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Much has been made of re-purposing shipping containers for other uses, the Korean designers over at AnL Studio have come up with an observatory made out of them in Songdo New City, Incheon, South Korea.

The new observatory is called OceanScope, and was designed for Songdo New city as part of the city’s mandate to be a new forward looking sustainable city. The structure has three containers placed at different angles placed at ten, 30 and 50 degrees so that visitors can ascend and look out  over the harbour.

In Korea old containers are often re-purposed and used as shelters in many rural areas in Korea because of their inexpensive cost. The problem however is that use of many of these temporary re-purposed containers don’t blend in with their surroundings and contribute to visual pollution.

The OceanScope is a response to an initiative from the Mayor of Incheon City, who is in charge of Songdo New City. Incheon is one of the biggest harbours in Korea and thus has a plethora of cast off shipping containers to work with. The Mayor challenged designers to tap the potential of unused containers for practical re-use in public spaces and to provide the bleak containers with a functional aesthetic that could be assimilated within rural and urban environments.

Fact Sheet

Project name : OceanScope
Client: Incheon Metropolitan City,Korea / Cho Dong-Am, Ahn Young-Sik
Program: Public Observatory
Location: Songdo New City, Incheon, South Korea
Architect & Designer: Keehyun Ahn, Minsoo Lee
Planning & Producing : Chang Gil-Hwang, Kim Yong-Bae
Photography by Park So-Young and Chang Gil-Hwang.

A historic comparison of Korea and Ireland

Korea and Ireland, diverse countries on other ends of the continent from each other, an encyclopedic comparative timeline can be found here. There are ups and downs, but the strangest thing is that two of the most famous events in either nations history happened in the same year, against a similar enemy.

Glendalough, Wexford (an ancient church in a mountain valley)

Glendalough, Wexford (an ancient church in a mountain valley)

Korea’s history has always been haunted by the Japanese, Ireland’s by the English. Both island neighbours have been the stronger for well over a millenium. Yet, both nations were built on the cultural architecture of their smaller brother. The Irish sent monks to convert and educate Europe, though their largest success was with the British. This took place during the 5th century. During the Three Kingdoms period in Korea, the south-west kingdom, Baekjae, was defeated by Shilla, but much of the Baekjae aristocracy and educated class fled to Japan. The Baekjae migration is hailed as the starting point for historic Japanese culture, and a Baekjae princess was married to the first emperor of Japan.

In the late 1500s both countries were writhing in war. In Korea, Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasion had faltered into a bloody occupation where tens of thousands of Korean farmers were massacred and their ears were sent back to Osaka. The only shining light on the penninsula was Yi Sun Shin who almost single handedly defeated the Japanese at sea, again and again. His greatest battle saw him defeat a massive armada with only 12 ships. Yi died in his final battle (much like Nelson) he knew that he’d saved his country. His final victories and death were in 1598. That same year, on the other side of the world an Irish King, Hugh O’Niell was leading what was to be a doomed war against the English, but, like Yi, he was a master tactician, and won a major battle the same year.

Gumeunsa, an ancient temple in a mountain valley

Gumeunsa, an ancient temple in a mountain valley

The strange ways of history again meet. This time, for Korea, there was no saviour. The Japanese annexed the country in 1910 and began to colonize it. The reminents of the disbanded army formed together and staged a guerrilla war. Like most unsupported rebels, they suffered heavy defeats in 1916 to the better armed, better trained Japanese Imperial Army. Much like the Koreans, the Irish are known for their stubborness. Never relenting to English pressure, the Irish rose again, and during Easter, 1916, a poorly armed group were defeated in Dublin by the better trained, better armed British (Imperial) Army.

But, stubborn is as stubborn does, and one loss doesn’t end a war. The Irish rose again and from 1919 to 1921 they fought a war for independence, that though bloody, was ultimately successful. The Koreans, without the help of world media, and quiet American backing, were unable to win their war for independece, but in 1921, when the Irish were briefly celebrating, the Koreans too had a reason for celebration. The ‘righteous army’ had finally dealt the Japanese a serious defeat in Manchuria.

Both countries, with outside help, gain true independence and declare a republic. For Korea in 48 and Ireland, a year later, in 49. Ireland has seen a long, slow war fought in the North, where Korea had a short hot war, followed by a slow war fought with their own northern half.

Both countries started poorer than their northern brother, but later overtook them economically.

The similarities between the two nations is remarkable, but it has nothing to do with an Urban Neighbourhood.

Hanging on to the edge of a continent: A comparison of the Irish and the Koreans

Ireland's tallest building was officially unveiled last night, with the 17-storey Elysian now dominating the Cork city skyscape.

Ireland's tallest building was officially unveiled last night, with the 17-storey Elysian now dominating the Cork city skyscape.

Living in Korea as a part-time Irishman, the comparison comes again and again, the Irish and the Koreans. Today, I’m going to do my best to look at the two cultures that are hanging on to the edges of the largest continent on Earth.

Coming soon will be a massive historical comparison, but first, a few introduction to why.

On the surface, both countries seem exceptionally different. Ireland, with a small population of 4.5 million, known for it’s green scenery and lovely country towns. Korea, a population of almost 50 million, is know for it’s remarkable industrial rise, it’s urban density and it’s people power. But both countries are known for a stubborn national identity, and overflowing of emotions, and a strong link to their descendants overseas. Both countries have chosen America as their second home. Both countries were colonized by their larger, richer island neighbours this century.

Looking towards Shinae in Ulsan, seen from Camera Mart near KBS park

Looking towards Shinae in Ulsan, seen from Camera Mart near KBS park, the furtherest towers will be 55 stories when completed next year

The most intruiging peice of history I’ve found though is that Korea’s population in 1834 was 8.7 million people, and Ireland’s population in 1841 was 8.2 million. Yet today’s population of the Republic of Korea is 10 times that of the republic of Ireland, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

Ireland’s Tallest building at a mere 17 stories is almost humourous compaired to the monsterous developments going on in Korea.

The New Village movement or What's the name of the dictator that helped build Granny's?

A Village formerly known as 'A New Village'

A Village formerly known as 'A New Village'

Believe it or not, this is part 2 in my history of the development of Korea.

So gather ’round, because today, little children, I’m going to tell you the story of the Dictator and the village.

During the Korean war, the president was Syngman Rhee, who, all told, was a wanker. He was outrageously anti-communist, which is why the American’s liked him, but he was also completely pro-me. In other words, even though the American’s had hoped to see democracy spring in Korea, what they ended up with was another life long dictator.  By 1960 the Korean people were sick of him, and gave him the boot.  He was rescued by the CIA and was set up in Hawaii. After Rhee there was a shortly lived republican government, then a coup by Park Jung Hee.

A happy house with late summer crops drying in the sun

A happy house with late summer crops drying in the sun

President Park was another strongman, but this time he had some vision. He rounded up the usual suspects, a group of gangsters and mob breakers, and handed them the countries future on a plate. These baddies were such players as the presidents of Hyundai and Samsung. Both companies later grew into massive global organizations, all backed up with Park’s money. There was more then just corruption though, President Park actually meant to build a country, and he did. He forced a highway to be built from Seoul to Busan, and pushed Korean soldiers into the Vietnam war, where they basically fought as American mercenaries, bringing home the dough to help propel their country. During this period he started a moved called the ‘new village’ movement.

The basic goal of this program was to build modern infrastructure in the country. Seoul had electric street cars in the 30s, but most of Korea in 1960 was still mud and wattle huts. President Park planned to change this. He gave each village a few hundred tonnes of free concrete. Then, the next year, whomever used the concrete best would get more. This lead to be building of industries, and a revolution in the countryside. The mud and wattle began to disappear, as newer (though still very traditional) concrete houses began to spring up around the country.

Though these villages abound in the countryside, few remain in the cities. The houses were all traditionally designed, with small outbuildings surrounding a center courtyard and closed in by a large gate. These courtyards were the heart of the old villages, where all the veggies were dried (Korean food involves a lot of dried foods), games were played, life was lived.

New Village?

New Village?

But, as President Park was fated to be killed by his right hand man (who feared that Park was becoming a megalomaniac) the villages were troubled. Thanks to Parks massive reforms, underhanded business dealings, the extra-ordinary efforts of the common working man and woman, and plain dumb luck, Korea started to boom. With a modern boom comes urbanization, and the death of villages.  Though there are still tens of thousands of ‘new villages’ spread across Korea, the inhabitants are almost all ‘silver citizens’. Korea is now one of the most urbanized countries in the world, and men who still make a living on the farm find it almost impossible to attract a Korean wife. 52% of rural weddings in South Gyeongsang province last year were Korean/S.E Asian weddings. Rural men are finding it easier to acquire a foreign wife who is willing to farm than a modern, urban Korean girl. The fate of the Korean countryside is in question.

The battle of the Super towers

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.

samsung tower g

Samsung Tower Palace, Dogok-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

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.

The Proposed Yongsan Tower by Samsung

The Proposed Yongsan Tower by Samsung

Proposed Hyundai Mir Tower for the same site

Proposed Hyundai Mir Tower for the same site

The planned Yongsan Landmark building

The planned Yongsan Landmark building

“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)

lotte world tower seoul

Proposed Lotte World Tower Seoul by Skidmore Owings & Merrill

seoul international buis center

International Buisness Center

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.

Overcrowding in the summer

People escaping Seoul on a summer day

People escaping Seoul on a summer day

Overcrowding is a problem in most major cities. In the summertime the temperature climbs, and peoples nerves start to boil. Overcrowding, as per wikipedia, has a large number of consequences, including; inadequate freshwater, depletion of natural resources, deforestation and loss of ecosystems, changes in atmosphere, desertification, mass species extinction, high infant mortality rate, new epidemics, starvation, capital inflation, low life expectancy, unhygienic living conditions, and elevated crime rates.

Haeundae Beach on a Saturday afternoon

Haeundae Beach on a Saturday afternoon

It would seem logical to avoid overcrowding at all costs, a few of the consequences seem to be calling cards of the apocalypse. It would take a lot for people to PURPOSEFULLY seek out overcrowded places.

When the temperature hits 35C and the humidity is dancing around 99%, you’re thoughts start to turn to ocean breezes and the splash of cool water. As the office afternoon drags on, the image of beautiful girls in bikinis might enter ones mind (or guys in tight speedos). Why not hop a bus to a beach and cool off. Maybe even call up your friends, get an umbrella and a small barbecue…and make a whole day event? Wouldn’t anything be better during the summer?

Haeundae beach in Busan is the most popular beach in South Korea, and per bather density (if anybody studies these things) is quite probably the most popular beach in the world. This beach is only 1200 meters long and yet it sees up to one million visitors in ONE DAY. Source.

The water, unseen in this photo is alive with yellow tubes up to 20 meters out, then there is a line of buoys which nobody crosses. Swimming is almost impossible as the simple mass of bodies and yellow inner tubes makes free space almost impossible. Also, one must have the patience to line up for 5 minutes before even reaching the water.

Overcrowding is more than just a problem in Korea, or even a lifestyle. It is purposefully sought out for fun!

Obviously not the one million Saturday

Obviously not the one million Saturday

But where is the apocalypse? The famine, the drought, the disease? Well, the famine and drought are taken care of by old women wandering through the crowds selling fried chicken and beer. The crime is managed by large groups of ‘boycops’ or conscripted police officers. Safety is handled by the same conscripts but wearing lifeguard uniforms instead of police, riding jet skis up and down the buoy line. Capital inflation certainly takes place, as everything is at least twice or three times more expensive than the rest of the city. I’ll leave questions about low life expectancy or unhygienic living conditions up to you to discuss.

From the furthest corners of the Urban Jungle

Bangojin downtown

When people argue about high density urban landscapes, they generally look to Asia, where population density is staggering by western standards. Where a Canadian might consider 1000 people per square kilometer crowded, in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, or South Korea, 100 apartment towers per square kilometer is more like it.

I’m writing from Ulsan, a little known, less talked about city in South Korea. Located 56 kilometers north of Busan, but standing alone as almost an urban island. It is a city undergoing massive construction and reconstruction, where new satellites seem to pop up over night, where apartment buildings truly grow like weeds.  Over the course of my next few posts I’m going to try and describe, both in words and pictures, the development of a country which has taken place in half a life time. Known locally as “the miracle on the Han river”, Korea has grown from the ruins of civil war to a prosperous, if not somewhat mysterious global power.

If the American Dream ™ is a family of 2.1 kids, 2.1 volvos and 2.1 golden retrievers living together in a split level house with a white picket fence, then the Korea Dream ™ is to live in the newest, biggest, most expensive apartment tower in the city, with 1.2 kids, 2.1 Hyundais, and 1.2 shitzus. Luxury apartment towers are springing up in downtown cores across the nation. In my city alone there are 18 complexes under development or recently completed that are 30 stories or more.

South Korea, which is approximately the same size as Ireland, holds a population of 50 million. Ireland has a population of 4.5 million. Ireland is a relatively flat country, South Korea is 70% mountains, which are not inhabited. The only logical choice for urban development is to go up, not out. In this series of posts, I’m going to try and document the benefits and problems of urban development, Korean style.