While we think about an urban city, the initial thoughts that flash are the cons that metropolitan cities are well known. Congestion of roads, overpopulation, health-related risks, surging housing issues, overpriced living is afflicting South Korea’s capital. In 2003, the government came up with a boasting proposal to inflict a multimillion relocation project of relocation. A project that demands such heinous efforts of systems can be a cynical move put forward.

The futuristic proposal of Sejong City and living were combined to develop a multimillion project. The proposal made was to move the administration from Seoul to Sejong to help with decongestion in Seoul, the current capital, and to encourage people to invest in the country’s central. An ambitious project like Sejong was not the first. Many other countries have opted for a better urbanizing route to relocate an existing centre to ease the metropolitan demands.  

The big question, however, arises with the success or not of such a project. Sejong City has become a topic of debate as it has raised concerns about whether it honestly has solved the setbacks it initially meant to solve.

An Architectural Review of Sejong City, South Korea - Sheet1
Early Image of Sejong _©Efrain Mendez/Archframe
An Architectural Review of Sejong City, South Korea - Sheet4
Early Image of Sejong houses and lands _©Efrain Mendez_Archframe

The ideology of Sejong city has now become an underlying statement of, why such projects are proposed if they don’t benefit the country. The project was put forward by Kim Tae-nyon of the Democratic Party of Korea, who suggested the shift in the national organizations from Seoul to Sejong city about 120km south. The backdrop of this proposal is a simple and useful reason: To address the clustering of major social resources in Seoul. 

Seoul has higher population growth in comparison to the entire country’s; as more people have even moved from the neighboring smaller city to the capital, it was a much-needed and intended decision for the strategic location change.

However, Sejong city has been under much scrutiny lately and has been deemed illegal and efficient. The initial plot to move the ministrative administrations wasn’t completely over, and now Sejong has become more of an idle city with the current population around 300,000 only while the aim was to move at least half of Seoul’s population.

An Architectural Review of Sejong City, South Korea - Sheet2
Panaromic Image of Inhabited Sejong _©Robert Cowley

Today Sejong City is marked by its idle gridlocked roads, empty walkways, and desolate urban life that has been dominated by boxy government buildings and old-time cafes. Many have even shown resolute opinions on the proposal not being used to its initial planned potential.

Despite all the criticism, the city planning itself was a high-end, well-thought-out avant-garde planned city. It was mainly designed as ‘The smart city of Korea’ and is often held up high with the other leading cities for its infrastructure.

The pompous and intricately planned city was a conceived thought of merging landscape and urbanism. From the typical bamboo housing and barren farmlands, the idea of sustainability emerged. 

The city’s competition-winning master plan is designed by a team including Balmori Associates, the New York-based landscape architecture firm run by Diana Balmori, who worked in concert with the Korean firm Haeahn Architecture and its New York subsidiary H Architecture. (BERG, 2014) 

The entire city has been weaved by a street frame system with the gridlock of roads and pathways, however, it does not mean that it has overcompensated with the existing green. The patterned roads have created small pockets of green that were once hilly now flattened to accommodate around 500,000 families. The 667 acre is a complex web of ideas circling a central design. 

The entire city has been planned with the reference point of the central main government building, which is meant to be the key development feature. Sejong City may be a center to many other ministries and government buildings, but the mainframe idea was to center around the landscaped building that was an entity created as a superstructure. The building is a series of sloped walkways, extensive ramps, and landscaped terraces beneath which hidden away are the government sectors. 

An Architectural Review of Sejong City, South Korea - Sheet3
Central Govt.Building _©Efrain Mendez_Archframe
Central Govt.Building Landscaped Roof _©Efrain Mendez_Archframe

Balmori notes that most of what has been built in Korea since the 1960s has been towers. On the outskirts of Sejong City, where residential towns are being built, towers stand like dominoes, proximate but disconnected. “There are no buildings that unify the ground floor, and it all feels as if it is hanging out in space,” Balmori says. (BERG, 2014)

The architecture firms have amalgamated the ideas of fresh and clean living by using extensive and wide-ranged landscaping. Balmori has stated that the central building is more or less like guidance for the city to expand and grow. The rest of the city is laid with the framework of a grid pattern interlocked by escaping road networks. The smaller pockets in the urban frame are left as green spots with sustainable energy-efficient fittings. The plan was initially scheduled to be completed as a sustainable city by the year 2010, however, due to political delays, the year was, later on, pushed to 2015. Sejong City has also seen great development and has been continuously under development since reaching the ultimatum of smart living. 

Was the Sejong City Project Way Too Ambitious or Is It the Beginning to A Better and Enhanced Living?

Due to the extended and prolonged delay with the complete city development, many have criticized the construction of this city and whether it would serve the purpose of sustained living. “It didn’t take shape until last year. I couldn’t see how many of the ideas we’re going to come through,” she says. “And then last year, ‘Wow.’ I just felt so exhilarated standing on that roof and saying, ‘My God, they followed the things we said.’ It felt so enormous.” Balmori stated. (BERG, 2014)

As an architect, the first notice would be the type of environment it serves. Sejong City may have been under the fire for some time now but it is progressing, slowly but surely and unlike the other ‘eco city’, potential growth has been observed since its first construction.

Current view of Sejong City _©Efrain Mendez_Archframe

The proposal was on an initial plane of whooping million dollars but the question that unfolded was, was it an extreme step taken by the government? Why are the people not considering moving to a better-planned city with better facilities and a pollution-free environment? Seoul has been the capital since the division and has ever since contributed to the economic, political, and social growth of the country; for half the civilization to move to a city that is yet to completely meet the demands of the people might seem a bit reckless. The expected deadline has since then moved to 2030, where it is expected to house at least 500,000 more of the population. 

The main sustainability feature has raised eyebrows regarding the materials being used in the construction, however, it is still deemed to be better than the other ‘eco-cities. The featurette of having a ringed forest-like belt around is also eyed as controversy as to how the city was granted with the title of a metropolitan city. In all fairness to the controversies and the phenomenal architecture approach, Sejong City is still in its rising and it is early to assert whether it is a complete success or an inland waste.

Sejong City is not a groundbreaking project nor can it be estimated as a complete taunt of urbanism; it needs to be viewed with mere understanding as to the first milestone towards sustainable living. It is more of an approach towards better architectural prospects for living and can only be judged based on how the impact would unfold in future years.

References

Nate Berg (2014). Master Plan for the Public Administrative Town, Designed by the Team of Balmori Associates, H Architecture, and Haeahn Architecture. [online]. (Last updated: August 25, 2014). Available at: https://www.architectmagazine.com/design/buildings/master-plan-for-the-public-administrative-town-designed-by-the-team-of-balmori-associates-h-architecture-and-haeahn-architecture_o [Accessed date: 09/04/2021].

Author

VismithaYaji is an aspiring designer and a writer who is currently working in the field of Architecture & Design. She has recently decided to put her passion for writing on the front stage and has been contributing to many on-going competitions and anthologies. Being an ardent fan of motivational quotes, poetry, and designing, she is often seen questioning the current trends in a divergent and unique fashion.She enjoys a philosophical approach to life and is keen on learning and developing new skills. Being a person who has traveled and has often shifted from place to place, she has been able to explore and appreciate various cultures and lifestyles. She enjoys traveling, sketching,anything related to music or movies, and once in a while the rare opportunities of photography. Her approach towards writing is inspired by life and its unexpected turn of events. Most of her works in any field, whichever it may be reflects these ideologies and beliefs. She pushes herself to discover newer approaches in the field of design and create modernistic conclusions.

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