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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hoehyeon Apt, Chungjeong Apt, Dongdaemun Apt, Ogin Apt...

They are touchingly ugly, and sometimes dangerous, but we can't help loving them.

They? Seoul's venerable apartment blocks of the first generation, survivors from the sixties.

I just followed Robert Fouser's link to an article* on modern architectural heritage in Seoul, mentioning Dongdaemun Apt (Changsin-dong, Jongno-gu) and illustrated with a mugshot of my beloved "Hulk Building" (Chungjeong Apt, Chungjeongno, Seodaemun-gu). Immediately resurfaced vivid memories of the amazing Hoehyeon Apt (Hoehyeon-dong, Jung-gu) and of other more or less hidden gems.

Chungjeong Apt is certainly not hiding. You can't miss this cult green thing between Chungjeongno Station and K1 REIT Building, with its metal staircase hanging from its temple like a stray lock of dirty hair (what "Hulk" is hiding is the French Embassy, from which the tall trees emerge in the back):

Some of these old timers have been unplugged, most recently Ogin Apt (Ogin-dong, Jongno-gu), at the feet of Inwangsan. And I can't remember the name of that other block, next to the Hyatt, that was wiped out at about the same time as the former Japanese Governor General Building**, but I visited friends there at least once a week, and there were still the small signs preventing people from taking pictures from the windows (to spy Yongsan Garrison?)...

My all time fave remains Hoehyeon Apt, on the other side of Namsan. I even wrote a fiction about it. That place is simply bewitching, and if I were a photographer or a filmmaker I'd probably spend years haunting it. Before being eaten alive by it.

Straight from a cartoon by Miyazaki Hayao on antidepressants (or straight from a M.C. Escher nightmare), the derelict structure somehow manage to hang from Namsan, anchored by scrawny staircases themselves on the verge of collapse. At its inception a model for Korean collective housing, Hoehyeon Apt is an insult to today's standard of living, and was even declared hazardous a couple of years ago.

Hoehyeon Apartment at its brightest
Hoehyeon Apartment - Namsan side
Hopefully, the 'vintage' spirit that has been on Seoul air for a a decade has helped Seoulites reconsider these time capsules, a spectacular and shameful part of their heritage.

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* "서울서 가장 오래된 충정 아파트, 근현대 문화유산 '보류'" (thanks for the link!)
** then the National Museum of Korea. I'm glad both structures are gone now.

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