The City’s Facade
See & Do Tours
Before long, Seoul has become a metropolis sprawling with buildings of various style and history. We took a closer look at some of those buildings influencing the very look of our city.
Writer Yang Seul-a - Photos by Lim Hak-hyeon
Although Seoul is a city undergoing transformation at the speed of light, you can still find remaining traces of the past which have managed to quietly accrue over time. From Joseon dynasty to the present, Seoul has stood as a capital city for over 600 years. A cultural artifact and site which underwent great restoration efforts back in 2011, Culture Station Seoul 284 was built in 1925 during Japanese occupation as Gyeongseong Station and is currently considered to be the oldest railway station in Korea. Originally built as a strategic defense point for future invasions, Gyeongseong Station was completed after 3 years and was the biggest railway station after Tokyo Station in the Eastern Asia at that time. Tsukamoto Yasushi of Tokyo Imperial University modeled this station after the eclectic, Renaissance style of Switzerland’s Lucerne Station. Its red brick walls and arches, vintage domes, and clock tower (endearing nicknamed “Pabalma” in 1968) came to be major features that would attract countless visitors from all over the world.
Gyeongseong Station was a central hub where press and information flowed freely. But with time, the area surrounding Seoul Station lost its appeal until urban restoration projects like Seoullo 7017 and Culture Station Seoul 284 brought the area back into prominence. And with the recent opening of trendy cafes, restaurants, and shops near Malli-dong at the back of Seoul Station, there’s been a renewed sense of vitality growing within the once dead area.
1 Tongil-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul
Everyday 10:00 - 19:00
(Open until 21:00 every last Wednesday of the month)
Kim Swoo-geun is one of Korea’s most well known architects. After studying abroad in Japan and graduating in 1960, he came back to Korea and completely transformed the Korean architecture scene along with Kim Joong-up. Many of his works, including Walker Hill Hill Top Bar, Sewoon Shopping Center, and more can still be seen throughout the city. Amidst his many projects, there’s one building built near Changdeokgung Palace in 1971 which holds great meaning and significance. Used as Kim Swoo-geun’s personal office and house, this building marked a pivotal point in Korean history of architecture and was registered as Cultural Property No. 568. Reminiscent of kiwa roof tiles, the ivy covered black brick walls go hand-in-hand with the neighboring hanok architecture of Changdeokgung Palace. The building underwent expansion in 1977, added new spaces 20 years after that, and restored the hanok house connecting the old building with the new spaces in 2002, bringing this place to its current appearance today. At the present, this building is used by Arario Museum in Space as cultural space to exhibit modern art.
Although once a bustling place back in Joseon dynasty, the area around Changdeokgung Palace has become a more peaceful, quieter neighborhood with the passing of time. From Unni-dong, the location of the old National Gugak Center, to Samcheong-dong, a neighborhood famous for its hanok houses, to Sogyeok-dong, a connecting area which leads into Gwanghwamun, the places around this district is filled with an atmosphere of calm and tranquility. The small green town buses, the only form of transportation in these areas, are especially charming as they slowly wind their way around the curvy, narrow streets. Visitors will be sure to chance upon many hidden charming little workshops and cafes as they walk along the Changdeokgung Stonewall Walkway.
83 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 19:00, Closed Monday
With the end of Park Jeong-hui’s reign in 1980, a variety of new styles in architecture emerged. Not only did the 1988 Olympic Games bring forth new architecture but it also contributed to the political climate of society. It wasn’t as if there weren’t any high-rise buildings in Seoul before, but it was at this time when a great number of skyscrapers rose out of the district of Gangnam. In 1985, 63 Building, called “Hangang’s Miracle”, was the tallest building to be built around that time. With 3 basement floors and 60 floors above ground level, the height of this building measured at 249m, making this building the tallest building to exist in all of Asia at that period. SOM, an American design firm, and Park Chun-myung, a Korean architect, designed the building with 13,000 reflective gold-colored glass panes, bringing the façade of the building to shift and change constantly. Depending on the angle and temperature of the sun, the surface reflects back different colors, contributing to the beautiful scenery of the Hangang River.
Starting out as nothing but a sandy plot of wasteland known by names such as Yanghwado and Rauiju, Yeouido was constructed as an aviation landing strip back in 1916 during Japanese occupation. Then, as Seoul continued to develop and renovate the area since 1968, Yeouido has come to become a district housing the National Assembly Building, various press and financial company building, residential apartments and more, making this place the center of politics and finance. The areas around Hangang are major spots that continue to bring in huge crowds during big events like cherry blossom and firework festivals.
50 63-ro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul
Everyday 10:00 – 22:00
Putting flagship stores in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul has become a prerequisite for leading fashion brands wanting to enter the Korean market. Because flagship stores need to clearly portray the image and personality of the brand, a great amount of thought and effort goes into the design of the building. When Christian Dior opened up a boutique shop in 2015, Christian de Portzamparc, an architect and recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, designed it. The first thing that strikes the eyes is its wavy, curvaceous, white exterior. Inspired by the silhouette of the white canvas that is the beginning of every one of Dior’s haute couture pieces, 12 long pieces constructed from a combination of fiber glass and resin were fitted together to encase the outer portion of the building. The gray patterns on the back portion of the building were created to imitate Dior’s signature cannage pattern.
In a book titled “The Birth of Gangnam”, there’s a quote which states that “knowing Gangnam’s history is the same as knowing Korea’s modern society.” Although the district of Gangnam achieved a new, modern look with the start of renovation a couple of decades ago, Apgujeong Rodeo was always a very popular spot, especially from 1980 to 2000. Although its golden era of popularity has long since passed, the streets of Cheongdam-dong continue to be filled with luxury brand boutiques and flagship stores even to this day.
464 Apgujeong-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Café Dior Everyday 11:00 – 20:00
(Open until 19:00 on Sundays)