Seoul’s architectural wonders

Seoul’s architectural wonders

Showcasing the city’s most fabulous architecture, these 15 buildings have made Seoul a world leader in modern urban landscape planning

Seoul is evolving at a breathtaking pace. On a mission to project a world-class global image, the city has been obsessive about creating its new look.

The 15 buildings pictured here have redefined traditions and pushed the pace of innovation through ultra-modern design.

1. GT Tower East

GT Tower East GT Tower East

 Dutch architecture firm ArchitectenConsort created a stunning reinvention of the conventionally angular office skyscraper. By shifting the floor area a maximum of three meters and generating structural "waves" 48 meters in height, a kind-of billowing illusion was achieved.

Completed in 2011, not only is GT Tower East an optical treat, it's sustainable. The structural design allows for a highly flexible energy plan that can be adapted to different uses over time.

2. Leeum: Samsung Museum of Art Complex

 Samsung Musem of Art ComplexLeeum: Samsung Musem of Art Complex
A group of three international superstar architects -- OMA, Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel -- collaborated on Leeum by designing a building for the inter-connected complex. Completed in 2004, the project was a rare opportunity for three distinct designs to be featured in one massive space. 

The OMA building opens the complex with a monumental suspended area that moves people under, over and through the structure. In contrast, Botta’s delicate interiors echo Korean themes, while Nouvel‘s contribution is a more open and airy glass space that shifts the focus back to the art.

3. Boutique Monaco residential apartments

Boutique Monaco Boutique Monaco

“High towers are like deserts for human interaction,” says Minsuk Cho, who leads architectural firm Mass Studies.

With the 2008-completed Boutique Monaco, the company addressed this problem by removing corners and sections of the rectangular construction, creating hubs for interaction. These hubs not only draw people out to meet and greet, but allow for better views and more natural light to enter the building.

4. Incheon Tri-Bowl

Incheon Tri-BowlIncheon Tri-Bowl
The only building on this list located outside of Seoul, this striking design from the iArc firm has gained iconic cultural status since its completion in 2010, and has been the popular set location for everything from commercials to K-pop music videos.

Located in Incheon, it's well worth the hour-long trip to see this art and cultural space.

Visitors access the building by crossing a narrow bridge over a large pool of water, then walking into the sinuous, curving structure.

5. Galleria Department Store

Galleria Department StoreGalleria Department Store
The UNStudio firm transformed this once unremarkable façade into a brilliant, constantly changing surface of luminosity. The existing concrete skin was covered with 4,330 glass discs that have a mother-of-pearl quality during the day, and glows vivaciously via LED lights at night.

Completed in 2004, the building's dynamic array of colors beckons shoppers to enjoy the luxury inside. Interior spaces are streamlined and brightly lit like fashion runway catwalks.

6. Ann Demeulemeester Shop

Ann Demeulemeester ShopAnn Demeulemeester Shop

Synthesizing the experience of the natural and the artificial, this design artfully mixes interior and exterior concepts.

Undulating exposed concrete interiors form organic shapes like a subterranean cave, while the curving facade allows one to see outdoors while also viewing adjacent interior spaces.

The building's exterior is made of a unique geotextile and planted with herbaceous perennials. It is one of the many fine works from Mass Studies, a local architectural firm considered the top in the country.

7. Ananti Club

Ananti ClubAnanti Club
Because the building's site was encircled by a 100-year-old forest (it's located 30 minutes from the city center), Ken Min Architects faced a tricky problem during the design process for this country club: how to create a structure in balance with nature while reflecting the modern urban lifestyle?

Not only does the 2010-completed building emulate its surrounding geography, in order to minimize the ecological impact of the 8,200-square-meter site, 92 percent of the building is dug into the earth. Titanium zinc panels sculpt the entrance and color-changing complex panels form the tower, utilizing state-of-the-art technologies with elegance and style. 

8. Ewha University Campus Center

Ewha University Campus CenterEwha University Campus Center

ECC, as it is called by Ewha students, is embedded into the landscape, forming an entrance to the building via a dramatic "valley" promenade. This allows for an ingenious park-like green roof to sit atop the structure.

Completed in 2008, the multi-purpose university building saves almost 25 percent more energy than if it were conventionally built. 

With his astonishing design, architect Dominique Perrault addressed the challenge of bringing natural light into spaces that sit far underground. Stunning interior mirror panels reflect and play with the quality of light.

9. Kring Kumho Culture Complex

Kring Kumho Culture Complex Kring Kumho Culture Complex
Unsangdong Architects used an innovative approach in creating what is called a "brandspace" for this 2008-completed multi-purpose complex.

The design employs the idea of brand strategy by using interior spaces as a medium between the company and the consumer. "Brandspace" attempts to create a corporate identity through architecture, as illustrated by the Kring Kumho Culture Complex.


10. Seoul University Museum of Art

Seoul University Museum of ArtSeoul University Museum of Art
This 2005-completed museum designed by OMA meets the ground only at a narrow, central concrete core. The remainder of the building is a massive structural steel cantilever hovering above the hill on which it sits.

The exterior echoes the slope of its topography, allowing free-flowing circulation beneath. The interior follows the same concept, by connecting all spaces at its central core, which is an atrium with a spiral staircase.

11. Hangil Book House. Heyri Art Complex

Hangil Book HouseHangil Book House
Wood is sculpted into curving, weaving planes that envelope this 2004-completed, multi-purpose complex designed by ShoP Architects. The concept is based on the idea of paths in the Heyri Art Valley, making the building an extension of the landscape via its wooden-plank entrance. 

The wooden plank folds over the exhibition hall to create the undulating roof, reinforcing a seamless relationship between structure and landscape. 

12. Floating House

Floating House Floating House
Synthesized with traditional Korean house design, Floating House, by local architect Hyun-joon Yoo, overlooks the Han River. The home is raised on columns to maximize views of the river from the second floor and roof terrace. 

A one-meter-wide balcony wraps around all four sides -- a visual trick to make the house look more expansive than it actually is. Black concrete tiles used in traditional Korean houses clad the building. 

13. 3.1 Phillip Lim Flagship

3.1 Phillip Lim Flagship3.1 Phillip Lim Flagship
Designed by Leong Leong and completed in 2009, Phillip Lim's flagship retail store experiments with the manipulation of surfaces. The result is an inimitable experience that is simultaneously visual and tactile. 

Protruding conical forms gradually erode into a constellation of brass stars, while leather herringbone tiles frame other structural elements. Mirrors lining the interior create an inkblot effect of the complex's surfaces. 

A wall manipulation inspired by ancient Korean ceramics is the result of an ongoing collaboration with artist Wook Kim. These surface textures flow from room to room, creating a narrative of atmospheres.

14. Dongdaemun Design Park & Plaza

Dongdaemun Design Park & PlazaDongdaemun Design Park & Plaza
To realize Korea’s ambitions to make Dongdaemun the new fashion hub of Asia, there was no better architect to turn to than the queen of avant-garde, Zaha Hadid. 

Currently under construction, the fluid form of the new design museum, library, educational facility and exhibition hall will form a continuous landscape, linking the park and the plaza to its surroundings in order to promote human interaction and fluid thinking across all design disciplines.

15. Gwanggyo Power Center

Gwanggyo Power Center
 Dutch architects MVRDV, along with highly acclaimed British engineers Arup, won a competition by proposing a design that completely re-imagines the definition of “urban.” The design for the still-to-be-built Gwanggyo Power Center office complex explores a high-density concentration of mixed uses -- a characteristic often found in Korean urban planning

A series of soaring, mountain-esque buildings, MVRDV dubbed this new concept "the Power Center strategy." These other-worldly structures include rings of terraces, with-floor to-floor circulation systems that store water and provide irrigation. Vertical parks improve natural air ventilation, reduce energy and water usage and provide a much-needed relief to increase urban congestion.

Is this what the future of urban spaces will look like? One thing is certain. The type of innovative on display here has been the key to Seoul's continuing development, and will be increasingly vital as the city dashes forward in the race for economic and cultural leadership.

Michelle Jina Park is a Masters of Architecture candidate at Columbia University currently living and working in Seoul.

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