Songdo International Business District (Songdo IBD) is a $34 billion smart and sustainable city that is setting a new benchmark for urban development. It is located in South Korea, Asia, and is built on 1500 acres of land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea. This master-planned project was started in 2001 and is the product of Gale International, together with its domestic partner, POSCO E&C, and its public sector partner, Incheon Metropolitan City. Various architects, designers, and urban planners worked on this project, but the model of a ‘smart – city’ was proposed by Kohn Pederson Fox (KPF). Songdo is just an hour away from Seoul and is officially part of Icheon City. The city was the result of imagining a future high-tech city where technology coexists with society. 

Project in-depth: The Songdo International Business District, South Korea - Sheet1
Introduction_©Songdo IBD

Songdo is meant to be where the future of cities takes shape, and residents, businessmen, and visitors contribute to the growing ecosystem. Songdo is supposed to be an uncrowded, sustainable, advanced, systematic, and better version of Seoul. Songdo was designed on a foundation of the newest technology and built to evolve based on ongoing advancements. Songdo was imagined to be one of the leading business hubs where national and multinational companies would set up shop. It has already made its mark in industries like high–tech, biomedical, IT, digital, manufacturing, retail, and leisure. 

Songdo offers lifestyle, convenience, quality education, distinctive architecture, and a green community to its residents. The city provides work, home, school, and leisure just a 15-minute walk. This is an effort to make the city car-free, leading to less pollution and traffic. This idea will emphasize using public transport, and to make it convenient, there will be stations every 12 minutes walk. Homes in Songdo reflect careful attention to detail and the efficiency of the latest sustainable technology. Homes have trash chutes that directly lead to the central garbage plant, where it is sorted and recycled. Home automation is where one can heat the room on the way through your phone. 

Project in-depth: The Songdo International Business District, South Korea - Sheet2
Golf_©All Square Golf

The city presents striking views of Central Park, a 100-acre park inspired by the one in NYC, The Yellow Sea, and the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea complements the city. 40% of Songdo is green space, Walk or bike to work and school while enjoying the city’s boutiques, cafés, and lively restaurants. Songdo’s public and private schools are among the region’s most highly ranked for academic performance. The city has a perfect balance of residential, business, cultural, retail, and recreational environments. Out of a 100 million square foot city, commercial is 40 million square feet, residential is 35 million square feet, retail is 10 million square feet, hospitality is 5 million square feet, and public space is 10 million square feet. 

Project in-depth: The Songdo International Business District, South Korea - Sheet3
Plan_©Songdo IBD

The city is a global leader in achieving LEED standards for the built environment. 20 million square feet of LEED-certified space. In addition to the widespread implementation of the U.S. LEED standard, 40% of the city has been set aside as green public space. Songdo offers residents, visitors, and businesses an idyllic and sustainable place in which to live, work, and play. Sondo’s buildings and streets bristle with sensors that monitor everything from energy use to traffic flow, as an effort toward sustainability. The city has a state-of-the-art water recycling facility and generous swaths of greenery spread all across the city. 

Why did the city fail? As of now, Songdo has failed to attract as many businesses, residents, and workers as it had estimated. Only a handful of companies have opened offices in Songdo, including the Green Climate Fund, IBM, George Mason University, and the State University of New York. The city has a population of just about 100,000 which is 1/3rd of the expected population. One of the residents mentioned in an interview that the city feels lonely as she drives past clusters of concrete residential high-rises, all identical but mostly empty. The unnecessarily wide roads have few cars, and buses which contradict the high-tech city of the future’s plans. 

The city feels cold to the residents, not just in terms of weather but also concerning the lack of human warmth from any neighborhood interaction. The people try to meet and catch up on internet café but that’s just virtual and never face-to-face. One of the places where people come together is the high-density mixed-use building, with a different store on each floor, including bars, church, tuition, and much more. These buildings have somewhat activity footprint compared to the rest of the city. 

The residents think that the “hurry-hurry” culture should stop. Songdo has enough concrete jungle and they should focus on the community aspect instead of constructing more buildings. A resident said, “There’s a ton of people living here, but you don’t see them, so the city is alive but it’s invisible.” The city is a missed opportunity. The designers should focus on making the spaces people-centric, friendly, and outgoing. Technology shouldn’t have been the foundation of the planning but just a tool for the convenience of the residents. Songdo will soon finish its construction and right now it’s uncertain how successful the project will be. 

Songdo_©Mansion Global


  • Songdo IBD (2015) [online] Available at –
  • Bloomberg (2018) Sleep in Songdo, Korea’s smartest city [online] Available at –

Image Sources:

  • Image 1: Songdo IBD (2015) [online] Available at –
  • Image 2: All Square Golf [online] Available at –
  • Image 3: Songdo IBD (2015) [online] Available at –
  • Image 4: Mansion Global [online] Available at ––south-korea-s-songdo-offers-green-spaces-and-good-schools/assets/4InkmZhiOi/slide1-2560×1920.jpeg

Isha Mutha is a student at MM College of architecture, Pune. She appreciates architecture but also has an undying passion for literature. Attempting to combine her design motives with creativity for storytelling. She strongly believes that a pen is mightier than a sword and hence changing perspectives one word at a time.