Reviving Social Connectivity and Tradition in South Korea through Urban Development

    • Lucca November 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Seung Jin Choi , Independent Researcher


    How can architectural transformation possibly incorporate the past and the future and effectively intervene in questions of contemporary urban social housing? This study takes a scholarly approach to urbanism in South Korea since the urban population rapidly increased in the late 20th century, when the demand for urban residences resulted in significant housing shortages. In this period of rapid urbanization, the idea of a hanok or madang merging modernism with vernacular forms was considered unsuited to the burgeoning population. This in turn prompted a sharp departure from Korean architectural tradition in favor of the production of massive numbers of apartments in the capital, with little thought to social implications. In the late twentieth century, Chung-Up Kim, a central figure in theories of Korean urbanism, revisited many of these issues, attempting to merge utopian modernist ideals of city planning from Le Corbusier with traditional culture. Kim designed and built numerous large projects for public and commercial commissions, initiating a regionalism that highlighted the traditional Korean roofline, a gesture subsequently much imitated among Korean architects. In the past century, the inflexibility of existing infrastructure brought limitations on renovating and restructuring, partly explaining the confinement of Kim’s work to non-dwelling houses and the difficulty not only of urban growth, but also of applying new considerations of social aspects to already existing apartments with significant populations. New town constructions in Gangnam District employing advanced engineering and skyrocketing towers consequently led to further architecturally inscribed disjunctions between social groups. Le Corbusier’s proposed standardization of architecture in harmony with the economic and social aspects of urban life thus raises new questions of how the Western modernist city could be integrated with Korean vernacular architecture to encourage interactions between neighbors without the concrete walls that segregate apartments from society at large.