The juxtaposition between the architecture modes of neighbouring countries North and South Korea could not be stronger.
North Korea’s architectural heritage lies on a foundation of totalitarian dominance, with a greater focus placed on monuments of former leader Kim Jong-Il than on housing and functional infrastructure. Military dominance colours the aesthetic of major cities – echoing its dominance on a societal level – with some of the country’s most intricate architecture functioning as military tombs, bases and monuments.
It seems bizarre, then, that just over the border to the south, architectural styles offer a great contradiction to this aesthetic. Instead of celebrating their war efforts, the South Korean industry is redeveloping military monuments from past conflicts in order to restore the natural environment to promote a sustainable ‘healing’ of the past and offer security, culture and community for its people.
‘Yongsan Park’ is one such redevelopment. Located in Seoul, the former Japanese and US occupation military base is set to go green with Rotterdam-based urban designers and landscape architects West 8 reclaiming the space for the Korean people.
While the plans focus largely on redeveloping the area’s lost ecosystem, the inclusion of technological elements throughout the park add a unique and highly Korean angle to the project. These elements include the ‘LED canyon’, a canyon created from blue LED lights, and ‘illuminated waterfall’, a projected screen that falls in the shape of a waterfall. Both self-explanatory features promise to fuse the natural with the technological, creating a space that is both environmental and biomorphic.
Existing buildings and roadways will be redeveloped, restored and reused, with no new structural footprints to be laid. In place of some of the buildings will be granite stone platforms for public plazas or meeting places.
Soils used to create the undulating landscape will be pulled from the area where a lake is being constructed so the landscape is completely developed with the tools and natural elements of the area.
The area is a healing space. Once completed in 2017, it will become a symbol of differentiation between the north and south. Instead of feeding military efforts, the South Koreans are feeding the cultural, societal and environmental needs of their country. To many, that is where their true success lies and continues to grow.