Travel Guide: Seoul

by | 03. Jan 2015


Travel-Guide-Seoul (48).jpg
Skyscrapers in downtown Seoul. Photo by Reto Fetz/CC

By Ulf Meyer

Through the first half of the 20th century, Seoul seemed destined to remain in the shadow of the region’s neighboring mega-cities Tokyo and Beijing. Since the late-80s, however, the South Korean capital has thrown its hat into the ring and assertively managed to attract vast amounts of culture and commerce.

The turning point for Seoul was the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, which not only altered the city’s physical structure radically but which also gave the city a reputation of being a bustling metropolis. In the early 70’s Seoul was a city of only two million inhabitants. Today, there are 10 million — 24 if you count the entire metropolitan area.

Consequently, the way to reach Seoul is no longer through one of the ancient city gates — but through Incheon International Airport. Located about fifty kilometers from the city limits on land reclaimed from the sea, Incheon is repeatedly praised for its Asian efficiency and convenience, resulting in recent plans to expand Incheon, making it a central hub for all of Asia. An ambitious goal indeed, but highly symptomatic of this city of grand ambition.


Travel-guide-Seoul (10).jpg

Samsung Jongro Tower. Photo by Martin Eberle

Samsung Jongro Tower (Samsung Life Insurance Building)
Jongro 2-ga, Jongno-gu
Rafael Viñoly / Samoo, 1999

This 33-story office building in Jongno for Samsung Corp. has a height of 132 meters and an unusual shape: The tower, triangular in plan, is composed of three sections: A curved podium, a box-like middle section and a giant hollow cut-out between floors 23 and 30, topped by a big ring-shaped restaurant in the top floor famous for its views. There are elevator cores in all three corners. The all-glass facades have sun screen louvers.


Travel-guide-Seoul (13).jpg

63-Building. Photo by Martin Eberle

63-Building (Korea Life Insurance Building)
60 Yeouido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), 1985

The ’63 Building’ is one of the most recognizable and thus best known skyscrapers in Seoul. It looks like a gold bar and is nicknamed the ‘golden tooth’. The tower is famous for three reasons: its great location on Yeouido island, overlooking the Han River, the height of 249 meters (making it the tallest building outside North America and Korea’s tallest building until the Hyperion Tower surpassed it in 2003) and most importantly its straight forward architectural design by SOM from the USA, the world’s leading mass-producer of modernist towers.

The name of the building refers to the building’s 63 stories, of which 60 are above ground level and three are below. The tower was completed in time for the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. It serves as the headquarters of the Korea Life Insurance, Industrial Bank of Korea Securities, and other financial companies. The 58th and 59th floor feature restaurants and the 60th floor houses an art gallery and observation deck that allows visitors to see as far as Incheon on clear days. Glass elevators along the Southern short side of the rectangular plan enable passengers to view the city as they ride up. The lower floors house a shopping mall with 90 stores, an IMAX Theater, aquarium, convention center and banquet hall. In 2000, the Hanwha Group renamed the building ’63 City’ when it became part of that group. It is nine bays long and three bays wide. Technical floors are to be found on levels 21 and 38. The lower are floors are wider than the upper ones, creating a gentle ‘skirt shape’.


Travel-guide-Seoul (15).jpg

S-Trenue Tower. Photo by Martin Eberle

S-Trenue Tower
26-1 Yeouido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu
MASS Studies, 2009

This L-shaped office tower in Yeouido’s financial center has 36 floors, designed as a public podium and three slimmer vertical elements. Two of these hug the central core at different angels. The overall appearance thus is that of a giant chromosome. The spaces between the ‘bundled matrix’ elements are used as sky gardens. The S-Trenue tower is an alternative to the conventional prototype of boxy skyscrapers. Its visibility increases from the street, while increased distance from neighboring buildings to the rear improves the overall environment. The core tower is made of reinforced concrete and the other two of steel. There are many rooms in the tower with access and exposure to the outside. Thirty-two bridges connect all three towers functionally and structurally. Each of these bridges has a balcony and greenery on either side, creating gardens in mid-air. These spaces also extend to the commercial lower four floors with an atrium garden and escalator hall. The goal of the design was to “create a vertical urbanity”. The tower contains 39.899 ㎡ of space and is 154m in height. Levels 5 to 36 contain ‘officetels’ (live/work spaces). A belt truss reinforcement occupies levels 14-15 which also contain support facilities and mechanical rooms. The 32 ‘sky parks’ are arranged over two stories and alternate on the right and left. The penthouse has two outdoor spaces for every three units.


Travel-guide-Seoul (18).jpg

Hyundai I-Park Tower / The Tangent. Photo by Martin Eberle

Hyundai I-Park Tower / The Tangent / Hyundai Development Corporation Headquarters
160 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu
Daniel Libeskind, 2005

The Hyundai I-Park Tower is nicknamed the Tangent because of its façade. The office building serves as the Headquarters Building of Hyundai Development Corp. Daniel Libeskind gave the facade some depth and black and red colors: A 62 meter ring dominates the street facade together with a vector. Viewed from the street, the facade shows a vivid and memorable expression through a combination of graphic elements and colors, creating a play of light and shadows. The vector is a sculptural diagonal connecting the earth and the sky to create a new orientation to the city. This composition is designed to integrate the headquarters with the public plaza, the below grade spaces.

The Tangent is about the relationship between the ever changing circle of nature and the straight line of technology. In the contact between the circle and the line, one can see the meeting between the wheel and its path. Libeskind “designed this unusual image to show that the straight line of technology and ecological sustainable future can become a positive vector in space and in travel”.


Travel-guide-Seoul (17).jpg

Trade Tower. Photo by Martin Eberle

Trade Tower (Korea World Trade Center)
159 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu
Nikken Sekkei (with Archiban Architects, Jung Lin Architects), 1988

The Trade Tower is a 54-story office building and part of the Korean World Trade Center. At 228 meters it is one of the tallest buildings in South Korea. In 1984, Nikken Sekkei architects of Japan won the first prize in a design competition for the tower. It resembles two quadro-level towers in mirror image of each other. The in the façade setbacks seem to illustrate progress. The curtain wall façade is made of mirror glass, obscuring the floor slabs. The WTC also consists of an exhibition space, hotel, City Air Terminal, department store and shopping mall. The owner is the Korea Foreign Trade Association.


Travel-guide-Seoul (35).jpg

Sun Tower. Photo by Martin Eberle

Sun Tower
37-38 Daehyeon-dong, Seodaemun-gu
Thom Mayne/Morphosis, 1997

The Sun Tower, designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis from Los Angeles, stands on two neighboring properties. The two property owners were in dispute. The building is severed vertically down the center to express this duality. From the street, the building appears to be two slender towers with a second skin attached. It “separates the formal demands of the surface from the pragmatic requirements of the body”, according to the Californian architect. The constraints of the site, a generic program, and the requirement to maximize the envelope posed a challenge. A wedge-shaped volume serves as an entry point. A compressed public space is inserted in the mass. A translucent membrane of perforated aluminum enfolds the building. Inspired by the forms of origami and the garment design of the client, a clothes manufacturer, this exterior ‘fabric’ produces optical effects that shift with the sun.

At the peak of day it is a reflective place; at night, illuminated from the interior, it acts as an urban billboard. The surface oscillates between translucency and opacity. This membrane reinterprets city setback constraints, wrapping and folding its way up the height of the tower and enclosing a penthouse with a set of three-story trusses that contains mechanical space. With the Sun Tower, Morphosis began exploring high performance building skins as a means of reducing a building’s solar heat gain. The skin of perforated aluminum wraps around the form of the building. This cloth-like membrane acts as a ‘brise-soleil’ while adapting to different conditions of light. The 10-story tower combines retail and office space. The movement of the sun produces optical effects on the façade that is composed of inner steel-and-glass façade and the outer mesh screen.


Travel-Guide-Seoul (50).jpg
Urbanhive Building. Photo by Damon Garret/CC

Urbanhive Building
200-7 Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu
Kim In Cheurl/Archium, 2008

The Urban Hive is a 70 m tall, 17-story cuboid honeycomb tower with an exposed concrete façade on one of the main roads of Gangnam. The unusually perforated concrete façade is realized through an innovative construction method. Supported by steel structures there are interlocking circular ferroconcrete cells, arranged like latticework at regular intervals. The concrete shell is perforated by over 1,300 cells, each 40 cm thick and 1 m in diameter. These cells flow across the building in a regular pattern, making the heavy concrete appear light. Patterned round details assert the monolithic simplicity.

The concrete was determined based on mock-up processes which were tested 13 times to ensure that the concrete density, admixture, strength and color pigment were maintained. The concrete was mixed, compacted, cured, polished and coated with an admixture and a water-fluorine coating agent to help the wall withstand heat, cold, water, and acidity. The honeycomb facade minimizes material and adds surface area. The plan has no pillars, freeing up the building to a flexible use. The inner glass screens, separated from the structural cells, maintain the internal conditions. The circular cells create a filtering layer. The celled wall-plate admits daylight into the interior and frames views. Between the concrete shell and the inner glass facade there is a walkway. The four basements floors give direct access to a nearby subway station.


Travel-guide-Seoul (12).jpg

Kukje-Galerie K3. Photo by Martin Eberle

Kukje-Galerie K3
54 Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu
SO-IL Architects, 2012

Nested in one of the courtyards of Insadong, known as Seoul’s art district, this third building of the Kukje Gallery was designed by the New York office SO-IL to celebrate the gallery’s 30th anniversary. The name of the architect’s office is an acronym of Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu and was founded in 2008 by Florian Idenburg from the Netherlands and Jing Liu from China. The first floor is six meters tall and is used for art installations and performances, while the lower two floors contain a sales room, a lecture hall and storage rooms.

The circulation spaces form the perimeter of the building so as not to irritate the clear geometry of the box. Daylight falls into the gallery through a skylight. The skylight can be adjusted and darkened. The white box is clad in a smooth metal veil. The stainless steel mesh shapes a diffuse contour with light reflections and moiré-patterns. The mesh completely surrounds the exterior of the building, creating a border between the building and the outside environment. The mesh is custom designed and contains 510,000 stainless steel loops.


Travel-guide-Seoul (4).jpg

Plateau/Rodin Gallery. Photo by Martin Eberle

Plateau/Rodin Gallery

Taepyeongno 2-ga, Jung-gu
Kohn, Pedersen, Fox, 1999

The Plateau is a corporate art gallery containing sculptures of French Sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). It is situated on the first floor of the Samsung Life Insurance Building and was originally known as ‘Rodin Gallery’. In 2011 the gallery was renamed. It is a glass pavilion for the permanent display of the ‘Gates of Hell’ and ‘The Burghers of Calais’ by Rodin. The glass façade allows beautifully filtered even daylight inside. There are two more galleries for contemporary art exhibitions, a video room and a gift shop on the lower level. The shape of the design by New York architects Kohn Pedersen Fox was inspired by the space between two praying hands in Rodin’s work ‘The Cathedral’. The sloped glass façade is made of a double layer of glass. Some clear glass elements in the otherwise translucent façade create windows to the surrounding streetscape. The ceiling diffuses daylight and mixes it with artificial light. The floors and built-in benches are made of French limestone. At night, the building starts to glow from within like a lantern.


Travel-guide-Seoul (24).jpgPlatoon Kunsthalle. Photo by Martin Eberle

Platoon Kunsthalle
97-22 Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu
Platoon and Graft Architects + Baik Jiwon, 2010

The Platoon Kunsthalle features exhibitions, a bar, an event hall, artist’s studios, a library-lounge, offices, workshop rooms and a rooftop bar. It aims to serve “cultural movements beneath the radar”. The original Platoon Europe in Berlin/Germany was established in 2000. The Kunsthalle runs culture and communication projects in cooperation with a community of 3,500 creative people from different professions like street art, graphic design, fashion, video art, programming, music, club culture, political activism etc. Kunsthalle is built of 28 cargo containers. As “icons of a flexible architecture in a globalized culture”, the stacked containers form a construction that can be rebuilt anywhere any time. As Kunsthalle is located in the upscale Cheongdam area the confrontation of subculture with the close-by design houses, galleries and luxury stores creates a tension between two worlds. Kunsthalle provides showcases of artists, studio residencies and cutting-edge stage performances, exhibitions, movie nights, concerts and multimedia performances, workshops, discussion panels. Four showcases present art works every month.


Travel-guide-Seoul (26).jpg

Chungha Building. Photo by Martin Eberle

Chungha Building
Apgujung Road, Gangnam-gu
MVRDV, 2013

An existing building from the 1980’s was remodeled by MVRDV of Rotterdam and re-opened as a flagship store. The distinctive curved ribbon facade gave way to “a sculpture made of various sized windows”. The whole shell of the Chungha Building is designed as an advertising space: In the evening LED lights light up the in the windows in pink and blue. The gleaming white high-tech ceramic mosaic tile façade with its organic structure looks like a foam or. The building was extended by one floor. The five-story Chungha building now has a roof terrace with café.


Travel-Guide-Seoul (51).jpg
Boutique Monaco. Photo by maximillian_schaffhausen/CC

Boutique Monaco
1316-5 Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu
MASS Studies/Cho Min-suk, 2008

Boutique Monaco is a residential tower with 27 floors that pushes beyond the box, creating a varied massing with 15 voids. It was designed by MASS Studies. The voids introduce access to private, open green spaces. The design of the apartments creates variety of units with differing spatial configurations. The lower levels have commercial, cultural, and community spaces and the upper floors, from the fifth to 27th, are officetels (residences that could also be used as offices during the day). To ensure the maximum building footprint ratio (40%) as well as optimal natural light conditions (southern exposure), a ‘C’-shaped plan is extruded to a height of 100 meters. If this plan had been simply repeated vertically, the floor space would have exceeded the legally allowed amount. To reduce this mass, A pattern of 15 missing matrices were introduced.

They generate more exterior surfaces and corners for enhanced lighting and views. There are 49 different types of units with 172 units in total. In the areas created by the voids, there are 40 units with bridges that divide public (living/dining area) and private spaces (bedroom) within units, along with 22 units with gardens. There are protruding spiral staircases in the voids. On the ground floor, the building connects to its surroundings. The sidewalks are spacious allowing for small gardens and benches. The tall spaces of the first floor are occupied by stores and coffee shops.

At either end of the ‘U’ are the lobbies for the residents, which are placed to be the closest from the parking drop-off zone. The center of the front opens up to elevators and escalators connecting to the cultural functions below and stores above, as well as a pocket park in the center. The second and third floors have shops. Along with the fourth floor, a glass bridge with a bamboo garden on both sides spans 20 m to complete the U-shaped floor plan into a full loop. The fourth floor has facilities for the residents. There is a bar with business center, conference room, two guest rooms, a fitness center and a roof garden for residents only. Like the second, third, and fourth floor, a trussed bridge connects the opposite ends and creates a spectacular view.


Travel-guide-Seoul (19).jpg

Boutique ‘Ann Demeulemeester’. Photo by Martin Eberle

Boutique ‘Ann Demeulemeester’
650-14, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu
MASS Studies (Architect: Cho Minsuk + Park Kisu), 2007

This fashion boutique for the Belgian fashion designer Ann Demeulemeester has a façade that is designed to be a vertical garden with living plants. The main elevation is a geotextile wall planted with a herbaceous perennial, the other three clad in steel sheets with propylene resin. The fashion store is at ground floor with a basement shop below and a two-story restaurant above. The building is situated in an alley in an upscale commercial district. Natural/artificial and interior/exterior are amalgamated. The entrance to the Shop is on the western side of a small courtyard, with stairs on the eastern side. Bamboo forms a wall along each of the three sides that border neighboring sites.

Inside the shop, undulating dark brown exposed concrete forms the ceiling. Round columns on the edges continue the ceiling surface. The arched openings have varying sizes. The wing on the east contains fitting rooms, storage, and a bathroom. The shape of the ceiling below influences the restaurant space above, comprised of a three-level skip-floor. A terrace toward the rear of the building extends from the top level, and a rooftop is accessible by stairs. The stairs leading to the basement shop begin as a narrow, white space that enlarges to become an organic shape and serves as an entrance. This space is open to the outside through a garden 5.5 m below ground.


Travel-guide-Seoul (1).jpg

Seo Gynecological Clinic. Photo by Martin Eberle

Seo Gynecological Clinic (Suh’s OB/GYN Practice)

349 Toegye-ro, Jung-gu
Kim Joong-up, 1965

Located on a triangular site at the intersection of the Toegye-ro and Eulji-ro, this 4-story fantasy building emphasizes symbolism over function. Architect Kim Joong-up had spent four years in Le Corbusier’s studio in France 1952-55. The fluid curves and exposed concrete walls of the Gynecological Clinic are a reminder of that. The elements of the building seem to flow together organically. The balconies on the Southern façade resting on thin mushroom columns are reminiscent of Salvador Dali’s surrealistic paintings. The northern balconies cantilever. Based on forms such as a penis and a womb in plan, the symbolism of the building resonates with gynecology. It is, however, far from functional. The owner und user, Dr. Seo, complained, that it is hard to fit in furniture and medical equipment.


Travel-guide-Seoul (3).jpg

Kyungdong Presbyterian Church. Photo by Martin Eberle

Kyungdong Presbyterian Church
204 Jangchungdan-ro, Jung-gu
Kim Swoo-geun, 1980

The Kyungdong Presbyterian Church in Jangchung-dong probably is Korea’s finest example of modern Church architecture. It is representative of Kim Swoo-geun’s third period in the late ’70s, in which he was guided by ideas like reconciliation and celebration and is praised as his masterpiece. The church is the built image of ascend – from mundane to holy. The shape of the church promotes circulation, with ramps and staircases asking visitors to walk all along the exterior of the church before entering it from the rear. The volume is made up of several vertical panel-like windowless walls. The volume resembles a beckoning hand or a castle. From a plaza at the main road a long flight of steps heads to the entrance in the back of the building. This path, called the Meditator’s Walk, prepares for worship and provides a transitional space between the noisy outside world and the peaceful chapel.

The exterior is covered in unevenly broken red brick, an architectural expression of ecumenism – just as all the individual bricks form one mass, all are one within God. The main tower looks like someone praying. The stark, exposed concrete surfaces of the interior bring to mind an early Christian catacomb. Exaggerated columns protrude from the walls like buttresses. The cross beams of the ceiling look like ribs. There is a secondary gathering space in the top designed to have the feel of an arena and an open space on the roof, where services are held as well as celebrations and cultural events. Kim Swoo-geun, founder of the SPACE group, one of Korea’s leading architecture firms lifted the profile of Korean architecture.


Travel-guide-Seoul (34).jpg

Luce Chapel of Yonsei University. Photo by Martin Eberle

Luce Chapel of Yonsei University
134 Shinchon-dong, Seodaemun-gu
Kim Seok-jai, 1974

The Luce Chapel Is the architectural highlight of Yonsei University Campus and was sponsored by the Luce Foundation. The building is used as the headquarters for the Office of Chaplaincy and hosts a sanctuary, prayer room, classrooms, and offices. Most official university ceremonies, worship services and religious meetings are held in this building as well. It was designed by Kim Seok-jai along a North-south axis. The chapel and office wing share a foyer that is accessible from Baek-yang road through a terrace, which in turn can be accessed from a grand staircase. The chapel stands on a sloped hill. A flat roof cantilevers dramatically like an aircraft carrier over the entrance. The structure is made of reinforced concrete and a steel truss. The Won Il-Han Hall, the annex to the Luce Chapel, was completed in 2006.


Travel-guide-Seoul (30).jpg

Jeoldusan Martyr’s Shrine. Photo by Martin Eberle

Jeoldusan Martyr’s Shrine
Hapjeong-dong, Mapo-gu
Lee Hee-tae, 1967

The Jeoldu-san (or ‘beheading mountain’) is a rocky promontory overlooking the Han River. It once served as a light house for the ferries on the river. The Martyr’s shrine dominates this hill next to Yanghwajin Foreigners’ Cemetery and is considered to be Lee Hee-tae’s masterpiece. The hill came into use during the rule of the Daewon-gun in the late 1860s as a place of execution, primarily of Koreans who had converted to the Catholic faith. It was at this site that thousands of Catholics were tortured and killed during the Byeonin Persecution in 1866. The memorial was built in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Byeonin Persecution in dedication of the 8000 executions. In 1984, Pope John Paul II visited the site. The memorial holds 3000 religious relics.

This shrine was built to commemorate the tragedy and a museum and memorial were added in 1967. The park was created in 1972. There are displays of torture methods and memorial sculptures surrounding the main shrine. The building, a masterpiece by Lee Hee-tae, contains a church above the martyr’s shrine which is shaped like a gat, a Korean hat made of bamboo and horsehair. The corners of the eaves of the museum slide down, giving it a characteristic silhouette. Inside the chapel is designed to resemble a fan. Underneath the main altar there is a reliquary of 27 saints.

A belfry connects the two buildings of the church and an adjacent museum, which is surrounded by covered walkways held up by twin columns. The roof shape and the design of the exposed-concrete belfry with a circular cut-out add to the site’s topography.


Travel-guide-Seoul (28).jpg

Floating Islands. Photo by Martin Eberle

Floating Islands
Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu
Haeahn Architecture + H Architecture, 2011

The three floating river islands in Banpo Hangang Park are the world’s biggest faux islands. They are chained to the main land with 28 chains. The floating Island, near the southern end of Banpo Bridge, is Korea’s first artificial island on the Hangang River. In Korean the project is known as Sebit Dungdungseom which translates to ‘3 Floating Lantern Islands’. The three flower-themed islets are called Visat, Viva and Terra.

The design stems from the stages of a blooming flower: a seed, bud, and blossom. Vista, the largest of the three islands, takes the form of a flower in full bloom and is a venue for performances, conferences and exhibitions. It is composed of layers of glass petals. This island will accommodate a 700 person multipurpose hall for plays, concerts, festivals and other cultural performances. Island Vista also has a restaurant, firefly garden, observation deck, and an observation station. Viva looks like a flower bud and includes the Beat Square, Youth Woods and restaurants and an outdoor dance space. This island is characterized by an aluminum metal panel shell that is enclosed with metal framed petals. The diagonal patterning of the external shell emphasizes the dynamic movement of the flower blooming The smallest island, Terra, takes the form of a seed and has water sports facilities and an outdoor garden, roof garden, club house, and water slides that plunge into the river. Also incorporated into this island are the septic and MEP systems needed to ensure that the operation of all three islands have the least impact on the River.

Around the Floating Islands there are LED lights that feature a night view under the theme of ‘gleaming light in the mist.’ The Floating Island is a venue for performances and exhibitions. As part of the Han River Renaissance, initiated by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, they are part of a scheme to program and stimulate the water landscape. Vista exhibits a fritted glass façade, creating a large undulating palette for a LED lighting system. Viva is composed of a curvilinear aluminum paneled building surrounded by transparent faces with translucent ribbon-like panels. While the buildings were designed for lateral and gravitational loads, they must also be stabilized in the river. The islands float via a pontoon system and are held to the river beds by an automated mooring system. In order to maintain stability of the floating islands against the fluctuating water height of the Han River in the monsoon season, the islands incorporate a mooring system which considers wind, wave, tides, water depth, and water level fluctuations. The angle and shape of the chains are controlled by Dynamic Positioning System to ensure stability. The construction required prefabricating the structure of the islands on the riverbanks, then launching them in the river using a field of rollers as casters, similar to launching a boat into water. The process of launching the smallest island, Terra, took five hours. PV panels on the roof generate electric power.


Travel-guide-Seoul (7).jpg

New Seoul City Hall. Photo by Martin Eberle

New Seoul City Hall
31 Taepyeongno 1 -ga, Jung-gu
Yoo Kerl/iArc Architects, 2012

Two new buildings serving Seoul City Hall from 1962 and 1986 were demolished in 2006 to make way for the new city hall building. It is 13 stories tall and towers above the old city hall, a left-over from the Japanese Colonial times. The Old City Hall serves as a gateway to the new building by means of a skywalk. The building faces Seoul square, the center of Seoul and the only public plaza in the city. The of the new city hall, designed by Yoo Kerl of iArc Architects, has an atrium with multi-level hanging terraces with green vegetation intended as a vertical extension of Seoul square.

The offices are in back of the building and the multipurpose and cultural facilities at the top. The line between roof and wall is blurred. The curtain wall façade is designed for good wind-circulation. The deep roof overhang casts shadows on the glass facades. The administration symbolically opens itself to the citizen through the vertical atrium space. The building uses a geothermal plant and radiant floor heating and cooling. The roof is covered with PV panels which produce up to 200 KWh of electric power. The rainwater is used for the cooling system.


Travel-guide-Seoul (33).jpg


Energy Dream Center. Photo by Martin Eberle

Energy Dream Center
14 Jeungsan-ro, Mapo-gu
GAP Architekten, 2012

The Energy Dream Center is a center for renewable energy. With a floor space of 3500 m2, the zero energy building houses exhibitions and information related to renewable energy. Headed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE from Germany, it combines energy savings and efficiency. The flagship project demonstrates applications of the latest technologies of renewable energies. The city provided the plot for the building in World Cup Park. The building generates as much energy as it consumes over the year. The energy needs must be met by renewable energy on and in the building. To determine the thermal and daylight building performance, the partners carried out simulations and calculations for the building envelope and technical systems.

Based on a square ground plan the three-story building extends upwards and outwards conically at a 45 degree rotation. Wedge-shaped roof projections are mounted along the façades at an upward tilt – giving the effect of wings. These protrusions shield the entrance area from the elements as well as provide fixed solar protection for the window glazing. Because the ground is not capable of bearing heavy weight, the building is supported by piles which are mounted on a reinforced concrete base plate. First priority was given to conserve energy using passive measures. In order to reduce the energy demand, the envelope was designed according to passive house standards. The reinforced massive ceilings serve as thermal storage to balance out the peak cooling loads. A square-shaped central atrium supplies good daylighting throughout the building. The efficient electrical lighting is provided by LEDs and controlled by light sensors. The concept is customized for the comfort of the occupants as well as for the climatic and technical conditions in Korea. The ventilation system ensures both controlled heat in the winter and controlled humidity and cooling in the summer.

The building services are based on earth probes, which provide the radiant cooling system with cold in summer and serve as a heat source for the heat pump throughout the year. A ventilation system with two-step heat recovery and evaporative cooling and a turbo compression chiller for dehumidification was installed. The heating and cooling energy consumption of this building is 70 percent less than the standard consumption for South Korean buildings. The remaining annual energy demand is supplied by renewable energy sources. In addition to geothermal energy, grid-connected photovoltaic systems on the roof, the overhangs and in a small field supply the total amount of electricity required (about 280,000 kWh/year). The result is a building with zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions in an annual balance. It fulfills the passive house standards and the Korean Green Building Certification KGBC and the Building Energy Efficiency Label.


Travel-Guide-Seoul (49).jpg

Ewha Womans University Campus Center. Photo © Andre Morin

Ewha Womans University Campus Center
11-1 Daehyundong, Seodaemun-gu
Dominique Perrault, 2008

The six-story campus center of Ewha Women’s University was designed by Dominique Perrault, a French architect famous for preferring to build his buildings underground. The underground building does not block the view of Pfeiffer Hall, the most iconic building on campus. The Campus Valley, situated on a former athletic field, contains seminar rooms, a library, offices, sports facilities and parking garages. It was designed in two parts on either sides of a cut in the main plaza of the campus. It is shaped like a ramp on one and like a grand staircase on the other side. The stair also acts as an amphitheater. The cut connects to Jung Mun Road.

The green roofs are integrated into the campus’ landscape. Two large glass curtain walls face the central space. The retaining walls use geothermal energy for heating and cooling. The sash frames of the glass facades are highly reflective, bringing more daylight into the canyon. The staircases shift in direction, but otherwise the floor plans are straightforward linear.


Travel-guide-Seoul (27).jpg

Museum of Art. Photo by Martin Eberle

Museum of Art (of the Seoul National University)
San 56-1, Sillim-dong, Gwanak-gu
Rem Koolhaas/OMA, 2005

The design of the Museum of Art at the campus entrance of the Seoul National University is intended to serve as a link between academia and the public. The building, designed by Rem Koolhaas/OMA from Rotterdam, cantilevers and appears to be sliced at an angle, creating a covered plaza. The lower rear side of the museum is connected to a new entrance gate for the campus. The upper hovering mass is modulated by the circulation path and site topography. It is a cantilevered steel shell on a concrete core. Internally the path bifurcates and spirals inward.

There are four program areas: exhibition, education, library and operations. The educational spaces, the lecture hall and auditorium, benefit from the slope with ramped seating. The library inhabits the center and structural core of the building. Peripheral and central circulation paths create two spiraling loops. The exhibition space at the top is designed for expansion by allowing its invasion of the educational spaces. This invasion is articulated by a ramped path. The monolithic volume is punctuated towards specific site views, exposing moments of its structural framework. The steel-frame trusses are partially visible behind clear glass openings in the translucent façade.


Travel-guide-Seoul (38).jpg

Korea Furniture Museum. Photo by Martin Eberle

Korea Furniture Museum
330-577 Seongbuk-dong, Seongbuk-gu
Architect: Anonymous, various years of completion

The Korea Furniture Museum is a complex of hanok houses, arranged like an outdoor museum with a collection of 2,000 pieces of Korean wood furniture inside that was collected by the founding family. The founder and director, Ms. Misook Chyung, invested fourteen years to establish the compound that consists of ten buildings. Ms. Chyung was born to Dr. Yil-hyung Chyung, the politician who served as Korea’s Foreign Minister in 1960, and Dr. Tai-young Lee, the first woman lawyer and judge in Korea.

Each hanok has a different style – from royal palace to a nobleman’s house to storage and kitchen. Upon entering visitors are ushered to Gung-chae, a palace-style building with a rectangular courtyard, consisting of a lobby and a banquet hall on the first floor and exhibition halls in the first and second basement levels. Natural light penetrates into the basement. The objects are displayed in paper-covered rooms, without any vitrines. A stair leads to the special exhibition hall and the end of the space is connected to the nobleman’s house. A special exhibition hall, 215 m² in size, is used for temporary exhibitions.

The nobleman’s house displays how furniture was arranged and used during the Joseon period. Their size and proportion were determined in accordance with the size and proportion of windows and walls. It was built with recycled timber and roof-tiles from Changgyeong Palace in the 1970s, when the museum took over the residence of Empress Sunjeong and restored it as the nobleman’s house. The storage building is now used for events and banquets. It is a restored work of the residence of Empress Myeongseong’s brother, which was originally located in Mapo-gu district of Seoul. The Korean Furniture Museum’s concept is to “reform the defects of hanok houses hindering contemporary living”. Electricity, air-conditioning and heating have all been introduced. The museum does not require visitors to take off their shoes and sit on the floor. The Korean Furniture Museum is living environment of the past demonstrating the insight that furniture cannot be separated from life.


Travel-guide-Seoul (11).jpg

Lock Museum. Photo by Martin Eberle

Lock Museum
100 Ihwajang-gil, Daehakro, Jongno-gu
Iroje Architects/Seung Hyo-sang, 2004

The Lock Museum houses a private collection of handmade metal works. It is owned and founded by Choi Hong-kyu, who has made his fortune selling door locks and other hardware. Over three decades Choi has collected some 5,000 historic locks, which are now housed in a six-story boxy building designed by Seung Hyo-sang of Iroje Architects with windowless rusty corten steel façades, resembling the surfaces of hardware objects on display inside the building. The museum displays just five percent of the collection. The permanent collection is housed on the fourth level with an event hall, restaurant, a residence and a gallery occupying the other spaces. The dark exhibition room with wooden floors has concrete and cinder block walls. The internal entry hall is lined by a long glass case filled with hundreds of rusty keys. Inside, the glass cases are illuminated by narrow columns of light. The collection contains locks, latches and key charms from the 7th to 20th centuries.


Travel-guide-Seoul (9).jpg

Seoul Museum of History. Photo by Martin Eberle

Seoul Museum of History
2-1 Sinmunno 1 ga, Jongno-gu
Kimm Jong-sun, 1998

Seoul was the capital of Korea during the Joseon Dynasty, and the Seoul Museum of History depicts the evolution of the city from its prehistoric period to today. It also contains a giant city model. The building is made of steel and glass is shaped like a large ‘U’ in plan with a semi-enclosed courtyard in the middle. The red colors complement the surrounding traditional architecture of Gyeonghui Palace, yet the straight lines and unadorned features of the façade present a contrast to the historic presence of the site. The museum houses 20.000 m² of galleries, seminar rooms, offices and an auditorium. It is located on the site of the former Kyunghee Palace stood, from which only an integrated archeological site remains. The enfilade-style galleries are 12 m wide and have skylights. The facades are covered in red aluminum panels and lead-covered copper roofs. The interiors are dominated by a grand travertine stair, green marble walls and bronze-covered steel columns. The shed roofs rest on an exposed steel framework.


Travel-guide-Seoul (22).jpg

Tanheo Memorial Museum. Photo by Martin Eberle

Tanheo Memorial Museum
285 Jagok-dong, Gangnam-gu
Lee Sung-kwan, HANUL Architects & Engineers, 2008

The Tanheo Memorial Museum was built to commemorate Korean Buddhist monk and theorist Tanheo Sunim. The museum with a summon hall and educational spaces was designed by Lee Sung-kwan and is one of the finest museums in Korea. It was built as a modern piece of architecture which reinterprets traditional temples. The design embodies three-dimensional space-within-space. The entry ramp way framed in rusty steel elements, resembles a “road to the 108 defilements of Buddhism”. The facades have Buddhist teachings and calligraphy printed onto the glass sheets. Inside, above the great assembly space that opens to the inner courtyard with a great window there is a prayer room with a Buddhist sculpture beautifully set in a wooden interior and washed in natural daylight through a skylight from above. Wooden floors and doors, exposed concrete ceilings and copper details dominate the interiors.


Travel-guide-Seoul (36).jpg


Daeyang Gallery & House. Photo by Martin Eberle

Daeyang Gallery & House
Seongbuk-dong, Seungbuk-gu
Steven Holl with E.rae Architects, 2012

The Daeyang gallery and house at the foot of the Kangbuk hills was designed by American architect Steven Holl for a wealthy family. It contains three pavilions; one for the lobby, one for the residence and one for events. In the center there is a reflecting pool with a glass bottom that allows natural daylight to fall through it into the lower floor. The three elements sit on top of a continuous gallery level below. The garden wall has the pattern of the bamboo molding. Form the entry court steps ascend into the entry pavilion bringing the viewer at elbow height with the sheet of water. Here, at the center the sky, water, vegetation and the reddened patina of the copper walls all come together. The red and charcoal stained wood interiors of the pavilions are activated by skylight strips of clear glass that are cut into the roof.

Sunlight turns and bends around the inner spaces, animating them with the changing light of each season and throughout the day. Strips of glass and lenses in the base of the pool break through the surface, bringing light to the white plaster walls and granite floor of the gallery below. The exteriors are a made of pre-patinated copper. The gallery and house is heated and cooled with geothermal wells. The entrance is designed to be a descent through the water. The three upper buildings seem to be pushed up from the common podium. The water surface connects the upper red copper panels and the lower concrete floor. 155 strip-windows in the ceiling bring daylight in. Each pavilion has five clear glass strips. The proportions are organized according to the numbers 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 and 55. The water pond too contains ‘light bridges’, that reflect the light through the water.


Travel-guide-Seoul (40).jpgWorld Peace Gate. Photo by Martin Eberle

World Peace Gate
426, Olimpik-ro, Bangi-dong, Songpa-gu
Kim Joong-up, 1988

The World Peace Gate is located at the west entrance of the Olympic Park. It features an eternal flame with the Seoul Peace Declaration inscribed and was built for the 1988 Olympic Games. It is constructed at the Seonlin Commemoration Park within the Olympic Park as a steel-reinforced concrete structure. With a height of 24 m, it possesses a solemn appearance. On the lower part of the wing on the ceiling, Geum-Nam Baek, a Professor at Sungkyunkwan University, painted the four gods, the blue dragon, red bird, white tiger, and a turtle snake in a single layer on both sides using traditional Korean painting. The shape of the gate is reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh Secretariat Building in India. Kim had worked for Le Corbusier in France. To the left and right at the front of the Gate, ‘line pillar masks’ made by sculptor Seung-Taek Lee are spread in groups of 30. The masks are made of bronze and the line pillars made of stone.


Travel-guide-Seoul (6).jpg

Chon-Gae River Restoration. Photo by Martin Eberle

Chon-Gae River Restoration
Along Chon-Gae River, Jung-gu, Jongno-gu, Dongdaemun-gu
Kim Mik-young, 2005

The Chon-Gae River is a seven-mile green corridor that begins in the central business district of the city and heads east. Before the restoration it was a polluted and covered water-way. The demolition of nearly four miles of at grade and elevated highway overcame the division of the city, creating a pedestrian zone from this former vehicular way. It brings people back to the Chon-Gae River while mitigating flooding and improving water quality. The charge of the international design competition was also to “create a symbolic representation of the future reunification of North and South Korea” within an active public plaza. The winning proposal by Kim Mik-young defined the eight provinces of Korea through the use of local materials and eight sources of water. Regional stone was quarried from each of the eight areas and there are eight source points of water and fiber-optic light.

The unique sloped and stepped stone elements allow for a reading of various levels of water while encouraging direct public engagement with the river. Since completion in 2005, more than 10 million people have visited the river. In addition to the environmental restoration effort, this urban open space has become a central gathering place. The Class II water quality level has allowed to re-engage with the river. During New Year’s festivals, political rallies, fashion shows and rock concerts take place on both the plaza and the Water Source area. Coins tossed into the canal by visitors are collected from the basin and donated to local charities.



Banyan Tree Hotel (formerly Tower Hotel)
60, Jang Chungdan-Ro, Jung-gu
Kim Swoo-geun, 1964

The Tower Hotel with 245 rooms originally served guests of the nearby Freedom Center, designed by the same architect, Kim Swoo-geun. In 1969, the tower was converted into a commercial hotel. The façade is made of exposed concrete. The hillside tower’s top-heavy style echoes the design of Buddhist temples. Four rhombus-shaped concrete columns, one in each corner, carry the weight of the building. It was conceived as a monument to the nations that fought under the UN flag during the Korean War – it has 17 floors, one for each participating nation, including South Korea. At the time, it was the tallest building in Korea. Today, it is called the Banyan Tree Club and Spa. The old city wall was partially torn down to build the hotel. The original windows have been replaced with mirror-glass. Four floors have been added to the hotel during remodeling.


The Plaza Hotel
119 Sogong-ro, Jung-gu
Hanwha Group, 1976, renovated by Guido Ciompi, 2010

The Plaza Hotel is located at the former Chinatown of Seoul, where the Jicheonsa Temple used to be during Chosun-Dynasty. Since several hundred years ago, the site was a royal venue to entertain guests. The Hotel was built in 1976 through a joint venture between Hanwha Corp. of Korea and Japan’s Marubeni Corp. The City Hall and Seoul Plaza are across from the hotel. The building has an angle in plan, helping it to form Seoul Plaza as a readable urban space. An annex tower houses a spa, fitness Center and Grand Ballroom. The facades were originally clad in white tiles, which gave way to brown aluminum panels. In 2010 the building was redesigned by Guido Ciompi of Studio Ciompi Florence, Italy as luxury boutique hotel. The Plaza Hotel is now an independent five-star hotel with 410 rooms and six restaurants. It boasts a contemporary design that incorporates sensuous color schemes and geometrically breaks the rigid grid of the facade.


Millenium Hilton Hotel
395 5-ga Namdaemun-ro, Jung-gu
Jong-Soung Kimm, 1983

The Hilton Hotel, an early work of Kimm Jong-Soung is situated at the foot of Namsan Mountain. Guests enter the hotel from the upper level in the East. The Hilton Hotel is made up of a tower and a podium, which in this case is situated behind the tower. The tower’s pilotis stand on the approach path. The tower is 19 m deep. In plan the tower is refracted 30 degrees at either end resulting in a tryptich-like shape to visually shorten the oblong shape and also the hallways inside. The lobby is six meters tall with elevator shafts clad in marble. A grand stair leads to the lower lobby. The aluminum curtain wall façade is black-brown and typical of Kimm’s Mies’ian architecture.


The Conrad Hotel (Seoul International Finance Center)
23-2 Yeouido-dong, Yeoungdeungpo-gu
Arquitectonica + Baum Architects, 2013

The Seoul International Finance Centre (SIFC) is a key project of Seoul’s bid to develop Yeouido district’s cluster of financial institutions into “the financial hub of Northeast Asia”. It looks like a group of all-glass crystals with their sides chopped off. It is a design by Arquitectonica of Miami, Florida. SIFC contains about 500,000 m² of space. The SIFC is a significant piece of Seoul’s skyline: The towers’ sharp, angular lines seem to shoot into the sky. The American client, AIG, built three office towers, a 38-story five-star hotel, and a shopping mall on three underground levels as well as a multiplex movie theater and a food court. The tallest tower is 279 m tall, with 55 floors. The other four towers have 29, 32, 38, and 55 stories. The Conrad hotel consists of 450 guest rooms, a ballroom, and conference rooms. The structural system of the office towers is made of steel columns and framing consisting of composite steel beams with concrete on metal decks. The towers implement concrete core walls and outrigger trusses on the upper mechanical floors. The building called Three International Finance Center is the tallest of the towers within the complex and also Seoul’s tallest building.