Monday, July 16, 2012


Whatever happened to Seoul's concrete paver bricks?

At one stage, it seemed that the whole city would end up covered with them, but they're progressively losing ground to granite or even fancier stones.

Straight or beveled, rectangular or S-shaped, red-orange, green-maesil, or plain grey, concrete paver bricks used to rule over Seoul. Now I almost miss the whack-a-mole routine of workers rearranging the rows with their wooden mallets.

Of course, not all neighborhoods were paved equal. Some kept a charming "out of bed" style, while others would not tolerate the least crack. An army of curators were then sent to fix the damage, their mallets often tearing apart all the surrounding bricks even before they were contaminated. A brand new stretch would soon emerge, pristine, perfectly aligned and dust-free, sometimes for a full minute.

Because bricks were often simply lain on unleveled layers of sand, ranks would break very easily, and minor rains could cause major landslides. Every now and then, you'd see a body lie in the street gutter, wondering if were a suicide or an act of malice (go figure, now that even humans get pushed onto subway tracks).

I used to live in a place where the sidewalk and paver bricks had a Liz Taylor – Richard Burton kind of love story: within one year, they changed five times for the same without apparent motive. No seismic fault line, no utility work, no sumo club nearby.

Maybe a mob godfather lived in the neighborhood. Maybe the paver brick business was controled by the Mafia, maybe local authorities had to commission every year the same job as a goodwill gesture.

Back then, I often wondered how many million paver bricks covered Seoul. Hundreds of millions? Billions? Did anyone even have a vague notion of that number? Was there an administration in charge?

Then it dawned on me: that was it, Seoul itself was in charge! Just like a computer disk needed to be defragmented every now and then to optimize its performances, the city needed to rearrange and move permanently its paver bricks, thus the system of colors. Citizens were unconsciously conscripted to groom the city, to fill its gaps, and to prevent a crash.

And when the sound of mallets drove me crazy, I found consolation in the fact that this defragmentation was still manual. Sooner or later, the whole city would be connected, strong enough to rearrange all by itself terrabits of concrete in bulk, to recarpet hectares of octets at a time. Nevermind the humans, those pathetic bugs bound to get their feet crushed in the process.

Seoul Village 2012
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