Living Sejong, Reading Sejong: Questions After One Year
Kim Ah-Yeon (professor, University of Seoul) × Park Sohyun (president, auri) × Lee Eunkyung (principal, EMA Architects & Associates) × Hahn Suh-Yung (professor, Hongik University) × Hong Bora (director, Gallery FACTORY)
Image courtesy of National Agency for Administrative City Construction
Forming a City: From Concept to Realisation
Park Sohyun (Park) While running a series in SPACE, I felt that much of my thoughts related to knowing something about a city are, in fact, mistaken. It is also not easy to analyse urban phenomena and to define certain regulations, so in the previous series I pointed out many distinct characteristics, listing questions or certain things about which I was personally curious. Likewise, this roundtable was not intended to find an answer, but rather to ask various and complex questions of this city. First of all, we should take a look at the starting point for Sejong.
Hahn Suh-Yung (Hahn) The participatory government proposed a new vision of state affairs, such as moving away from centralisation, promoting balanced development, and transforming it into a system of a network economy in response to Globalism. In order to plan a new city accordingly, the promotion committee hosted an urban idea competition. It is important to note that the competition here is a ‘idea’ competition. The urban planners were against the competition as a whole, so the scope of the competition was reduced to a idea competition, rather than a design competition. When determining the range of participation for the prize-winner in the follow-up plan, it was only reviewed from a negative standpoint, such as the issues in communication, and the delays to the project. People who submit their works in the competition are mostly architects, but there are huge differences in attitudes between the architects and urban planners. Architects try to present new and idealistic ideas, while urban planners criticize them for lacking in realism. Under this circumstance, it would be difficult to build a new city if there is no communication between the two.
Park The main terms used in the competition were ‘de-centralised’, ‘naturefriendly’, and ‘cell’. In the process of constructing the urban concepts that are represented by these terms into a physical environment, what if the design drawn by the architect and the so-called practical techniques that the urban planner uses to actualise it were well-matched? Is that even possible?
Hahn Besides the issues in communication, the challenges when planning a new city are part of the practice. There are two types of customary practices that became permanent: apartment-based urban planning and the neighbourhood unit. Even if there are a great idea and planning to initiate, it is difficult to plan a new city when a single city block consists of an apartment. Because an apartment complex exists as an island in a city, breaking the flow of the city, and yet it still sticks to the concept of the neighbourhood unit proposed by Clarence Perry in the 1920s. No one questions whether the method of focusing on the community and school through a pedestrian path placed at the centre is still valid in contemporary Korean society. However, apartments are market-approved products, and it is difficult to do urban planning without any apartments. Under these circumstances, it was important to conduct serious research into how to integrate new ideas from the competition with the apartments, but no such process was held. The masterplan for the first town was an important example of such integration, but it was never realised. Even though Sejong had a different starting point from other cities, it actually feels the same as other new towns because it is surrounded by apartment complexes.
Lee Eunkyung (Lee) A gap occurs in the process of developing an idea into a physical form. Will the streamlined building of Government Complex Sejong really function in democratic and decentralised ways? For instance, there is a hierarchy between cathedral and plaza or city hall and market, which are structures common to the European medieval city. As time changes, the plaza became the space for citizens to spark, and existing buildings maintain their forms while continuing to introduce other functions, realising new values. Within the framework of other ideas, there is always a chance for another possibility. When we try something entirely novel based on a new idea, can a physical solution make that idea work? Also, more competitions were held in Sejong after the urban idea competition. I’m curious whether the selection criteria of each winning entry were related, even when the judges for each competition changed.
Kim Ah-Yeon (Kim) We face a flood of competitions today. Even though the judges select design entries that proclaim new intentions and are often idealistic, they don’t often take responsibility for the selected entry afterwards, not only because there are not many systematic devices through which to do so. The competition must be held while the limitation of the competition as a system itself is also reflected, but the issues arise from using the competition as a panacea.
Park Whenever we try something new, it is certainly necessary to reflect upon why we always try to obtain a solution through the competition. Did it make any improvement after Sejong?
Lee The third new town also tried to resolve the lack of planning through competition. The problem that came to the fore in the urban planning was that the city and architecture were separate. However, we are trying to solve this problem through the form of a public contest. Then how should we set the criteria for judging values in this competition?
Hahn We need to set and implement a clear goal. If our goal is to achieve a new paradigm, we will need to establish procedures and systems for the experts to communicate. If our goal does not involve a new paradigm, we need to set a realistic goal from the start and design realistic processes accordingly.
Park The competition aimed to create a city that is democratic, decentralised and that can flexibly cope with change, but more fundamentally, play a major role in Sejong’s birth through the nation’s goals of balanced development and resolving overpopulation in the capital area. Under this national agenda, if the bigger goal were to create a new administrative capital really fast, could it have been possible to create a city that is different from what it is today, through any brilliant idea? Bundang had a clear, consistent, and quantitative city construction goal, which was creating 2 million units. On the other hand, Sejong offered a lot of qualitative values that could conflict with our customary practice in city construction. I don’t think this was a lack of sincerity, but the difference between pursuing urban concept and the method of realising it may have caused confusion in the creation of an identity.
Lee It may be a fundamental question, but whenever we need a change, do we just have to rely on someone’s ability and ideas, without meticulous planning?
Hahn It is also a social issue. How can people, who become frustrated when a package arrives a day late, endure the extremely difficult process between the city and architecture?
Hong Bora (Hong) I don’t think people who pursue new values have bad intentions. The point is the values that we set importance upon today have shifted to equity, fairness, open society, and democratic process. Yet, how people understand these concepts may vary by person and by generation. I think a problem occurs in that gap. What is the democratisation that people, whose who took action in the construction of the new town, have in mind? Would it be the same democratisation that teenagers and twenties, those who will lead changes in cities and society, imagine? Unless you are not in a period of transition with conflicting values, it is a problem that you cannot avoid.
Park In the past, the goal was clear: build fast. There was no difference between the values that people pursued and the reality that they experienced. However, now we seek different values. Rather than speeding up, we want real democracy, social sustainability, decentralisation, recovery of nature, and ecology in different and complex manners. How to coordinate and further spatially realise these aspects amid conflicting values is another story.
Park and Green Area Ratio of 50%: Its Meaning and Background
Park Officially, Sejong is a city that was planned with a park and green area ratio of 50%. What does it mean on practical terms to plan more than half of the ground surface as parks and green areas?
Kim We have conducted a study called ‘Special Strategy of Parks and Green Spaces in Multifunctional Administrative City and Sustainable Operational Management’. The result indicated that even though Sejong has a park and green area ratio of 52.3%, the extent of people’s experience and satisfaction was not that great. While we were conducting the study, more than half of the parks and green areas were created. First, with regards to the criticism that the green area ratio was raised as psychological compensation for destroying nature due to constructing a city, I do not think Sejong can be explained away through a modern urban concept in which the city and nature were in opposition. From its birth, Sejong is a ring-shaped city that embraces a park in its centre. It is clear that Sejong is the result of brilliant planning that redefines the relationship between nature and the city, and furthermore, the concept of the city towards which the nation is aiming. In terms of the number of parks and the structure of parks and green areas, Sejong has unique characteristics that cannot be imitated by any other city. The problem leads to the second issue, which is that the quantative area of the park and the excellence of its morphological structure do not necessarily lead to a qualitatively excellent park. At this point, it is important to revisit the expression of ‘parks and greens spaces of more than 50% of the city area’. This is true, but the figure of 50% includes mountains and hill areas. When it excludes mountains, it is around 30%. Of course, Korea has a culture of enjoying mountains, but the area of life-type parks and flat green areas that can be used in everyday life is not much different from the 27% of park and green area ratio in the new towns such as Ilsan and Bundang. Third, there is a problem with the ways parks are contracted. About 80% of the parks will go through pre-qualification (PQ) for bidding, and about 20% will be held for competition. Unlike architecture, there is no separate supervision system for designers or experts to be involved in the construction process. In most cases, plant species and materials are changed to suit the taste of the supervisor or operator. And when it is processed in the method of PQ, the company that won the bid often outsources it to lower priced suppliers. Many design entries do not even follow the site conditions, so it is doubtful whether they have ever visited the site before designing them. Due to the peculiarities of a public project, it is common to combine ready-made projects that are selected from the catalogues, government supplies, and mundane details that can be easily solved. If such practices are repeated, they will be a long way to go to impress citizens and make them feel satisfied by the resulting parks.
Hong Nowadays people seem to be more sensitive about buildings. They keep an eye out for when someone intends to demolish or construct buildings. Whereas no one draws attention to the parks when people cut down all the trees and plant new ones. In other words, when we talk about urban regeneration and redevelopment, we tend to focus on buildings and facilities. There hasn’t been any consensus on how should we deal with trees, which would have lived much longer than the buildings around them.
Kim Problems also arise when the local government or the park division of the construction work exclusively. The boundaries between the city and the park must be considered across various fields, but each field operates under partitioned-administration and does not communicate much. In fact, the boundary determines a quality of life. The boundary of administration has to be demolished in order to revive the boundaries of the city. Ecologically, the border is the most diverse and dynamic region. In cities, people need to cooperate and consider together carefully what takes place in the border reaches where various city functions reside. Also, in Sejong, wedge-shaped green areas that connect the ring-shaped urban structures and central green areas are planned, but it does not actually function in such a manner. One of the problems of central green spaces including Lake Park is that they are not connected to living areas through walking paths. If the wedge-shaped green areas become more vibrant, it will greatly contribute to the proper operation of the system of the park and green area of Sejong. The city’s linear parks and streets are the boundaries and links connecting a park with the city, a park with another park, and a park with people.
Hahn The issue of separation from the living areas is also found in the roof garden. When looking at the results, it may seem idealistic, but how many times would you go up to the roof garden? Unless it is a park located along the street of the city, it needs to have an intriguing element to attract people. Even citizens are asking ‘please set up a slide on the roof garden!’ Do experts think in depth about how to make the boundary between the park and daily life better integrated?
Park Sejong placed green areas in the centre of the city and set up the roads in ring-shape along the edges. So the planners say that they followed the competitionwinning entry carefully. There is a great difference in layers between accepting the original idea and actualising it through specific design techniques.
Lee If you look at the layer of green areas in urban structure, there is a large park in the centrs of the city, a wedge-shaped park attached to it, and green areas inside the apartment complex. The regulations for the apartment’s green spaces are also specified, yet these mean the apartments are isolated from the city. For instance, even if the objective concept of the competition was to become open and linked, the design conditions often force the green areas to be placed on the outskirts. This makes it difficult for people from the outside to approach inside the apartment ‘complex’. Although the regulations were set as a consideration of in the sense of a city for planners and architects to design the periphery, on the contrary, it resulted in architecture becoming more and more separate from the city.
Kim The rival of the park is said to be the apartment block. ‘Apartments inside the parks’ is a big trend today, and it is not easy to keep up the quality of public parks as good as those of the green areas inside the apartment complexes. In that sense, the park should provide services that cannot be provided by the green areas inside the apartment complexes, so we need to seriously consider those services. The public competitiveness has to start from thinking about quality rather than quantity.
Park What does it mean to locate other public green areas inside privatized apartment complexes? In the reconstruction of apartments, raising up a park area within the apartment complex can also bring incentives. The park can only be accessible to apartment residents of the closed complex. When more than half of the Korean housing types are apartments today, I wonder how much time we spent reflecting upon the publicity damage that is unintentionally caused by the details of site planning and complex design. Do we really know exactly how do the urban space design strategies that we have customarily used influence our daily life?
Lee Architecture, city, and landscape move on their own. Each has good intentions, but one may constrain the other. We need a method that will allow the three sectors to review and discuss at once, but I think that reviewing is not the restriction of regulations that keeps something at a minimal level. Rather, it needs an advanced system that can be adjusted through discussion.
Kim Also, in landscape, communication with civil engineering is rarely completed in spite of how important it is. In cities, rivers and streams are very important spaces and sceneries. However, during the process of urban development, the natural streams lost their topological and ecological characteristics due to the ‘water control’ or ‘repair’ of civil engineering. Landscape in a mathematically calculated and mechanically standardized streams’ civil structure is often difficult to play its role beyond facility installations and green decoration. The competition-winning entry of the central green spaces that aimed to adopt the natural process of Geumgang River’s regular flooding as a part of the park was also abandoned due to the water control. If we destroy the existing ecosystems and create alternatives to similar ecosystems, would it be possible to function as before?
Hahn This can benefit from the defining drive of the Korean construction business, rapid construction. It would be great to keep the natural slope as much as possible, but the easiest and quickest way is to bulldoze old terrain and to start all over again.
Food System: Personal Desire and Urban Structures
Park One of the distinct characteristics in the life of Sejong is the vitalisation of the local food scene. Through food as a medium, we experience new ways of understanding the city. The personal desire for delicious and safe food ingredients manifests itself in the collective demand of the community, and it is also affecting the city’s working system. The agricultural and livestock products that are produced in the neighbouring areas, surrounding the construction areas of Sejong, are actively consumed by Sejong citizens, and the quality is highly maintained by the consumers’ monitoring. For instance, when a certain fruit or vegetable is thought of as delicious in Sejong’s representative community named Sejong Mom Café, it soon falls out of stock. And as much as emart and Homeplus, the local food market Shingshing marketplaces is equally as popular.
Hong The underlying reason behind such a trend is the shift in the way people think and the values that they pursue: individual characters, open societies, transparency, and fairness. Nowadays, for example, people not only eat food but they would like to know more about where food is produced and the process it went through until it arrives on the table. In that sense, community is crucial and communitisation is a global phenomenon. There are two different desires contained in a community, where people become more personal and at the same time they are in need of a minimal community as a human being. In fact, if we think carefully, there are not that many places to meet other people who are in different environments. Isn’t the Mart a city where you can meet any people regardless of their genders, ages, religions, or political orientations?
Lee We also need to look at how food related fields affect urban structures or the physical environment. For example, there are many small marts in the Netherlands. On their way back home, it is common for people to stop by and get food ingredients for the day. However, Sejong stands like a huge supermarket, where parking garages and buildings stand on a large site. It is great to actively produce and consume local products, but in the sense of a city and space, the results are not much different.
Park There has been a change to the way we perceive local food, but the method of actualising it in space remains the same. Let’s say you buy carrots grown in Sejong. When you think about the most convenient place to go and buy them, you will immediately think of the local food market, Shingshing marketplaces. You go there by car, park the car easily and get the food. Due to the high demand of consumers, the third and fourth Shingshing marketplaces will be built. Although it is local food, the marketplaces will be built in the form of a large supermarkets rather than small marts. It is undeniable that many people consider this format as the most convenient.
Hahn It is in line with the fact that an apartment is the most popular type of dwelling.
Hong The emergence of small shops, rather than large supermarkets, occurs in the final stages of the development of a new town. In the current development stage of Sejong, it is actually difficult to have a single-person market or niche market. Since local food is slowly becoming an issue now, so such changes will naturally take place over time. I think this is a basic desire of a human being. It cannot be prevented, so such desires have changed the city so far. Everything cannot be properly prepared from the beginning. It is important to keep in mind how can we reflect uncertainties in urban planning. We need to have a perspective of envisioning possibilities, rather than highlighting anxious and negative aspects. If we leave it open to possibilities, it will naturally be filled, changed, and developed according to desire.
Park Our desires become differentiated and advanced, moving towards different aspects as opposed to those dictated in the past. But are cities and architecture, as structures that contain our desires, properly accommodating of such changes?
Lee For instance, Hongdae, Sangsu, Yeonnam-dong are the urban structures that are formed with continuous low-rise dwellings, so they can expand the vitality of small cities. On the other hand, when there is a continuous apartment complex or a slope in urban structure, such vitality cannot be continued. Inherently, there is a limit to the urban structures that are composed of automobiles and complexes.
Hong If it is difficult to change the existing environment, can we adjust the space inside the mart? What if we plan the space with uncertainty inside the Shingshing marketplaces and multi-complex community center? As the 3-day and 5-day traditional markets in the past were settled into the system of mart due to the various issues such as safety, sanitation, and usability, I believe there will be another type of market to be developed in the future.
Jochiwon and Sejong: The Old and The New
Park There have been a lot of attempts made to interpret the city in terms of comparing the old and new. However, the relationship between Jochiwon and Sejong is unusual and yet very subtle. It starts with the fact that Jochiwon, which has a history of several hundred years, has been incorporated into Sejong, which was constituted less than 10 years ago. In recent discussions on the urban generation, Sejong often receives awards for excellence when ranking the best case studies, and it is surprising to see that Jochiwon always plays a big role in that background. In other words, the old cases of Jochiwon allow the new Sejong to be spotlighted. At the end of last year, Jochiwon Water Purification Plant was renovated as Jochiwon Cultural Garden. In this process, what was Lee Eunkyung’s impression of it?
Lee I took a train from Seoul station to Jochiwon station and then walked to the site of the water purification plant located at the border reaches of the city. In other words, the city’s major facilities are within the walking range. The urban structure is also organised according to a grid system. I think the place has a lot of potential. At the beginning of the project, it was called a water purification plant park. However, it was too small to be called a park, and also full of miscellaneous facilities, and a number of homeless people were in the park pergola. In the vicinity, there was a water purification facility surrounded by iron fences, and elderly care hospital and a youth facility sitting next to it. Since the entire area of water purification plant facility is public land, many facilities were closed to each other without any relevance, making people become more reluctant to approach.
Park What were some of the requirements?
Lee With the intention of regenerating the entire Jochiwon, the Young Jochiwon division planned two regeneration projects. The two places that were selected were the Hanlim Paper Manufacturer building and Jochiwon Water Purification Plant. One was for artists to produce their works, and the other was for citizens to enjoy cultural activities by connecting gardens and cultural facilities. Hanlim Paper Manufacturer is in charge of Chung Hyuna (principal, DIA Architecture), and I am in charge of the Jochiwon Water Purification plant. It was recently completed and opened as Jochiwon Cultural Garden. Many people living nearby go for a walk. I also see people with baby strollers. However, the operator has not yet been determined, so the area is not very active so far. The regeneration project of Hanlim Paper Manufacturer is still ongoing, but I am not sure whether the city can be revitalized through promoting the work of young artists from outside of the city. How can they get along with the local people? Shouldn’t we first focus on solving the problems of degraded residential space in the aging downtown area? Most of the rental housing is located around the periphery of the downtown area, rather than within it. The happy housing for young people was also built between the old downtown and the Jochiwon campus of Hongik University. The residential area of the old downtown, which is in need of immediate help, is left intact. Will the road maintenance of removing the asphalt and installing new blocks under the name of the old downtown regeneration project solve the issue? Will regeneration actually take place by building a cultural facility?
Hahn The city cannot be regenerated by planting flowers, repairing roads, or building cultural facilities. It would be idealistic if a useful programme could be developed and then injected into the city, but it is not easy. This does not mean that the urban regeneration project is not worth it. I think it is very worthwhile to just have people gathered up and talk about their area. When this activity expands and tightened, it will be possible to plan the city from bottom to top.
Lee When we were working on the project, the Young Jochiwon division was replaced with the Urban Regeneration division. Administration officials have a high understanding of the project, and they are willing to deliver a good project. I believe this is our chance. I hope we can think more carefully and become more active about how to regenerate the old downtown. I think we should carefully think about how to solve the degraded and vacant housing problems of the area and how best to draw upon the existing infrastructure.
Park What are the appropriate design techniques and plans for revitalising the old downtown through the supply of cultural places and residential areas? And what programmes do we need?
Hahn First of all, I think it is necessary to establish a programme that can be linked to the old downtown of Jochiwon and universities located in Jochiwon. However, there is no transportation arranged to bring college students into the downtown. Since buses end their services early at night, college students cannot easily approach the old downtown.
Hong If you think about it, where did all the homeless people who used to live in the pergola go? We tend to solve city problems with programmes and projects, but above all, it is important to have empathy, to acknowledge the suffering of other people and to attend to individual needs.
Hahn That is very important. After all, the act of architecture and building a city embody the governing philosophy of what kind of thoughts and values we live in.
Park Lastly, what are the things that we need to revisit through Sejong? What questions can we ask of ourselves and our society?
Kim Good results come from a good process. As we build new cities, how seriously do we reflect upon our customary practices in city construction? When the
urban concept competition was ongoing, the fact that I was able to oversee the entire process behind how a single city is born and grows in Korea gave me a feeling of overwhelming excitement. However, the process of creating a city, especially directly or indirectly witnessing the current state of forming parks in Sejong, which claim to stand for the ‘city of parks’, is equally frustrating. In the midst of busily making results, we need to look back, prudently, over the last decade, for the sake of the next 50 or 100 years. If systems, administrations, and organisations do not allow the innovation and sincerity of the future cities, and if they are afraid of pursuing experiments, trials and errors, that is, if they do not renew the process of creating a new city itself, won’t ideologies and values pursued by Sejong end up as a political slogans?
planning. Based on the continuous exploration of the relationship between art, society, and individuals, she works as a commissioner for public art projects. In 2002, she opened a non-profit exhibition space named Gallery FACTORY and ran its operations as a director until 2017. Since 2018, she has been working as part of a planning committee while overseeing consultation.