Monday, April 15, 2019

Notre Drame bringing back the Namdaemonium trauma

I woke up this morning to the terrifying sight of Notre Dame engulfed in flames by night. It instantly brought back the Namdaemonium trauma, when Sungnyemun burned down (11 years ago, see "Namdaemunium").

Notre Drame 2019 (left), Namdaemonium 2008 (right)

As a Parisian walking by the monument every day when in my hometown, I feared for the worst, but hopefully the cathedral shall not collapse entirely, as Seoul's last original gate did. The damage remains considerable, starting with that amazing 'foret' of original giant beams, gone for good.

Both 'Namdaemun' and Notre Dame had survived centuries, and wars, both were somehow victims of negligence. If an arsonist did ignite Sungnyemun, the site had recently been deprived of human surveillance in favor of CCTVs. We can't tell yet what caused the fire in Paris, it has probably something to do with the restoration under way around the spire (a XIXth century add on). Walking by the scaffolding on the northern side last month, I was surprised to see how vulnerable the working site looked, but how to keep such an architectural marvel behind wraps? 

Ever since the foiled terror attempt to destroy the Eiffel Tower in 1994 (the one that inspired 9/11), I don't look the same way at landmarks I used to take for granted.

More than in our cityscapes, some landmarks are true anchors in our hearts. You know it when they beat faster each time you see them.

Caught in the Seoul traffic with Sungnyemun. That's not a k-pop star: she's much cuter, has better conversation  -

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Seoul Hall of Urbanism and Architecture, Seoul Biennale 2019 Symposium

The day before Mayor PARK Won-soon cut the ribbon with a dozen VIPs (see below), the new Seoul Hall Of URbanism and Architecture hosted a pre-Seoul Biennale Symposium. A perfect occasion to roam the venue, to the notable exception of the exhibition spaces, and key connections to the neighborhood's underground system, which only opened for the official inauguration.

Yes, I'm talking about the 'Sejongdaero' project we followed from its earliest stages, back in 2015, where the old Japanese tax office used to stand:
. "Tear down that tax office" (20150506)
. "Sejongdaero" competition officially started' (20150727)
. "Sejong-daero winner announced" (20151012)

But before exploring this Seoul HOUR, how about a focus on the Biennale and its symposium?



2019 Seoul Biennale and Pre-Biennale Symposium

If the first symposium, held at the Seoul Museum of History in October 2015, questioned even the principle of a biennale (why not a triennale?), this one went as far as presenting the material used to build the stands. A sharp contrast between an exploratory discussion two years before a first edition, and an operational briefing six months ahead of the second.

", , , , , on stage of Symposium " (20151027 -

A new tandem, LIM Jaeyong and Francisco SANIN, replaced PAI Hyungmin and Alejandro ZAERA-POLO at the heads of the bicephale biennale, knowing that, of course, SEUNG H. Sang remains close by, even if this time, he didn't take the mike (cameo apparitions on a few slides, though).

"#Seoul Biennale 2019 Symposium 20190327.
Between #Francisco Sanin and #Lim Jaeyong: #Cho Minsuk, #Armando Hashimoto, #Peter Wilson, #Noura Al Sayeh, #Chon Jaesun, #Alicia Lazzaroni... #Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism #architecture #urbanism #seoulhour" (20190412 -

After 'Imminent Commons', Seoul went for the theme 'Collective City' (announced last December), around the same 4 main axes:
  • Thematic exhibition (curator Beth Hugues): research and propositions around the 'collective city' notion, held in the DDP (Design Exhibition Hall, Design Pathway). Let's see what comes up from the various topics (typology, post-domestic city, mediation, heritage, infrastructures, ecology...).
  • Cities exhibition (curators YIM Dongwoo, Rafael LUNA): I'm excited by the choice of Donuimun Museum Village and its Seoul Center for Architecture and Urbanism for the venue instead of the DDP, where the first edition took place. Mind you, that was a terrific exhibition, and they managed to make it not look like a fair, in spite of the site, but Sinmunno provides the perfect - if challenging - backdrop for a genuine global village, with actual alleyways. Dongwoo already researched innovative mapping axes for the 80 cities.
  • Global studio (curator CHOE Sanki): note the semantic shift from the 'international studios' of the first edition (curated by John HONG, who presented his return on experience). All events shall be concentrated around Seun Sangga (Sewoon Plaza, Sewoon Hall).
  • Live Projects (curator JANG Young-chul): articulated around the concept of market, very relevant in the context of a collective city, particularly since, as JANG reminded us, the '시' in '도시' (city) means 'market'. Two venues: Seun Sangga (Sewoon Plaza, Daelim Sangga), and the Seoul Museum of History.

I presume Seoul HOUR shall also serve as a venue, if not a hub. Anyway, Sadaemun's Jong-ro - Saemunan-ro horizontal remains the biennale's urban backbone. And if you forgot what I'm referring to, I shalt forgive thee, but here's the animated map:

If I'm looking forward this second biennale (September 7 - November 10), this symposium was already worth attending, with stimulating presentations, moments and chats. Special mentions to:
  • Jae-sung CHON's ode to the collective mess (he had me from the start by mentioning Kowloon Walled City and Seoul markets), and his fake news journal to project the reader in the future... that's my vision of urbanism, where you shouldn't sanitize everything, but leave room for organisms to evolve, grow, mutate by themselves. 
  • Peter Ferretto's respect for China's threatened wonders (beautiful project in Gao Bu, Hunan). 
  • CHO Minsuk's updates on Danginri and Bamseom, the rooftop theater of his Seoul Cinematheque. 
  • Alicia Lazzaroni's 'vulnerability as a design' 
  • KIM So-young's 'negociated city' 
  • Erik L'Heureux's lyricism about HCMC's forgotten gems. He saw no connections to Seoul, but I couldn't stop thinking about my dear "Hoehyeon Apt, Chungjeong Apt, Dongdaemun Apt, Ogin Apt..." 
  • John HONG reclaiming preservation as radical, 'Citizen Jane'-style, and LIM Jaeyong musing 'but if it's us vs them, who are we, who are they?'

On the eve of its inauguration, at the new #Seoul Hall Of Urbanism And Architecture for the Pre-Biennale Symposium
Workshop featuring (left to right): #Peter Tagiuri #Alicia Lazzaroni #Klaas Kresse #Kim Soy-oung #Patrick Weber #John Hong #Choe Sanki #Erik L'Heureux #Chon Jaesung #Peter Ferretto #Rafael Luna #Yim Dongwoo
#Seoul Biennale #Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism #서울도시건축프리비엔날레 #SBAU
#서울도시건축전시관 #seoulhour
(SeoulVillage Facebook page - 20190327)


Seoul Hall of Urbanism and Architecture

So we now know how this 'Seoul Chronicle' works, and what its purpose is. From the beginning, I liked the minimalist approach with a focus on connectivity over and underground, the new building subliming surrounding structures: Deoksugung walls, the Seoul Anglican Cathedral, and even the less gracious Seoul Metropolitan Council, whose campanile almost ends up making sense. 

You can reach Seoul HOUR's rooftop from all sides, and face the stream of Sejongdaero as if from a non-scary diving board, with the bulging side of Seoul City Hall in front of you, Gwanghwamun to your left, and Seoul Plaza to your right. If you return to street level, you can also enjoy a panoramic view while sipping a cup of - what else* - coffee.

"Of course, also has a cafe (ground level), and a rooftop view on and (just-above-ground-level rooftop) " (201903

Now in this kind of iceberg structures, you need to dive well below the surface, through 3 underground levels with relatively low ceilings, except in strategic places, and of course for 'VIUM Hall', the huge parallepiped going through all four levels. Frankly, the first impression of this main exhibition space is a bit disappointing: you can reach it directly through a central, monumental staircase that feels somehow like a Seoul subway entrance (yes, as advertised, Seoul HOUR is connected to the Sejongno underground network, which means among others City Hall, and the subway). Furthermore, halfway down, your first glance at the inaugural exhibition (about Vienna public housing) is from above, which makes it look smaller and weaker behind its scaffoldings. Video projections on the wall to your right don't quite make for the big dark void in front of you. I understand the architectural logic to prolong Deoksugung's walls, but from this angle, this corner is really too dark, and not exactly awe inspiring.

But that can be fixed easily; a towering exhibit, or why not an ethereal SUH Do-ho fabric house?

To truly appreciate the hall's volume, this is the best angle, facing lighter structures, the glass connections to the other floors and exhibition spaces, the window towards the street:

" Inauguration with mayor :" (20190328

Here are the 4 inaugural exhibitions: 
  • 'Vienna Model - the past, present, and future of public housing', with a resolutely no-frills museography
  • 'The social role of architecture' (starting with Seoullo 7017, just to make the mayor happy, I presume)
  • 'An-other Seoul', with a 3D map of the capital city reminiscent of the bigger one at the Seoul Museum of History, and an interesting scenario: what if, instead of reducing every year greenbelt areas (see "Land mining Seoul"), urban planners made better use of the sites related to infrastructure, which represent almost two thirds of Seoul's total surfce?
  • 'Documenting the city', curated by LEE Sang-koo, with a focus on familiar lost villages (Sinwol-dong, Sanggye-dong, Geoyeo-dong).

" at () one day before its inauguration, for Symposium. Expo on in , (reminiscent of )... " (20190327

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* for instance City Hall in 2012 ("Seoul Tsunami City Hall, The Other Korean Wave"), the DDP in 2013 (see "Sneak peek inside Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park")
** see "500 m, 80%, 100% urban crappuccino"

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

KIM Soo-chul fast forward

You'd think that would be the perfect day to simply, gently press 'rewind', and then 'play'..., but no, KIM Soo-chul keeps pushing 'fast forward' all the way, because he always needs to project himself toward his next projects.
For the final concert of his return to Hakchon, and on his 62nd birthday, the legend did remind us who and what he is: a great singer, an amazing guitar player, a wonderful songwriter, a multifaceted composer, a producer, a broadcaster, an actor. a genuine artist, and a true star, the kind of sun that brightens your day, makes you laugh or cry along with him.

KIM Soo-chul 20190407 (photos Stephane MOT)
If his hits have rocked and moved generations of Koreans since 1978, Soo-chul is even prouder of promoting gugak long before that was cool (one of his university friends told me that he was actually surprised to see him start with occidental music), and of helping its unique sounds reach new audiences at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 2002 World Cup opening ceremonies, or with original soundtracks (like the one he composed for IM Kwon-taek's 'Sopyonje'). And yes, KIM is also very proud of performing live at the UN in NYC, of composing the delicate KBS jingle, or the cult 'Chikichiki chakachaka' (animation series), which he even played live on Sunday in Daehangno.

His show started unconventionally, with a lecture that was both fun and inspiring, even if he could have reduced the number of illustrations by half and still make all his points - but such is the man and the artist: always willing to communicate, and to share. 

Then came the concert. Did he bring the house down? You betcha. 'Little Big Man''s old band mates cheering from the audience, KIM Soo-chul teamed up with younger talents on stage: just one drummer, one bass, and one heck of a guitar hero, who jammed for a while with young gugak players, before returning to his greatest hits. A musical and emotional overload ending up in tears, before a touching finale: four songs merged into one, simply delivered by a soft voice, discreet strings, and pure melodies.

Happy Birthday, KIM Soo-chul, and thank you again for this very special moment.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Gangbuk LRT - Naebu v. Seobu, or PARK v. OH?

Out of the blue, Seoul Metropolitan Government unveiled a brand new, 24.8 km, 15-station subway line joining Mok-dong (Yangcheon-gu) to Cheongnyangni (Dongdaemun-gu) along the Naebu Expressway, that disgraceful overpass scarring countless Seoul neighborhoods*.

Construction would start as early as 2021, for a project that was not even part of the 10 LRT projects announced for 2025 in 2015 ("Seoul subway to gain 89 km by 2025"). Yet, it would connect the dots between two of them: the Mok-dong Line to the West (Sinwol-dong - Mok-dong), and the Myeonmok Line to the East (Cheongnyangni - Sinnae).


As you well know, I'm all for new railway lines, but all this seems a bit hasty, if not suspicious:
  • such projects usually take years and years to study, and 2021 seems a very aggressive target for starting the construction
  • the route doesn't seem optimized for transportation needs, but happens to be on land mostly owned by the city, which may speed up the process
  • as we've seen before, subway projects are highly political in Seoul, and countless railway projects announced before key elections have been dumped afterwards. Yet as soon as a project actually starts, land value immediately jumps
  • the only date given is the start of the project, and 2021 happens to be the year preceding the next presidential elections
  • this Gangbuk LRT / Naebu Line / Naebuseon could cannibalize, and maybe even kill a major project the city and many partners have been working on for a long while: the Seobu Line / Seobuseon, confirmed as a priority by the city not so long ago ("Seobu Line confirmed as Seoul's LRT top priority")
  • Seobuseon was initiated under former mayor OH Se-hoon who, like his successor PARK Won-soon, hasn't given up his presidential ambitions, even if, for the moment, both are lagging behind in the polls**
  • this new project is supposed to be part of Seoul's third urban railways plan, to be announced later (that's a 10-year plan, last one was for 2015-2025, maybe the plan will be revealed in 2020, but this can't wait because of the elections)
  • ...

This may sound a tad cynical but again, announcements related to subways have always been heavily political (whatever the party in charge), because there's so much at stake at the real estate level, and you know how much that counts in Seoul.


Now, let's have a closer look at this new line. We don't have the details yet, particularly the list of stations, or how the Han River or Bugaksan shall be crossed (doubling Seongsan Bridge and the Bugak Tunnel? under the Hangang?), but we can get a more than general idea.

Comparing the new map (above) to the one featuring the previous 10 projects (see ""Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 1/2)", "Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 2/2)"), and of course the Naebu Expressway, here's my best guess, going from West to East:

  • 'Gangbuk LRT' seems to start from the potential Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital station of the Mok-dong Line (west of Anyangcheon, and Dangsan Station). 
  • it then seems to intersect with Line 9 at Sinmok-dong Station before crossing the river on Seongsan Bridge
  • on the other side of the river, it would certainly meet Line 6 at Mapo-gu Office
  • after that, it probably connects with Gyeongui Jungang Line / Gyeongui Line at Gajwa Station, and Line 3 at Hongje Station, with a couple stations in-between (at least one at the intersection of Jeungga-ro and Hongjecheon, between Yeonhui-dong and Namgajwa-dong, and one at Seodaemun-gu Office)
  • we know that the new line joins the Ui-Sinseol LRT line at Jeongneung Station (Seongbuk-gu), but it would be utterly stupid to spend millions just crossing the mountain like the Naebu Expressway, and leaving Jongno-gu's Pyeongchang-dong valley completely off Seoul's railway grid. I would rather follow the road (Segeomjeong-ro / Pyeongchangmunhwa-ro), and add one station right before Inwangsan (in Hongeun-dong), and a couple in the valley itself, for example***: 
    • one at the feet of Sangmyung University Seoul (Hongji-dong at Jahamun-ro), or at the Sinyeong-dong Samgeori (Segumjung Elementary School at Jinheung-ro)
    • one or two at the intersection with the roads leading uphill (e.g. at Pyeongchang 20-gil)
  • so far, between Mok-dong and Jeongneung, we have listed 9 to 11 stations, which leaves us 4 to 6 until the end. Judging by the map, I could add up to 5 existing stations: on Line 4 (Gireum Station), Line 6 (Wolgok Station, Korea University Station), and Line 1 (Jegi-dong Station, Cheongnyangni).
The main advantages would be to cover two big holes in Seoul's subway map: central Seodaemun-gu, and Pyeongchang-dong, and to add horizontality where it could make sense. But the Seobu Line is far better designed for the needs of Western Seoul, doubling the Naebu Expressway would demand disproportionate investments, and there are probably far smarter horizontals to build.

Of course, the fact that many cars use an urban highway doesn't mean that many citizens would take the same route by subway. Fundamentally, this top-down project doesn't seem fully thought through. I hope Seoul has a more serious and comprehensive plan to not only fix these two holes, but also pave more cleverly the (rail)way for the removal of the city's embarrassing elevated expressways.


Anyway, even if this project fails, and even if Mayor PARK fails in 2022, he still can run another marathon: Seoul has just been confirmed as Pyongyang's sister city in the bid for the 2032 Olympic Games (little suspense there, Busan didn't make much geographical sense):

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* most dramatically in the charming Hongjecheon valley (see "Along Hongjecheon, my way or the highway")
** in a mirror fashion, Prime Minister LEE Nak-yon leads against Seoul Mayor PARK while former PM HWANG Kyo-ahn leads against former Seoul Mayor OH (including in the race for LKP leadership later this month, with a vote expected during Trump-Kim Summit II in Hanoi):
2022 poll (JoongAng Ilbo): liberals LEE Nak-yon, RHYU Si-min, PARK Won-soon, conservatives HWANG Kyo-ahn, OH Se-hoon, HONG Joon-pyo (20190103 -

*** that's what I had in mind in the 'second circular line' project mentioned in my comment dated "August 20, 2013 at 6:00 PM"

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Gwanghwamun Square 3.0 re-Deep-Surfaces

Seoul recently* unveiled the winning concept for Gwanghwamun Square renovation, and 'Deep Surface' confirmed the hopes and worries we shared in April last year (see "Gwanghwamun Square Enters Third Dimension"). As expected, things are also getting political. The good news is that the debate will continue more publicly until the end of this year. Work is still supposed to start next year, and the goods to be delivered in 2021, ahead of the 2022 presidential elections.

1) Everybody's happy...

'Deep Surface' was bound to please key members of the jury, starting with Dominique Perrault, who probably appreciated the major role played by underground structures... and maybe this new slope as an homage to his iconic Ewha ECC:

Landscape architect Adriaan Geuze (West8) certainly fell for this spectacularly lush Amazonian canopy, owed to a rendering artist who obviously projected us around year 2175, when the newly planted trees reach maturity:

If you miss already Gwanghwamun Square's vast stretches exposed to Seoul's merciless summers and winters, stand reassured, the same artist also offered this more realistic view:

Of course, SEUNG Hyo-sang and YOO Hong-jun remain key jurors when it comes to selecting a project suitable for both the Mayor and the President: the former City Architect is now heading the Presidential Commission on Architecture Policy, and the former Cultural Heritage Administration boss had earlier been mandated by MOON Jae-in to study the feasibility of his campaign pledge, eventually abandoned, to move the presidency out of Cheong Wa Dae.

SEUNG, who oversaw Seoul's shift from redevelopment to urban regeneration, must have enjoyed the focus on pedestrians and citizens, the historical continuum, and the respect of recent heritage. YOO can also be happy: if the Ministry of Culture and Tourism foots one third of the bill (Seoul Metropolitan Government the rest), the Historic Square covers 36,000 sqm compared to 24,000 for Citizen Square.

To better understand the big picture, I recommend to combine the first illustration above (perspective from Gyeongbokgung) with this project map: 

2) ... but not everybody's happy

From the start, this project's key challenges were only 10% about architecture and 90% about urbanism. As I explained before, more than the vertical alterations along Sejong-daero (extension of the square, reduction from 10 to 6 lanes), the main revolution is horizontal, what I called 'The Royal T' being transformed into a crooked Y as Sajik-ro plunges towards the South, suppressing the Western end of Sajik-ro 8-gil, and the tunnel that came with it. Sajik-ro now marks the frontier between two Gwanghwamun Squares: Historic Square (North), and Citizens Square (South).

Again, it's not just the gate that's brought closer to the center, but also the traffic. Again, merging Sajik-ro with Sajik-ro 8-gil means merging transit circuits with neighborhood circuits, and creating new unnecessary bottlenecks. And yet again, what about the bus and bicycle lanes? I'm afraid I have to stick to what I wrote last April: "Unfortunately, like with Seoullo, impact surveys have obviously been eluded in a race to meet electoral deadlines, and authorities chose to worsen traffic situations by not tackling them". Before heralding the future Gwanghwamun Square as the equivalent to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Mayor PARK Won-soon should have learned that for all Parisians, Place de l'Etoile is a symbol for extreme and messy traffic.

I'm not the only one to wonder if every impact is truly taken into account: as soon as the new blueprint was revealed, the authorities in charge of policing and traffic said that they had yet to agree with what's proposed, and a key administration wished it had been consulted for the road cutting through its premises.

If Seoul City is very unlikely to drop the piece de resistance from its master plan, it is also very unlikely that a satisfying solution can be found to the problems it generates. Before the end of this year? Impossible. I wish it could be compensated with public transportation, but even if the GTX A (Unjeong Paju to Dongtan) and Shinbundang Line eventually join Subway Lines 1, 2, 5 in the ambitious transportation hub envisioned, new bottlenecks will severely limit its multimodal potential.

I guess I made my point on this crucial issue, so we can move on. Now shall we further look into 'Deep Surface'?

3) Deep Surface Inside Out

Just a few elements from this very rich and complex project:

  • 2 squares instead of 1: that makes storytelling much more simple. Picture on one side the changing of the guards on Woldae (the ritual stage to be rebuilt in front of the gate), next to the hanok cluster already under reconstruction (next to the Museum of Contemporary History), and on the other side a k-pop concert at the feet of Sejong Cultural Center. Also, it's easier to contain a demonstration on the aptly named Citizens Square, while tourists claim their safer haven by the palace and its museums (not to mention pictures of the landmarks not photobombed by PARK Geun-hye supporters). Of course, there's still that humongous Government Complex ruining Historic Square's narrative and perspective, but you can always say it's a tribute to Sejongno's Yukjo tradition**.

  • In Jeokseon-dong, Jeokseon Hyundai Building seems to be turned into a 'Seoul Metro Museum'. I wonder what the tenants (e.g. Bloomberg, Korea's youth hostels association) think of it.
  • There's a lot of fuss about the potential moving of King Sejong and Yi Sun-shin statues (closer to Sejong Cultural Center), but I'm not a fan of these erections, and to me that's nothing compared to the road mess I mentioned earlier. Note that Haetae statues move back, closer to where they were in Joseon times, but nobody seems to care. 
  • Sejongno Park might at last find some purpose and relevance. 
  • I wonder why Terrace Lawn, the new slope connecting above with underground, doesn't have an actual  slope, accessible for wheelchairs or baby strollers. I hope they'll fix this ASAP.
  • ...

I'm curious to see how Seoulites will roam the space, rediscover Sejongno's Western sides, how 'Gwanghwamun Samgeori' will join 'Sejongno Sageori' in our vocabulary, how History will keep unfolding on Gwanghwamun Square 3.0.

Whatever happens, this will remain Seoul's political and cultural epicenter, and its most defining perspective (Sejongno-Gwanghwamun-Gyeongbokgung-(Cheong Wa Dae)-Bugaksan-Bukhansan).

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' announces new plans for . will eventually have a station, even if it slows the whole 'express' promise. The square itself will, as expected (), be on the side.' (20190121 - 'On the bright side, trees will make the new slope more enjoyable. (For the dark side, see )' (20190121 -

'Reminder: V.3.0 will cause traffic nightmares in downtown . Maybe that's what Mayor meant when he compared the project to ' Plaza...' (20190121 -
** the notorious six ministries. Note that the project still includes a Yukjo Street tribute and its restaurant tradition. Reminds me of that old joke with a mobster telling his staff he went to Sejong Cultural Center last night, only to be asked in return 'which restaurant?' by thugs for whom the name only refers to a foodies neighborhood.

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