Seosomun-bakk Historic Site | Honourable Mention
The Seosomun memorial site, despite its overwhelming historical importance, is today a derelict urban area. Traces of martyrdom are hardly visible, as they fail to engage visitors to the site unless they "stumble" - often almost incidentally - on the monument. Its use as urban park is very weak, despite being a rare resource of green space within Seoul's congested city center.
To evoke a memory requires, in our opinion, a strong engagement of the visitor at all levels. Statues, symbols, or objects alone cannot achieve this: it is necessary to create a particular setting, capable of inspiring in the visitor a specific mood.
In our project, we wanted to achieve a similar, powerful effect. Inside the Memorial park we have designed, there are no specific objects to evoke the memory of Seosomun's tragic history of martyrdom. We have enshrined the entire site with a dense forest of trees, so that visitors entering the park have to leave the city behind them. No clear path is laid out, and each person is invited to carve an own way of crossing the park. The vegetation of trees and shrubs opens and closes, and the ground eventually leads visitors on an ascending route, where the body itself tells us of the change taking place in the terrain.
Then, once the top of the artificial hill is reached, the trees suddenly open up in a large, circular clearing, which is the heart of the Seosomun park. An empty space, open to the sky, devoid of any high vegetation and, differing from the rest of the park, with a very exact geometrical shape, the "imprint" of a gigantic sphere. Yet whatever has left the trace is now gone, it is no longer visible: but the mark is indelible, it is there to stay. The same happens with memory: even long after the historical events have passed, the imprint of the suffering and pain remains, for all generations to come.
The gigantic "lens" inhabiting the center of the park therefore wants to play out a double role: to be a bearer of meaning, signifying the presence of the past, inspiring awe in those who arrive at it meandering through the dense forest, and to provide a large open space, which people can freely use throughout the year. For memory must not be preserved as if it were dead: it must be living, and we feel that by inviting visitors to freely inhabit the lens-shaped heart of the Memorial, they will be more welcomed and establish a stronger link with the history of Seosomun. The lens is also to be used to hold outdoor celebrations, with the officiant occupying the center of the circle with a movable altar.
The park lies above a large artificial hill, shielding the green space from the bustling city around it. A part of the currently existing underground parking spaces have been preserved: they are now covered with the new green area. The parking located on the South side of the site is replaced with the new Memorial church, facing towards the urban plaza hinging Seosomun park with the nearby train station.
Access to the park can take place at several different spots. On the North and West sides of the site, entrance is possible directly from street level. From the plaza, a stairway leading off the North-east corner allows visitors to directly reach the highest point of the park. This stairway then connects to a comfortable paved path, crossing the park in North-south direction, and guaranteeing universal accessibility even to disabled users. Throughout its extension, the path is protected by a portico, catering to several functional needs: it screens the park from the noise caused by passing trains, it shelters technical equipment for the underground structures, and offers shelter from sun and rain to passing visitors. The park is not gated, and it can be accessed around the clock.
We have carefully studied the species of plants to be used in the park. Preference was given to Korean autoctonous trees and shrubs, such as the dogwood (Cornus alba) or the Coral-bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'), both of which have a distinctly red color for bark and flowers, and would therefore provide brilliant contrast against a snowy background in winter; or the Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and Black cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera 'nigra'), both tress typically found in many Korean parks and gardens. In some areas of the park, bamboo groves are planted (Yellow-groove bamboo, Phyllostachys aureosulcata), providing a visual barrier helping define the path of access to the "lens" without marking the ground too distinctly. Japanese red pines are also used in various spots of the park.
Besides creating an aesthetically pleasant landscape, many of the selected plant species possess a symbolic value connecting them to religious spaces, and have often been used in connection with Christian holy sites. Furthermore, all plant species chosen are suited for rigid climate, in order to resist Seoul's intense winter cold.
The plaza we have designed is a distinctly urban space with a strong monumental character. Its main floor level is located 4 meters beneath street level, helping to bridge the different heights found in the site. The plaza can be accessed through wide sequences of stairs, which can also be used as seating areas. At the North end of the plaza rises the imposing mass of the church's main elevation: a powerful mass of concrete, modeled to resemble a rocky cliff, but at the same time clearly devised to be recognized as the work of Man. The huge wall rises from the ground and bears on its top the trees in the park, as if a large tectonic plate had emerged to create the new urban plaza. The pavement, in gray Korean granite, provides an appropriately resistant treading surface, also connecting the new space with the urban identity of Seoul's streets and plazas, which are paved with the same material.
The rocky mass is split in two parts at its centers, and the narrow slit leads visitors into the new church. In order to enter the building, it is necessary to traverse the strong mass of the wall, leaving behind the light of the day and slowly entering into the church's semi-darkness. Upon entering through this narrow tunnel, visitors are struck by the unexpected largeness of the church dome, whose single opening allows light to stream into the sacred space from the park above. As in Rome's Pantheon, a connection is established between the Heavens and Earth, and light vehicles the link between these worlds.
Precious materials adorn the church: gold leaf for the perimeter, polished concrete with inset lights for the dome. The altar lies at the center of the space, and all participants to mass sit around it. The perimeter wall is punctuated by several openings, all well-aligned with the dome's geometry: these lead into the church's accessory functions, such as the chapel, the baptismal font, and the sacristy. All spaces obey to the circle's geometry, and are carved into the square footprint bordered by the Martyrs' museum.
At the same level of the church lies the museum's main floor. Its exhibition spaces are organized in sequence to lead visitors through a path culminating in the Memorial hall. In order to enter this space, the visitor will have to descend a further level underground, and enter a dark, impressive spiral which inherits its geometry from the above-lying church. Circling within the Memorial, the visitor experiences the dramatic power of the underground space, with its scarce lighting, pulsating walls, and sudden openings towards the central point of arrival. Here, light takes up the scene, as the Memorial hall's ceiling is covered by a luminous sheet of translucent material lit from the backside, thus imbuing the space with a soft white glow, symbolic of rebirth after death.