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Changes to the Millennium Hilton Seoul Redevelopment Project After Nominal Preservation Plan

etc. Kim Bokyoung Apr 02, 2024


Exterior view of the completed Seoul Hilton in 1986 ©Kimm Jongsoung / Image courtesy of MMCA Art Research Center



Aerial view of the Seoul Hilton redevelopment plan (This example is subject to adjustment based on future specific planning and architectural design review.) / Image courtesy of dA Group Urban Design & Architecture Co., Ltd.



View of lobby (This example is subject to adjustment based on future specific planning and architectural design review.) / Image courtesy of dA Group Urban Design & Architecture Co., Ltd.



The Millennium Hilton Seoul (hereinafter Seoul Hilton, 1983) is a modern hotel designed by Kimm Jong-Soung (honorary president, SAC International), a former member of the Mies van der Rohe office. This building introduced dry construction methods and aluminum curtain walls, which were rare at the time in Korea. It marks an important point in Korean architectural history for the fact that the building applied aluminium curtain walls using domestic technology.


Given Korea’s unique history – it had only been 30 years after the end of the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War – the architectural excellence of Seoul Hilton is even more meaningful. In 2021, plans for the demolition of the Seoul Hilton were publicised with the purchase of the building by a domestic real estate investment company, IGIS Asset Management. Accordingly, the architectural community called for the reservation of the Seoul Hilton in various forms such as through forums, contests, and symposia (covered in SPACE Nos. 652, 654). Kimm said that the current Seoul Hilton rooms are not suitable as luxury rooms due to certain structural features, and requested that Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) ease regulations to include residential facilities. In addition, he proposed an urban and administrative approach by applying the concept of air rights and granting the remaining floor area ratio to adjacent buildings as a way of securing business feasibility while also preserving Seoul Hilton. However, if the original form cannot be preserved, it is desirable to preserve only the lobby-atrium space, which has a 
high level of exterior technology and architectural perfection. 

On Nov. 23 last year, ‘Hilton Hotel Urban Redevelopment Change Plan’, revised and approved by the SMG, was made public. Two buildings, each used as business and accommodation facilities, will be constructed at a height of 142. 8m. The layout of the building was planned to open up a view of Namsan Mountain from the Seoul Station Plaza, and pedestrian accessibility to Namsan Mountain was increased by measures such as installing escalators and creating pedestrian path. In terms of what will remain of the existing building, an announcement set out plans for the original shape of the hotel’s main lobby to be preserved in consideration of Seoul Hilton’s architectural historical value. The idea is to devise a large-scale retail facility accessible through the lobby, so that citizens can have a taste of what it is to walk into Seoul Hilton. Looking at the example of the lobby preservation plan, it appears that only certain elements of the lobby will be preserved, while modifications will be made to improve accessibility and visually connect the exterior and the lobby space. 

While preserving the lobby and opening to the public are positive steps, it is questionable whether this actually preserves the lobby ‘space’. This is because the plan does not effectively preserve the spatial impression of the lobby that is created through the ceiling lights which descend to the lower floors through the stairwell installed in the main lobby, nor does it capture the sense of place of the original Seoul Hilton by exploiting the sloped terrain in the design. Kimm also expressed his concern that the changed plan just simply listed the components of the lobby, rather than reorganising the ‘space’. In spite of the numerous alternatives proposed by the architectural community, such as leaving the atrium as is and vertically expanding the remaining areas of the building, or even maintaining the existing building and extending the atrium itself underground, the changed plan barely accepts the original designer’s requests for partial preservation. 

On Dec.15, the Federation of Institutes of Korean Architects (FIKA) raised questions about the changed design via an official opinion poll. First, the inclusion of the concept of architectural asset preservation as part of the official document is a positive step, however, the contents of the SMG’s press release alone could be misleading as it does not provide a detailed understanding of the overall layout and improved view. The only point that can be distinguished from the published documents is that the change plan removes the lobby walls and moves them to create a separate pavilion, which cannot be considered ‘original preservation’. In addition, it was requested in this statement that SMG review the possibility of an alternative to keep the floor to area ratio for architectural preservation of the atrium and instead increase the heights of the new tower. Administrative support is necessary in order to realise a design to preserve architectural assets while also maintaining business feasibility. SPACE requested data and viewpoints from the dA Group Urban Design & Architecture (hereinafter dA Architecture), to gain a better nderstanding of the specific measures and design intentions behind the changed plan. 

dA Architecture replied that they are currently in the process of developing the design in cooperation with an overseas architect, following their contract with YD427PFV Co., Ltd. (hereinafter PFV), to consider the urban context of the project in comprehensive way, to address the historical significance of the existing building, and to explore the use of the new building. They further elaborated that the PFV is working towards strengthening urban competitiveness through urban regeneration around the Seoul Station area’, while also seeking to create harmony with its natural surroundings, including the Namsan Mountain and old fortresses of Seoul, and inheriting the existing Seoul Hilton. In particular, it was noted that the Yangdong district is a green area that was naturally connected to Namsan Mountain, but which became disconnected due to the Seoul Hilton. The change of plan targets restoration of this dislocated greenery by locating the lobby at the centre of the open green space. 

However, no answer was available as to whether the current change of plan is to also preserve its original form, or what specific measures will be taken to ‘preserve the original form’ of the Seoul Hilton’s atrium. The architectural community was eager to produce discourse on the preservation of architectural assets, but failed to exercise proper influence at the stage of determining the direction of the plan. Seoul Hilton’s expansion corresponds to an urban redevelopment project. In the case of a renovation plan within a redeveloping district, it is possible to negotiate, such as preserving architectural assets, securing publicity, and providing incentives, during the deliberation process by the Urban and Architecture Commission (UAC). Cho Namho (principal, Soltozibin Architects), a jury member at the 2022 Modern Urban Architecture Design Competition that was held under the theme of ‘Namsan Hilton Hotel, Value for All’, was deeply disappointment with the results of the deliberation with the UAC approving this design change, stating that the results demonstrate a low level of agreement and lacked in constructive discussion. In order for various architectural assets, including the Seoul Hilton, to be designated as modern and contemporary cultural heritage sites, and for appropriate conservation practices to be realised, continuous interest and the active expression of opinions are essential.



Current lobby of the Seoul Hilton​ / Image courtesy of dA Group Urban Design & Architecture Co., Ltd.



Lobby plan for the redevelopment plan of the Seoul Hilton. (This example is subject to adjustment based on future specific planning and architectural design review.) Image courtesy of dA Group Urban Design & Architecture Co., Ltd.