demand, the high cost for underground parking spaces and insufficient technology to implement them in large scale prevented developers from using the system.

Jamsil District Comprehensive Plan 1971 displays the influence Neighborhood Unit Theory had on apartment Danji designs. Housing design looks at two types: Yeonlip Jutaek (연립 주택/联立住宅) which are Korean townhouses, and another is Joongch’ng Apat (중층아파트/中层apartment), referring to apartments with 6-8 floors. Reinforced concrete structures replaced brick masonry constructions for the apartments and allowed taller structures. Of the two paradigms of middle-class in Jamsil, the Jugong Apartment have relatively inexpensive, smaller-in-size apartment units. The full name for the Jugong apartment is Jutaek Gongsa (주택공사 住宅公司) apartment, where Jutaek Gongsa is referring to the public company Korea Land and Housing corporation. Jugong apartment danjis were built in five phases. Some danjis have substantially taller apartments than others even though they are built 5 years apart from one another. These apartments were flooded with demands as they showcased increased sanitary conditions and units having spatial hierarchy fitting Korean living style.


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