Thursday, March 19, 2009

Seoul has to have some of the world's worst architecture for a city with its size and money. There are some buildings in central Seoul that are quite interesting, but on the whole, the city consists of massive shoebox-like apartments and office buildings, each of them indistinguishable from the others. This is partly the result of history, given that most of Seoul was destroyed in the Korean War and that Korea wasn't a developed country until recently. There is one area, though, where I think Korea excels, and that is the edifice. There are many large, monolithic buildings that stretch horizontally instead of vertically, and the concrete indicates power and intimidation instead of a lack of imagination.

Before I get carried away, most of these mammoth blocks of concrete house movie theatres, department stores and restaurants, though sometimes they're museums, train stations or government offices. Nearby Suwon Station is a good example of the style and why I like it. The building is at least 500 metres wide, and though only 7 stories, it looks dominant and imposing in a way that a dozen 30-storey apartment buildings can't quite manage. The Korean National Museum is a more imaginative example, as is Seoul Olympic Stadium. I can't tell just how big the buildings actually are, because they're situated next to nothing, perhaps for the effect, perhaps because that's where land for public works was available.

The effect these buildings have, I think, is to make the individual feel as tiny as possible because of the unity of the structure. Skyscrapers have windows, but the Korean edifice is only one giant block of concrete. In a city of 20 million people, where streets, buildings, cars and people create an incredible controlled chaos, I think the effect fits the city perfectly.

Suwon Station

National Museum of Korea

Jamsil Olympic Stadium

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