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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)


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 (

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.


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.

Seoul Village 2018
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