Condencity_28 hangang

The Han River (Hangang) in Seoul has through history had a profound impact on the city. For decades, like many other industrialized urban centers, the river boundary has been a source of sustenance and obstacle. In recent years the city has once again reinvested in a renewed waterfront after years of industrial neglect. The challenges of opening the rivers edge to public accessibility is a major undertaking as much of the river is now bound on both sides by primary freeways.

Yesterday I
participated in a design review with my colleague Marc
Brossa at Konkuk University in Seoul. His Graduate level design class spent the semester investigating the Han River. The premise of the studio was an interpretation of possible scenarios to rethink positions in urban, landscape and architectural design by creating comprehensive solutions to riverfront habitation and experience. The interesting thing regarding the studio was the genuine position of combined disciplines in urban planning (considered with landscape and architectural design) . Natural systems are integral in many aspects of what we do as designers in the built environment and rather than make disciplinary distinctions the discourse becomes inherently unified in approach. Furthermore, the foundation for the studio challenged students to consider more complex relationships with regard to starkly juxtaposed natural and built environments along the rivers edge.

While the projects seemed only to scratch the surface of design potential, the dialogue of ideas was rich with possibility and interest. One student project considered freeway infrastructure and a proposition to excavate beneath it to create a regenerated wetland and extended 'natural' edge. The notion of utilizing the existing transportation infrastructure and allowing it to function beyond its intended purpose (in this case a flood and water release control 'gate') represented the intentions of the initial studio idea.

Some of the work can be viewed at

Condencity_27 threshold

Low rise commercial buildings in Seoul give new meaning to the term 'mixed-use'. Any number of various programs fill small buildings (often 3-4 floors in height avoiding the requirements of elevator service) in the cities densely packed commercial zones. Many of the stores and shops on the upper floors are accessed through a single entry corridor and stair which, in many cases is continuously open to the street.

While these buildings are clearly private places corridor extensions of the public sidewalk create a gray zone not fully private and not totally public. These unconditioned spaces take on an urban appearance becoming caked and coated with the qualities and scars of sidewalk life. They present an interesting argument for an all together publicly accessible city intertwined within privatized constructs.

Seoul Modern

Modern unassuming in Seoul.

Tucked away in the tertiary neighborhood streets of Gangnam is a residence and office mix. 'Tornado House' (as its dubbed) was completed about 15 years ago by Jun Sung Kim. Jun's work may best be described as elemental. A characteristic expressively clear in this structure. Jun is a master of carving space from weighted form and raw material. It is a dialogue of air, light and form giving way to humbling experience.

The front facade of the mixed use house is unassuming; a simple cube with recessed entry and radial wall. The entry conceals a complex internal organization only slightly hinted by the simple curved form on elevation. The portal entry opens to a split stair configuration. The entry landing as Jun has described poses a moment of choice for visitors- the option to go up or down in the seductively light filled open atrium. Each stair clings closely to two opposing, concrete arching walls.

Light penetrates deep through the central courtyard to the partial subterranean spaces below. Four court terraces link in serpentine fashion following the curved stair around the voided central open space. The delicate metal stair cast against the heavy concrete walls establishes an implied bridge between the current reality of structure and a memory of the once steeply sloped site.

The experience of space through light and form become metaphor for a new internalized landscape.


Rare early summer clear skies over Gangnam in Seoul.

With air that is commonly thick with humid haze, on this night the brilliantly clear blue sky touches the jagged city skyline. Saturated colors of sign-board commerce punctuate the side street experience. Tranquil calm comes momentarily amongst corporate towers and delivery service motor bikes.