It’s always said that a guy who has a big skyscraper has a big … investment portfolio. South Korea is a country where all men aspire to have big … investment portfolios. In the last few years, every town, village and post office box has announced it’s plans to build the tallest building in the neighbourhood, town, province, or galaxy. It’s gotten rather confusing, but I’m going to try and sort through the hype and look at some of the future giants that will make the skylines of Korea more unique. People might try to point out the lack of supertall buildings currently in Korea, but one must remember that the Burj Dubai is being built by none other than Samsung construction.
Currently the tallest building in Korea is the beautifully named “Samsung Tower Palace building G”. The logic behind these towers sprouting up in almost every neighbourhood in Seoul is simple. Land is too expensive, but everybody wants 45 pyeong to themselves. (Don’t ask me what a pyeong is, I couldn’t tel l you even if I wanted to since the word became outlawed last year).
Seoul doesn’t have a Manhattan skyline, which is probably why it has avoided being destroyed by aliens. But, hoping to attract foreign and possibly alien visitors, Seoul is branching UP. Yongsan, currently the home to a US army base that (in theory) will be closing, and an ugly railway yard is going to change, and like all change in South Korea, it’s going to be drastic. Seoul’s office vacancy rate is currently hovering around 1%, which has driven prices up by as much as 25% this year. The Korean government is trying to attract foreign companies to the city, but with spiraling costs, it seems unlikely without new office towers being built.
“In Seoul, the planned 151-story Yongsan Landmark Building, at 2,046 feet, will tower over all the city’s existing structures, and even some nearby mountain peaks. “Seoul is the capital, so it must have the tallest building,” said Han Bong-seok, an executive at Korea Railroad, the national railway company, who heads the project to build the tower on the site of an old train yard. “This is for the pride of Seoul.” “(NYtimes, May 2007)
Also on the South side of Seoul there are other monsters planned, the Sangnam International Business Center which will (possibly) become the center of Sangnam Digital Media city. This one will be 580m and 130 stories tall. The other is Lotte World Tower Seoul, which would be 555 meters. Lotte World is already the world’s largest indoor amusement park, but construction has not started on either of these projects.
But, as Seoul might be the largest city in the country, it isn’t the only major city looking to change it’s skyline. Both Incheon and Busan and rebuilding their cities, and their images. In Incheon they are currently building some massive apartments that will become part of Songdo International city. Korean’s love placing “International” into titles, even if it has little or no meaning at the time. Songdo is being built in the former industrial south end of Korea’s western port city.
This is another 151 story monster that
will become the heart of a new waterfront development. There is also a new bridge under construction that will link Incheon city to the slightly ironic Incheon airport, which, though in Incheon’s metropolitian boundaries, must be accessed by driving into and then out of Seoul. Incheon, facing towards China, is dreaming of being the heart of growth and investment as the 21st century looks to China, just as the 20th looked to America.
The third city to be planning towers is Busan. Currently there are two towers being planned or constructed in the city. Busan is one of the busiest port cities in the world, and as such, has a much seedier and grittier image than either Seoul or Incheon. Most of Busan’s recent development has been centered around Haeundae beach and Gwangali bridge. Haeundae new town is the home to many of the tallest buildings outside of Seoul, and is seeing even more development planned in the future. In the south end of Busan is the old city center, Nampodong, which has missed most of the recent additions to the city. Nampodong has a rundown air, and is in serious need of urban and transportation revitalization.
How many of these towers will be constructed is anyone’s guess. Koreans are famous for talking big, but then, they are also famous for doing things that seemed impossible. Posco, Samsung, and Hyundai were all but dreams 40 years ago, and now each stands amongst the giants of the world. It is easy, as a foreigner, to dismiss Korea as just a small Asian country, but it is a small Asian country with big dreams. I wouldn’t be surprised if ALL of these towers were completed.