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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How Naruhito exposed Trump's ego trip, and Abe's agenda

Donald Trump will probably remember his State Visit to Japan as a triumphant ego trip: we saw him play golf with his favorite losing partner Abe Shinzo, lift the first ever President Cup (designed for him: YUGE, sumo-sized), become the first Foreign head of state to meet the new Emperor... but what I will remember forever is The Naruhito Statement.

Not a word, but a silent, immobile stand, that should resonate much louder than it has so far.

For six long minutes, a significant section of his first encounter with Trump, Naruhito left his guest alone. Everything was carefully timed and planned, as the intricate red carpet patterns, and an official's intervention confirm.

So what happened? Donald, Melania, Naruhito and Masako arrive together on a wide podium, where they pause to listen to the national anthems. Then Trump moves ahead, and the other three stop where the official instructs them to, only a few meters after leaving the podium, just to symbolically lead him out. The POTUS joins another, smaller podium, where he listens to a military march, then moves to salute troops, then walks along another red line at the end of which he reconnects with the Emperor to meet civilians.

During these six surreal minutes, Trump is either alone, or accompanied by military staff. The only music playing is military. As if a military parade had been especially prepared for him alone. 

DJT is a Commander in Chief, and the Emperor of Japan should remain apolitical, but the whole process turns the moment into a ridicule, onanic one for the former, and a strong political statement for the latter: what better way to express Naruhito's strong support of Japan's peaceful constitution, against Abe and Nippon Kaigi, who want to destroy it?

In the same immobile move, Naruhito managed to make his guest look like an egotistic dictator, and Abe like a dangerous fool. Simply brilliant.

'Barf bag, anyone? Alt-Right meet Nippon Kaigi

- Donald Trump Abe Shinzo / Shinzo Abe' (20190526 -

'Trump to Abe Shinzo: US-Japan alliance is 'ironclad'. At the personal level, make that 'gold-plated, 7-iron-clad' (20190528 -

As if to nail it even deeper, DJT made the most of Memorial Day by praising a dictator: KIM Jong-un is right to criticize Joe Biden, I'm not bothered by his cute missile launches, and what a fantastic real estate potential you have, Dear Chairman!

'Say, Donald Trump, are North Korea's Concentration Camps the kind of 'prime real estate' you're looking for to lock up migrant kids at the US borders?

Your dictator friend could sure help you find Stephen Miller-friendly solutions to Make Amerika Great Again.' (20190528 -

John BOLTON and his fellow hawks have not conceded yet. And America's recent moves around Sasebo, theoretically meant to control the North Korea - Iran connection, could also facilitate a preemptive strike. The bloody nose scenario remains a tweet away.

One thing is sure: MOON Jae-in is out of the loop, and neither KIM nor TRUMP seem to trust him anymore.

Seoul Village 2019
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PS - from our twitterline (@theseoulvillage):

On the non-march of the Emperor:

'I wish Naruhito could brief about actual East Asia History, not the one he learned from Shinzo Abe / Abe Shinzo & ' (20190526 -

'Surreal military march played for Trump alone on a podium. Ego trip (20190527 -

'Pacifist, apolitical Emperor Naruhito stays away from military while Trump salutes them' (20190527 -

'Kudos to Naruhito for keeping his distances from militarism, turning the parade Abe Shinzo / Shinzo Abe prepared for Trump into  ridiculous ode to a dictator' (20190527 -

'Even weirder on this video, the almost 6 mns Trump was left alone with military march & review (starting around 2:30). Naruhito only rejoined him to meet civilians. A clear message for Japan's Article 9, against ABEIGNomicS / Nippon Kaigi militarism?
' (20190527 -

On the return of bloody nose:

'Bloody nose returns? US getting ready for preemptive strike against North Korea, including bunker buster capacity

(: Sasebo)' (20190526 -

'FYI this bunker buster is meant to bust Kim Jong-un, not to rescue Abe Shinzo / Shinzo Abe when he plays golf with Trump:' (20190526 -

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Switzerland v. Gyonam-dong Alps

Nevermind that dull tower rising over Pyeong-dong, down the hill; the new Swiss Embassy truly was the last missing piece in Gyonam-dong's jigsaw puzzle. How does it fit? Can it add some soul to a lobotomized neighborhood? First impressions after a visit organized on May 15, just days before its inauguration.

In 1974, to build its Embassy, the Confederation purchased a land enjoying a spectacular view over the valley West of Sadaemun's fortress walls, all the way from Namsan to Inwangsan. Over the decades that followed, and particularly the past fifteen years, high rise buildings and apartment blocks have claimed big chunks of it, and 6 years ago the neighborhood was almost totally wiped out to make room for Gyonam / Donuimun New Town and its anonymous towers, destroying priceless wonders in the process (see "In memoriam Samdong Samgeori, Gyonam-dong" ).

The Swiss could have looked for another location, and maybe join such Embassy clusters as Seongbuk-dong or Itaewon / Hannam-dong, but they courageously decided to stay. Well they did move to Hannam-dong though, but only the time to avoid that apocalyptic mutation, and to replace their nondescript red brick lair with something new. Here it is, now facing Gyeonam-dong alps instead of Geumhwasan and Tongil-ro valley:

Photo Erae Architects - Swiss Embassy website

Halfway between Hong Lampa house in Hongpa-dong, and the sanitized* Donuimun Museum Village in Sinumunro 2-ga, the new landmark confirms this section of Songwol-gil as some kind of green and architecturally diverse oasis.

One roof, continuous wings, a central madang... the 2019 Swiss Embassy clearly honors the hanok style, but with a modern, deconstructed twist, and a broken version of the traditional 'ㅁ' or 'ㄷ' shapes:

The open spiral from above (mockup - Burckhardt Partner website)
Logo created for the Embassy inauguration
More an open keyring than a locked up Swiss bank vault, this Embassy wraps you up without cutting you from its environment, providing at the same time intimacy and transparency. The wide windowpanes facing the courtyard enable a dialog between the four wings (multipurpose, chancery, representation space, residence of Ambassador Linus von Castelmur), but the building is also open to its surrounding. Even the metal fence lets you see through. And if some semi-private spaces (cafeteria, living room) display some sort of ceramic moucharabieh, their lace is very wide. The biggest windows point to the sky or surrounding gardens, others direct your gaze to the greenest spots of the New Town, so that you never quite face its dead monoliths.

The outer concrete walls echo modern Swiss heritage, but wood is omnipresent, with epicea ceilings, staircases, slabs, and pilars. The lightness of the roof and structure, boosted by a gigantic sail cast over half the courtyard, could be achieved by the burial of most technical machinery in dedicated basement corridors. We also visited the nuclear shelter, compulsory for public structures of a certain size in Switzerland, but maybe not that irrelevant this side of the DMZ.

This environment-friendly building collects heat from the underground (30+ geothermal pumps), power from the sun, and water from the skies, sometimes in an artistic way, thanks to Lena Maria Thuring's 'Water connections' installation, where metal chains direct part of the flow from the rooftop to hanging stones and surface channels:

The visit was led by architects Nicolas Vaucher (Burckhardt Partner), and Lee In-ho (Erae Architects). Obviously, I followed the former:

Nicolas Vaucher in the madang, the staircase, the cafeteria, the nuclear shelter, the machinery, the residence's garden, the representation's dining room, the cultural section, the entrance.

Six years ago, I thought that all of Gyonam-dong's seven neighborhoods would disappear for good. They will never be brought back, but at least, somehow, part of Songwol-dong continues to exist under a new form.

Seoul Village 2019
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* see my lukewarm review in the "Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017" focus

Monday, May 6, 2019

Twice upon a time in the West

The Minister of Land, Transport and Tourism came up with a new batch of developments for the capital region*, including new public transport projects, and unfortunately more instances of Korea's failed 'New Town' model, at the very moment the country experiences a slump in housing prices, and an oversupply of dwellings. The aim is actually to make sure the prices remain low for a while, which doesn't seem a bad idea, except that in Korea's speculative zero sum game, this necessarily means more losers, and more dead neighborhoods in the short, medium, and long term.

2 'New Towns', 26 small-to-medium-sized developments, 1 BRT, 1 subway line:

Following the first three announced last year (Incheon Gyeyang, Namyangju Wangsuk, Hanam Gyosan - in blue on the map below, which also shows future GTX lines), two more 'Greenfield New Towns'** will be created one kilometer West of Seoul, one on each side of the Han River (in red):
  • Goyang Changneung: 38,000 households in Deokyang-gu, Goyang (Yongdu-dong, Hwajeon-dong)
  • Bucheon Daejang: 20,000 households in Ojeong-gu, Bucheon (Daejang-dong, Wonjong-dong)

In a more acupunctural approach, 26 small and medium-sized residential projects shall add 51,517 households in already developed neighborhoods:


Transports-wise, the government's package proposes two new public transport lines, and road extensions:
  • a 17.3 km-long "S-BRT" line (NB does 'Super - Bus Rapid Transit' mean super dedicated infrastructures for buses?) between Gimpo Airport Station and Bucheon Sports Complex Station, around Gimpo Airport, with connections to subway lines 5, 9, and even 7 (Bucheon Stadium Station). It will also reach Cheongna BRT.
  • a new subway line will connect Goyang City Hall to Saejeol Station (Line 6), and intersect with Line 3, GTX-A, and Gyeongui Line at Daegok Station.
  • A new motorway will connect Baekseok-dong (Ilsan) to the Seoul - Munsan expressway (Gogang, Seoun interchanges).
  • Susaek-ro (already hosting 3 of the new housing projects judging by the map), and Worldcup-ro shall gain layers to cope with a growing traffic towards downtown Seoul as well as towards Yeouido and Gangnam.
Bucheon's new S-BRT line around Gimpo Airport
Goyang's new subway line

The good, the bad, and the ugly:

Overall, if you consider the three announcements made since last December, the State plans to sell 73,000 homes by 2022, 67,000 in 2023, 58,000 in 2024, 61,000 in 2025, and 44,000 in 2026, which may provide more options for affordable housing, but also amplify Korea's oversupply of dwellings. The only clear winner seems to be IKEA Goyang, today an outpost, but tomorrow ideally located to serve the new town.

At least, for a change,...:
  • ... Seoul intra-muros is spared from more of the large-scale New Towns that destroyed so many of its neighborhoods (including the seven buried under Gyonam New Town). 
  • ... a 'Greenfield New Town'** adds some urban continuity instead of pushing urban sprawl further afield: on paper, Goyang Changneung shall better tie Ilsan to the capital.
  • ... transports, including public ones, are better phased and synced with new major developments (new subway, BRT, GTX lines around Goyang and Bucheon new towns, respectively top and bottom):

This remains an absurd case where we add commuting traffic before solving existing problems upstream and downstream. Yes, commuters from the latest new town will reach Seoul faster, but they will slow down commuters from Ilsan's 'older new town', and more cars will flock into Seoul's Western bottlenecks, even if some cosmetic touches are added along Susaek-ro. Urban planners went as far in the irony as to name their concrete monstruosity after the Joseon Royal Tomb*** it will deface.

In this young millenium, any new project should aim at the very least at zero emission and zero increase in car traffic, and this is obviously not the case. I nonetheless appreciate the new public transport lines: the BRT will add some verticality and fluidity across Bucheon, and Goyang will better split its commuters between line 3 and 6.

All this also means that the construction of Seobu Line / Seobuseon becomes even more urgent (see "Seobu Line confirmed as Seoul's LRT top priority"). Just months ago, the project was delayed because SNU wanted to prolong the line further into its campus, and now a boost comes from the other end of the line, the national government speeding up the agenda, and footing the bill for the first 7 stations. Because actually, this new Goyang line constitutes the new beginning of the most defining project for the Western half of Seoul's subway network. Now hopefully, the whole line should be completed by 2026.

On the other side of the Han River, Bucheon will clearly benefit from a denser public transportation network. How the new town will coopete with Magok District or Gyeyang Techno Valley remains to be seen....

Seoul Village 2019
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* see for instance in Today's Chosun Ilbo: "3기신도시 고양 창릉·부천 대장동 등에 11만가구 공급", "새절역~고양시청 철도, 김포공항역~부천종합운동장역 BRT 신설", or in Today's Joongang Ilbo: "집값 다시 뛸라...집값 약세 둔화에 3기 신도시 '기습 발표'" (UPDATE 20190508 "To cool real estate, gov’t plans two new towns")
** as defined in "Wet eyes for wetlands and urban mirages"
*** see "Royal Joseon Tombs Become UNESCO World Heritage Properties
**** and by the way, these latest developments make even more irrelevant the Gangbuk Line project drafted a couple of months ago - see "Gangbuk LRT - Naebu v. Seobu, or PARK v. OH?")

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