Seunsangga City Walk
There is no place like Seunsangga: at least not in Seoul, but neither are there many similar structures elsewhere in the world. Many large complexes elsewhere can equal its size, mass or length, but none has the same peculiar character as Seunsangga: to be a megastructure deeply embedded within the small-scale urban fabric of Seoul’s center.
This consideration is what has guided our project: we are working with a unique building. It is the most important piece of modern heritage in Seoul and in all of Korea. Its character needs to be both preserved and enhanced, restoring it to a condition of full vitality. All this can be done while achieving an important goal: to use Seunsangga as an occasion of better connecting the urban setting at its feet and on its pedestrian deck with Seoul’s mountainous landscape. Seunsangga needs to become transparent.
Why transparency? And what do we mean by transparency? To be transparent means to allow vision to pass through us, to see what happens on the other side, to create simultaneity. An opaque object does not let us see what is taking place at its back: a transparent one, on the other hand, does. In its present configuration, Seunsangga is very opaque: although it was originally meant to provide a lot of open-plan space at its ground floor, an infinite number of small shops eventually saturated this. The east and west portions of Seunsangga are thus largely separated worlds, as are the lower and upper levels. If we do not see beyond the space we are inhabiting at a given moment, we are not invited to explore, to engage further. This is the main reason we want to increase Seunsangga’s transparency: to make the east portion visible to the west, the top to the bottom, and vice-versa. By creating this simultaneous vision, people inhabiting the space will be prompted to explore the space and, in doing so, appropriate it.
The transparency we aim at will be achieved through a number of means. We propose the reduction in number of the shops located beneath Seunsangga’s main body, opening large passages and vistas cutting the building through its depth. We are freeing the building’s heads at the intersections with the main east-west roads, so that people walking on Cheonggyecheon-ro, Eulijiro or Mareunnae-ro will be prompted to cast their gaze towards the interior of the new Seunsangga “system”. Finally, we will be working with transparent materials, such as glass envelopes for the commercial spaces, and for the “stage-boxes” located onto the pedestrian deck at the upper level.
The urban area surrounding Seunsangga on its east and west sides is characterized by an extremely dense and compact urban fabric. The building itself was conceived in such a way as to emphasize the dense nature of Seoul’s center, by bringing the pedestrian deck all the way to touch the façades of the neighboring buildings: these would have provided the shops with a covered arcade. The transformation we are proposing opens up to a double perspective: on the west side, we intend to keep the existing building line, in order to preserve the “1960’s” urban character.
The small-scale retail occupying much of the front will improve as a natural consequence of the regeneration and provide the public realm with a local character.
The east side of Seunsangga, on the other hand, will be opened in a significant way, beyond the thin strip proposed by the design brief. Since existing buildings are to be demolished, we believe that a demolition cannot be done with a “razor knife”, but must respect the structural logic of the city. The small-scale buildings rely one onto the next for support, and eliminating one means endangering the other’s stability. Façades cannot be simply cut away, exposing the buildings’ “innards”. Therefore, we have opted for a wider demolition, which “critically” removes small blocks, freeing up urban space to the line of the closest second-level street. The original fronts are replaced by new buildings, providing commercial spaces and ensuring the quality of the green pedestrian boulevard thus achieved.
Our proposal of demolishing buildings on one side only therefore also follows a practical purpose. In doing so, we are reducing the complexity of the process leading up to the realization, since on the west side no major change to the existing situation will be carried out. The east side will be more extensively modified, but the overall quantity of demolitions will not significantly exceed those proposed by the brief.
Our design aims to instate a greater permeability between the east and west sides of Seunsangga, stressing the importance of the primary roads belonging to the city’s original fabric. The public realm of the building’s ground floor will thus be dedicated to recreating the severed continuity of the urban fabric.
We have carefully studied the species of plants to be used in the green boulevard. Preference was given to Korean autochthonous 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; 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 boulevard, bamboo groves are planted (Yellow-groove bamboo, Phyllostachys aureosulcata), providing a visual barrier helping define the paths without marking the ground too distinctly. Japanese red pines are also used in various spots of the boulevard.