Monday, May 21, 2018

Riding along 'horizontal verticals' in Magok District (Part II)

This is the second part of my focus on Magok District:
    1. Framing Magok (Part I - Location)
    2. Magok's horizontal verticals (Part II - Cluster)
    3. Magok's lifespace (Part III - Environment)


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2) Magok's horizontal verticals

In the first part we saw how, by its simple location and connectivity, Magok District enjoyed key assets for a business hub. In the third one, we'll see if its environment can, as advertised, attract researchers and creative minds. Here, we'll focus on the innovation cluster promise.

The signature used in recent advertorials sounds familiar, and as usual with previous Korean projects sharing similar ambitions in the past, 'Korean Silicon Valley Magok' ("한국의 실리콘밸리 마곡") is supposed to create a haven where big fish and small fry cohabit. But as usual, chaebol struggle to envision innovation clusters beyond proprietary ecosystems, which can become a major hurdle for diversity and creativity (see "Redrawing Korean Maps - Innovation Clusters").

Magok doesn't aim at aggregating value around business 'verticals' like the Sangam DMC, conceived as the name suggests for media and entertainment, or even Songdo, when it was desperately looking for a way to reboot and better market itself. Here, we're into 'convergence and fusion technology', more in the Pangyo Techno Valley vein, but with a stronger industrial - manufacturing touch.

As the first big fish to sign for this former swampy rice paddy area, LG Group set the tone for 'convergence and fusion', pooling Research and Development teams from key subsidiaries (LG Electronics, LG Chem, LG Display...) in its LG Science Park complex (18 buildings, capacity of 25,000 employees) to better tackle such challenges as robotics or A.I.. Similarly, Lotte Group is looking for new synergies between Lotte Food, Lotte Confectionery, Lotte Chilsung Beverage, and Lotteria...

Should we dub this higher stage of chaebolism 'horizontal verticals'?


Clockwise, the site of Tadao Ando's future LG Art Center / LG Science Hall, LG Science Park's ISC (Integrated Support Center), Kolon One and Only Tower.
LG Science Park Integrated Support Center (www.instagram.com/p/Bi8rK-slfWJ)

LG also provides the neighborhood with a cultural venue designed by Tadao Ando. The new LG Art Center will open in 2020 on Magokjungang 10-gil, across the LG Science Park and next to the park itself. The group will operate the theater for thirty years before offering it to Seoul city.




It's way too early to judge this new ecosystem, particularly since, like in the DMC, small players are supposed to join after the big ones. Urbanism and architecture can give us clues about the potential, though. For instance, LG Science Park can look like series of containers from a distance, but many buildings are porous, with atria and green walkways, giving the ensemble a campus-like touch, more open to its surroundings than other, more monolithic centers.

Unlike the actual Silicon Valley, where most companies of all sizes and shapes settled in existing urban or peri-urban environments, this research complex consists of contiguous lots, most of which will be developed by one powerful player. So if you're having a coffee in the Eastern half of Magok District, chances are it will be in a building owned by one of those, which may alter the way you pitch your startup over a cup of java.



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If Magok District will welcome garage startups, they are not its main target. The aim is to boost innovative research in industries that do have fuzzy edges, but also complex cores and cycles, and it already signed enough significant players to succeed. More will want to join in a site ideally located for logistics and within the capital city, but quality of life will also be a factor. Ideally, Magok's environment must stimulate creativity, but in not necessarily too 'speedy' and disruptive ways. 

Is it likely to deliver? That's what we'll check in our last part of this focus.

 
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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Riding along 'horizontal verticals' in Magok District (Part I)

As we've seen before*, Magok District deserves specific attention as Seoul's last big chunk of undeveloped land (until they decide to chop off all remaining mountains), and one of Korea's ambitious innovation clusters.

If new pieces keep being added every now and then to this urban jigsaw puzzle, recent weeks have seen major developments and PR operations, particularly with the inauguration of LG Science Park by MOON Jae-in, two years after PARK Geun-hye's speech at its groundbreaking ceremony. Of course, since many initiatives in Korea boil down to real estate, a lot of this PR aims at promoting new residences in a neighborhood that's been rather overperforming the market.

Time seems ripe for an update on Magok's narrative, reality, and fundamentals. Could it mark an evolution in Seoul's postwar urbanism (for the big picture, see 'Inhuman, all too human Seoul')? Certainly not a real disruption, since in many ways it remains a classic, zoned Korean 'New Town'. And the focus being on business, let's see how this 'swamp thing' can compares to - or coopetes with? - neighborhoods I've seen rise from a landfill (Digital Media City), the sea (Songdo), or a valley (Pangyo).

Like my 2013 focus on the DMC and Songdo***, I'll slice this one into 3 pieces:
    1. Framing Magok (Part I - Location)
    2. Magok's horizontal verticals (Part II - Cluster)
    3. Magok's lifespace (Part III - Environment)


'Magok's future Seoul Botanic Park' (20180518 - www.instagram.com/p/Bi6Wi5illxo)


***

1) Framing Magok

What better image to help you grasp the scale and level of completion of the 3.6 M square meter Magok District than this recent aerial view?


Magok District from above in 2017 (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

Stretching over Magok-dong and Gayang-dong, Magok District lies at the very heart of Gangseo-gu, which badly needed a center to make better sense. It's articulated around the gu's backbone: its road to Gimpo Airport, Gonghang-daero.
  • To the West: Banghwa-daero, Banghwa New Town, and Gonghang-dong which hosts the airport. 
  • To the North: Olympic Expressway and the Han River
  • To the East: Gangseo-ro (East), and Deungchon-dong. 
  • To the South: the new Balsan District and Gangseo Agricultural and Marine Products Market.



Actually, only a tendril of Seoul Botanic Park - but a most essential one - reaches the Han River. Most of the district remains under Yangcheon-ro, blocked to the West by the Seonam Water Recycling Center, and to the East by Gungsan, a cute hill which I hope will be preserved, along with the village at its feet.

Magok's four defining dimensions were 'industrial', 'business and commercial', 'residential', 'parks and green', with zones clearly visible from the initial masterplan:



Within the district, three main axes have been created to border its 503,000 sqm park:
  • Magokjungang-ro to the West, with Magok Station (Line 5) at the intersection with Gonghangdaero, and Magongnaru Station (Line 9, and soon AREX) to split what's North of it into two even parts. If Gongangdaero is as wide as a highway, Magongnaru area is booming around the relatively narrow winding road leading to previously developed Banghwa-dong. 
  • The much quieter Magokdong-ro to the East separates for the moment two LG research blocks, with Kolon's spectacular One and Only Tower (!) at the interection with the third axis.
  • Magokjungang 10-gil marks the park's Southern border, with LG Science Park on the frontline (obviously, LG's L still stands for Lucky; the early bird did catch the worm).
So this is basically the frame being filled step by step...
' map keeps filling up (ad in my mailbox)' (20141207 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/541499306344448000)
 ... its central park still missing, but continuously advertised as a key asset:


***


Keep in mind this brief framing of Magok District when we move on to its business purpose (Part II) and living environment (Part III). It already reveals precious advantages:
  • a simple, compact, and flat map
  • seamlessly integrated to its urban vicinity, unlike Songdo, or even Pangyo (highway) and the DMC (railway). As you know, I value "urban continuity" as a key factor of success.
  • even if it's located in the capital's far west, Magok District is very close to the airport (a clear advantage over Pangyo for instance), but also directly connected to the historic center (Gwanghwamun via Line 5), and to key business hubs (e.g. Yeouido, Yeongdongdaero via Bongeunsa Line 9). When AREX opens at Magongnaru Station, the synergies with DMC and Guro Digital Complex, both one stop away, will be even easier.
  • in spite of the Olympic Expressway, Magok provides a unique corridor to the Han River, and its park enjoys relatively little competition in a wide radius. Can it bring Gangseo-gu's half million inhabitants closer together, and reach beyond?

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* e.g. "Magok District on cruise mode", "Magok District: SIM City as in "Seoul Intra Muros"? Alleyways as in "Seoul Inter Muros"?", all posts related to Magok District.
** "Songdo, DMC: sequence is of the essence (Part I)", "Part II", "Part III"

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