Urban Negotiations: Seoul

Yesterday I re-visited a district in Seoul that I had not been to in about five years. Insadong is a historic road that stretches about 1/2 kilometer. It holds the keys to both the history and future of present day Seoul as a pedestrian only experience unlike much of auto-drenched Seoul. Insadong is a coupling of the cities older historic structures with ultra modern galleries, shops and public places. It exists as vibrant evidence that old and new can coexist in the city; still to the debate of some.

What struck me as unusually inspiring yesterday is how seamless 'city' can be. An uncompromising willingness to allow building uninterrupted connectivity with urban street. I found this to be particularly true with the surprise discovery of a new gallery along the central stretch of Insadong. Ssamziegil's silent attraction of numerous visitors appears as a welcomed anchor to this historic stretch of road.

Ssamziegils unassuming form disappears along the street front. A perforated and landscape softened mass opens just slightly to allow pedestrians access to a sheltered center court. A long circuitous corridor with a sloping walk invite visitors to experience the open plan and transparent store fronts that line a central, open atrium. It is reminiscent of the Guggenheim in New York. The experience of space occurs as a spiraling upward climb, similar to the viewing experience of the Guggenheim, where one follows a singular spiraling path upward to experience the art collection.

The climax of path and space terminate at the top with a partially landscaped roof and a series of outdoor and indoor cafes. The separation between what is outside and what is inside appears indistinguishably pleasing. Separate outdoor terrace cafes and indoor drinking establishments wind around the street facing periphery, leisurely guiding visitors to the back side of the building.

The return trip down offers multiple routes, each with unique experiences. Unknowingly, I took a back route which carried me through a series of vertically interconnected shops located along a switch back procession of stairs. Each level with distinct color, light and display for wares, all sharing a common, uninterrupted space. Each level although connected physically and visually still appeared autonomous; a poetic efficiency of architectural experience.

I'm continuously inspired and often envious of what is possible outside of the US, particularly in east Asia. This new experience in Insadong was like a mirror of Seoul for me. Echoing the complex interconnected possibility of route, space, access and possibility.