Gwacheon-Gwacheon, Layout shown the concept of ridges and furrows ⓒ SIAPLAN Consortium
Kee Hyosung (chairman, Urban-Lab Cooperative, director, Han-A Urban Research Institute)
Kim Saehoon (professor, Seoul National University)
Lee Jaeseung (professor, Seoul National University)
Jung Sanghoon (professor, Gachon University)
Hwang Gayeon (manager, Urban-Lab Cooperative)
Kim Saehoon (Kim): Recently, a rough sketch of the basic design for the 3rd Generation New Towns was publicised. The President Moon Jae-in administration announced their Policy of Providing 300,000 Houses in the Metropolitan area in order to stabilise the housing market. These include the five different districts that have been designated as 3rd Generation New Towns: Wangsuk-Namyangju, Gyosan-Hanam, Changneung-Goyang, Daejang-Bucheon, and Gyeyang-Incheon; and public housing districts: Gwacheon-Gwacheon and Jangsang-Ansan. In general, what do you think of the location, size, and defining characteristics of the 3rd Generation New Towns?
Kee Hyosung (Kee): In terms of their location and size, the 3rd Generation New Towns are different from the previous New Towns. First, it broke the unwritten law behind previous New Towns projects – that they would not encroach upon Green Belt land – by releasing large swathes of the Green Belt. Of course, it mostly released areas that had been determined to be third grade or less and of low conservation value. It must have been a decision made when searching for easily accessible sites within 20km from the centre of Seoul. In terms of their size, when compared to the previous developments that consisted of more than a 3-million-pyeong (about 991,735㎡), the 3rd Generation New Towns are to be developed on a smaller scale. Since they are close to Seoul and their surface areas, populations, and number of businesses is relatively small, it will be challenging to implement the proposed aims of including the ‘creation of jobs’ and ‘pursuit of self-sufficiency’. In terms of the system, the 3rd Generation New Towns are based on the Special Act on the Construction of Public Housing, which was revised based upon the Act on the Special Measures for the Construction of National Rental Housing and the Special Act on the Construction of Bogeumjari Housing. Accordingly, more than 50% of all housing is public housing, of which more than 35% is public rental housing and less than 25% is public tract housing. Whereas the previous New Towns were cities that had mainly 30-pyeong (about 99㎡) private housing units, the 3rd Generation New Towns are cities of mainly 20-pyeong (about 66㎡) public housing developments.
Kim: Let’s take a look at the design competition for the basic design of the new towns. Interestingly, the competition guidelines presented the proposal topics and development directions for each site in a very specific manner. For example, in the case of Gwacheon-Gwacheon, the guidelines outlined the governing theme of a ‘street-oriented shared city’ with a plan for land use, area tables, and planning principles. Going one step further, it also included additional requests such as to ‘avoid super blocks and to compose small and medium-sized blocks’ and to ‘use a linear arrangement of mid to low-rises along the street to encircle the overall design’. Moreover, in addition to the basic design, it requested a proposal for the ‘Integrated Master Plan for Urban and Architecture’ as mandatory to submission. Through these actions, the competition designated specialised zones within the new towns and requested the establishment of not only two-dimensional plan designs but also three-dimensional spatial plans.
(left) Wangsuk2-Namyangju, Wangsuk-type Courtyard ⓒ G.S Architects Consortium
(right) Gyeyang-Incheon, P-PATH (Park Path) ⓒ Siteplanning Consortium
Hwang Gayeon (Hwang): The fact that the competition guidelines were specified in such detail means that the host pondered them greatly in the preliminary stages of their preparations. From the perspective of a person who participated in a competition, providing specific guidelines at the early stages of designing a new town of multiple functions and demands may inhibit freer thinking. The winners must have felt similarly. As an example, following the guidelines, most of the winning proposals were designs of small blocks of 60 × 90m modules and courtyard housings. In urban planning, the process of selecting a particular block size and housing type is extremely important, but in fact, it was difficult to find an explanation of why the size of the block should be so small and why the housing units had feature a courtyard.
Jung Sanghoon (Jung): I agree. If the location already had enough of an urban atmosphere, a small block encouraging contact between the city and its occupants is more appealing. However, it takes a long time for a new town to become urbanised after its construction. Moreover, those who settle in the new town in the first place wish to enjoy a relaxing natural environment and a rural life with a certain level of urban vitality. In this case, a super block rather has merit. This is because once a large expanse of land uninterrupted by roads has been secured, then it is possible to jointly purchase park land, green areas and open spaces at a reasonable cost.
Lee Jaeseung (Lee): The effort to improve and standardise the landscapes of the existing new towns through this competition should be very highly commended. As a result, in the future, it will be necessary to revisit what the design competitions of the basic design for the new towns achieved. Should it not be a public project promoter, such as Korea Land & Housing Corporation (LH), who is the principal agent in initiating competitions and steering the process of creating new towns, to select a design entry that can be applied to the public sector – such as urban structures, infrastructures, public lands, schools, and parks – rather than the private sector? A design for the private sector that is nicely presented from a given perspective is, in fact, for areas in which the public cannot guarantee its implementation, except for areas that can be regulated by district unit plans such as development scale and construction lines.
Kim: An urban design competition is different from an architectural design competition, in that an urban design competition is difficult to establish a 1:1 corresponding relationship between a single concept and a single form. Let’s talk about the city’s governing concept. In the case of Wangsuk-Namyangju, the proposed idea was that of a ‘Symbiosis City’, and as the content of symbiosis, a city of ‘multi-persona’ was presented. However, it was actually difficult to identify the subject of this persona, how this new town would be different from other new towns, and how such symbiosis could be transferred to the spatial design. In contrast, in the case of Gwacheon-Gwacheon, at least I have a high opinion of the fact that the concept was expressed in a clear spatial vocabulary. I think it was good decision to compose the urban form through two different types of band: a linear type where highly-dense developments will take place following the concepts of ‘ridges and furrows’, and a type of a shared zone which will be used as parks, green areas and community spaces.
(left) Wangsuk-Namyangju, Specialized planning area ⓒ DA GROUP Consortium
(right) Wangsuk2-Namyangju, Specialized area where the three streams meet ⓒ G.S Architects Consortium
Jung: I personally think a good city is a city that realises a good concept through a highly legible structure. For this reason, it is necessary to have an in-depth discussion of the true nature and the meaning of the urban concept, and on urban structure itself. In terms of the pedestrian environment, there is a lot left to be desired in setting the public-transportation-oriented-pedestrian axis, a spatial sense of encirclement, and establishing the function of the first floor surrounding it. It would not have been easy to resolve this well within the short term of the competition.
Kee: Of the winning proposals, I think the urban concept of the ‘Eco-Sponge’ proposed for Changneung-Goyang was the best one implemented within the space. The junction between Mangwol Mountain, the river, and the city was imagined as an ecotype reservoir while also ensuring it would be used more ordinarily as Dulle-gil. In the Wangsuk2-Namyangju, after identifying the distribution of the furniture manufacturing industry – which is deeply connected to the industrial character of the surrounding area – nearby, the design aimed to introduce a function of life and cultural design industry in the new town. I liked that this was realised as the Dumulmeori Square and an Art Center at which three streams meet. When an urban concept bonds to its local status and natural conditions, it becomes more powerful.
Kim: I am also curious about your impression of the metropolitan and public transportation project proposed by the winning proposals. In general, the design established transportation hubs such as GTX and S-BRT to act as specialised areas and to emphasise a sense of traffic-friendliness, with subways and bus stops provided within a 10-minute walk from anywhere in the new towns increase access to public transportation.
Kee: Access to transportation is extremely important in a new town. However, considering the short term of the competition and the identities of the participants, I feel like the objectives of these competitions ask too much of their contestants. Due to the weight of these expectations, several winning proposals presented a lot of untested plans for transportation. For instance, in the design of the Wangsuk2-Namyangju, a regional highway was presented to Gyeongchun-ro as a six-lane road, with a bus-only lane in the centre followed by a lane for general vehicles and an outermost lane for self-driving vehicles. Considering the overall traffic flow, a single one-way lane for general vehicles is difficult to imagine.
Gyosan-Hanam, Urban Plateau ⓒ GYEONG GAN Consortium
Lee: I believe the ‘traffic-friendliness’ requested in the guidelines of the competitions is not necessarily an issue for the transportation system. In terms of qualitative aspects, it is important to consider the mobility handicapped, the balance of needs posed by pedestrians/bicycles/single drivers, the speed restrictions on highways and side streets, and the development of small-scale parking lots scattered throughout, in order to create a ‘traffic-friendly’ city.
Kim: It is also worth noting that the guidelines stressed the ‘three-dimensional planning of urban space’ and the ‘mixing of different classes and generations’. In the winning entry from Gyosan-Hanam, an enlarged structure resembling the earth’s surface named the ‘Urban Plateau’ covers the Jungbu Expressway and the Meeting Plaza. I rate the spatial language that resuscitates a disconnected urban fabric occasioned by large-scale highways very highly.
Jung: I agree with the purpose of mixing different classes and generations. However, although the ‘Wangsuk-type Courtyard’, suggested in the winning entry for the Wangsuk2-Namyangju, was a novel attempt, it had to be adjusted. Housing for 1 – 2 individuals, housing for seniors, private tract housing, and rental housing do not have to be located in the same block around a single courtyard as intermediation. It would be better to implement an approach that would provide a place to encourage interaction . Furthermore, it is questionable whether there are businesses in Korea that are able to develop and run such complex housing types on a single site.
Kim: There were other important keywords signalled by these competitions for the new towns, including economic self-sufficiency and the creation of jobs. In the earlier 1st and 2nd Generation New Towns different attempts were made, including inviting large-scale sales facilities and business facilities and relocating administrative and employment facilities from other cities.
Kee: When the 3rd Generation New Towns were announced, the total area of the self-sufficient site proposed by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT) was 13 times larger than the area of the Pangyo Techno Valley. This implied that a large proportion of the site will serve the metropolitan area. I presume that it will be difficult to fulfill those supply demands. This prompted another concern: what kind of companies, roles or functions will fill the area? The winning proposals suggested mixed-use sites in order to secure self-sufficiency, but in fact, a highly advanced level of mixed-use is already feasible in the commercial sites or peripheral city regions in the existing new towns. Something that differentiates the mixed-use site proposed by the winning proposals from that of the existing new towns is that the new enables residential functions—however, it is doubtful whether this will help to strengthen a notion of self-sufficiency.
Hwang: In terms of the urban environment, it is impressive to have secured a high percentage of park land and green areas within these 3rd Generation New Towns. However, on the contrary, it indicates that the percentage of land that will be supplied for free is high, so in the end, the public project promoter will eventually adjust their design plans in the direction of expanding the provisional disposal site in a good location, which can be sold to the private sector. Throughout this process, the initial intentions driving many commercial sites and self-sufficient sites may become distorted. The goal and appropriateness of developing self-sufficient functions in a given city must be carefully considered along with the location and size of the city.
Goryang Changneung, Eco-sponge ⓒ HAEANN Architecture Consortium
Kim: Finally, please outline the significance of the competition for the 3rd Generation New Towns and the meaning that runs through these different winning proposals.
Lee: What I rate most highly in these competitions is that there has been a slight change to the format of urban design. The previous process of designing new towns was led by a large construction engineering company and operated in a rather closed manner. In these competitions for the 3rd Generation New Towns, there was a balance between cities, architecture, and landscape in terms of the contestants and formation of the reviewing committee, and the promotion process has changed to adopt a more open manner. It was also a admirable gesture by MOLIT to introduce an Urban Concept Planner before the competition was held, and to conduct a preliminary review of each site. From now on, I hope that experts from across various fields will collaborate more closely, settling these spaces into a system that is able to create a truly great new town.
Kee: Earlier, we discussed an imbalance between the demand and supply to the self-sufficient site and the creation of jobs in the 3rd Generation New Towns. Before the announcement of a basic design, there should be an integrated research project conducted on the core site and its grounds. Design entrants only study the individual site, so there is no time to figure out the bigger picture. In terms of the site area, size, number of businesses and employees, if there is solid basic data set from which plans can will be developed in the future and shared along with a basic design proposal, more promising design entries can be submitted.
Jung: It is necessary to select and focus upon what we want to obtain through the competition for the new towns. I wish the purpose of these competitions were more clear, for instance, whether they expect to see entries that can truly be realised as originally designed or if they want to receive the overall philosophical and urban concept serving as the basis for directions to be studied in the future.
Hwang: It was good to see these competitions draw sufficient attention to radical social issues such as super blocks, white zoning, self-sufficiency, parks and green spaces, transportation challenges, and logistics and. Aside from this, I am excited to see that small but meaningful cities that are closed to Seoul, of mainly 20-pyeong housing units and in which young people live and work, being created.
Bucheon Daegang, The first village near Lake Park ⓒ DA Architects Office consortium
Kim Saehoon graduated from the Architecture Department at Seoul National University and Harvard Graduate School of Design. He is associate professor at Seoul National University Graduate School of Environmental Studies. He is co-running the Urban Studies and Design Lab and authored a book titled Exploring the City Through Cities (Hansup, 2017).
Lee Jaeseung received his Ph.D in planning from MIT. He is associate professor at Seoul National University Graduate School of Environmental Studies. His research and practice focus on reciprocal interaction between urban environments, human behaviour, and quality of life.
Jung Sanghoon graduated from the Department of Civil, Urban and Environmental Engineering at Seoul National University and Harvard Graduate School of Design. He is associate professor at the Department of Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture at Gachon University. He runs the Urban Innovation Lab and has authored multiple papers on urban development and urban design.
Hwang Gayeon graduated from the Department of Urban Design at Hongik University and Seoul National University. She is an urban designer at the Han-A Urban Research Institute and the Urban-Lab Cooperative.