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First World – Mixed Use Residential New Songdo Style

The Sharp (The #) First World is one of the first completed residential projects in the New Songdo International Business District. The property was designed by international architecture firm KPF, and Korean firm Kunwon.  The project opened in January of 2009 with a lighting ceremony to celebrate the project and residents began moving in shortly after. The Sharp (The #) First World is a luxury apartment and office-tel mixed use development with ground floor retail services. In total there are: 1,596 Residential Units, 1,058 Office-tel Units and 294 Ground Level Retail spaces. The Sharp (The #) is designed to  house approximately 7,000 of New Songdo’s projected 65,000 residents as well as a health club, a daycare center, and a seniors’ center. The complex is located next to New Song Convention center and near the  Northeast Asia Trade Tower and River Stone Mall, it is also near on of several planned subway stops on the yet to be completed system.

As is common with hotly anticipated properties in Korea all of the 1,596 residential units sold out within the first two days they were listed on the market.  To read more about this phenomenon take a look at our article ‘Real estate lotteries, bidding wars, and tax audits in New Songdo’.

New Songdo has master plan that lays out a number of sustainable principals and The Sharp (The #) First world follows these principals. The overall plan is inspired by the pedestrian cities of Europe and North America and the design utilizes a pedestrian-scaled street grid, engagement with the street through the use of continuous street walls, and plenty of open space.

In order to challenge the perception of the super-block as a single “housing estate” as evidenced by the realization of the Radiant City paradigm in urban areas throughout the peninsula, FWT was conceived instead as being an assemblage of distinct communities. An analysis of Korean social hierarchy (the Ma-Ul, the Dong-Ne, and the Yi-Woot) informed the organization of the FWT into four courtyard communities each of which is subdivided into three neighborhoods of approximately 200 households.

The traditional Korean built environment also influenced the design, wherein circulation through palaces and gardens is characterized by repeated shifts in orientation and displaced axes. At the perimeter, gates and seven-story street walls provide a sense of enclosure, beyond which densely planted interior courtyards are viewed through large scale “urban windows”.

Displacement is also a theme at an architectural scale, where the ashlar patterns of traditional garden walls inspired the exterior wall articulation. The discontinuous lines of these surfaces break down the vertiginous effect of windows more characteristic of high-rise building, and in so doing reduce the apparent scale of the development.

The design for FWT further addresses the profound problem of scale associated with the super block typology by varying building heights in a rhythmic, nonlinear progression. Within the framework of the buildings, scalar elements such as large apertures, arcades, and pavilions assist in translating very large elements down to the scale of the individual. S

Fact Sheet

  • Occupancy: January 2009
  • 1,596 Residential Units, 1,058 Officetel Units and 294 Ground Level Retail
  • All Units Sold Out
  • Buildable Area: 5.7M SF/531,670 SM
  • 12 Buildings from 3 to 64 Floors
  • 4,892 Car Parking Garage
  • Architect: KPF/Kunwom
  • Contractor: POSCO E&C
  • Pursuing LEED for NC Certification

Gale International

Drainage Ditches as Green Space.

Back when I lived in Ulsan 울산 South Korea I had a studio apartment for the first ten months next to a drainage ditch. About the only time of the year that the ditch was pretty was during Cherry Blossom week, the two weeks that the trees exploded into bloom that was a welcome change from Yellow Sand week. I often thought that it would be great if there was a path that ran down the side and maybe a little landscaping. Well it turns out that the city eventually came up with the same idea, though I have a feeling that the project in Seoul had a lot to do with it.

Thanks to a friend of mine who is currently residing in Ulsan we can see the second life of this former spillway. Cherry Blossom is still when its at its best but now it also  looks pretty good rest of the year. Photo by Deirdre Madden. Check out some of Dee’s city profiles here at Urban Neighbourhood.

Welcome to Alpha Dome City

Welcome to Alpha Dome City ‘알파ㆍ돔 시티(αㆍdom city)’! It is a mixed use commercial and residential project that at first glance looks like one massive building. Alpha Dome City a project with an opening 5 trillion won (4.5 million US/CAD) price tag is under construction in Kyung ki do – sung nam si bun dang gu pankyo dong,  near the intersection of the Pankyo Expressway and the Seoul Outer Ring Highway. The project is by commission of the Pangyo Mutal Fund Administration in partnership with Lotte Engineering and Construction Consortium who will be the project manager for the Alpha Dome. Korean news puts the total number of companies involved in the consortium at 16. The project will have a mixed media centre (read movie theatre) department stores, (no doubt Lotte Department Store will make an appearance) discount stores, a hotel, galleries and other facilities, along with approximately 946 residential units. The project team indicates that the development will take lessons from Germany’s Sony Centre, and Le Defence, France.

The Korean National Housing Corporation will have a number of units in the development, indicating that the project will have a number of low cost rental units and housing for sale pursuant to the Korean National Housing Corporation’s mandate to  provide affordable housing to low-income households and also to stabilize residential property prices through the large-size housing supply.

알파 돔

In korean news a member of the project team explains the significance of the name: Alpha (α) as the first letter of the Greek alphabet ‘to No. 1’, ‘first’, ‘the light of the strong astronomical constellation of stars’,’ The most important part ‘, is central to the vision for the site. S

The Most striking aspect of Alpha Dome City ‘알파ㆍ돔 시티(αㆍdom city)’ is, well the Dome. The project is a number of commercial and residential blocks spread over a couple city blocks, with the dome as a pedestrian accessible linking structure. The dome with plans for cultural exhibition facilities in this ‘sky gallery’. The Dome itself with have multiple cuts through the roof structure to allow light to penetrate into street scape within. Inside the development preference will be given to bicycle and pedestrain traffic as the part of the new naturalism movement in Korea.  Special thanks to Chung Eun Young for research assistance.

Shineh Dong From Across the Teahwa

View across the foot bridge over the Teahwa River in Ulsan (울산) South Korea looking towards old downtown. Towards the new Exordium mixed commercial residential towers. Photo by Jason Teal. www.jasonteale.com

Real estate lotteries, bidding wars, and tax audits in New Songdo

The Prau is a mixed-use office-apartment building going up in the New Songdo free economic zone in South Korea. The instant smart city being built by Gale International, Cisco and other partners. Kolon construction is another of the partner firms involved in New Songdo and has built one of the most fiercely speculated on residential towers in the last couple of years. One of the unique things about the Korean real estate market is the lottery. Due to intense population demands and real estate speculation most affordable housing, or price stabilized housing is handed out using a lottery system. Put down your deposit and wait to see if you get lucky.

The Prau attracted a flurry of interest due to its relative low cost compared to other developments in the New Songdo area. Each Pyeong, (3.3m²) is priced at 6.5 million won which is about $6954 which is about 3 million won less then equivalent properties in near by buildings. The smallest units in the development at  55.98m² are expected to sell for about 65 million won or 56,705.742 USD. The units are especially hot because they are eligible for immediate resale because they are not in one of the ‘speculative areas.’ In the ‘speculative areas’ residents are not allowed to resell apartments that have not been occupied. Overall 257,706 people applied for the lottery of the 27 smallest units, (those under 66m²) with a required deposit of 5 million won. S 597,192 people applied in total for the 123 studio apartment/officetels.  As the building is a mixed apartment/officetel the units can be used as either residences or offices.

According to the Korea Times the National Tax Service intends to audit the 123 people who won the lottery for units in the building to hunt down speculative buyers and sellers. The government sent tax officials out to monitor the streets around the construction site and the showroom to monitor back-door sales of property rights.

“We decided to launch meticulous tax audits as the Songdo officetels can encourage speculative investment on the real estate market, which has been stabilized recently’’ S




The Urban Dinosaur

Tyrannosaurus Rex spotted in a park in Seoul.

Building the Urban Network

I came across an interesting article the other day while surfing the interweb about the future of new city building in Asia, (which is one of the few places in the world where cities spring up from scratch). In this age of bundling and value add ons comes a different vision of what a city is, how to make them more efficient, how they should be built, and how a couple of companies think they should be built. Estimates put spending on global infrastructure at $35 trillion over the next two decades and the new city market itself is likely to be worth at least $500 billion in the next ten years. How’s that for a growth industry?

Fast Company

Cisco’s Big Bet on New Songdo: Creating Cities From Scratch

By: Greg LindsayFebruary 1, 2010

The world is bracing for an influx of billions of new urbanites in the coming decades, and tech companies are rushing to build new green cities to house them. Are these companies creating a smarter metropolis — or just making money?

Stan Gale is exultant. The chairman of Gale International yanks off his tie, hitches up his pants, and mops the sweat and floppy hair from his brow. He’s beaming like a proud new papa, sprung from the waiting room and handing out cigars to whoever happens by. Beckoning me to follow, he saunters across eight lanes of traffic toward his baby, delivered prematurely days before.

Ten years ago, Gale was a builder and flipper of office parks who would eventually become known for knocking down the Boston landmark Filene’s Basement and replacing it with a hole in the ground. But Gale’s fate began to change in 2001 with a phone call from South Korea. The Korean government had found his firm on the Internet and made an offer everyone else had refused. The brief: Gale would borrow $35 billion from Korea’s banks and its biggest steel company, and use the money to build from scratch a city the size of downtown Boston, only taller and denser, on a muddy man-made island in the Yellow Sea. When Gale arrived to see the site, it was miles of open water. He signed anyway.

New Songdo City won’t be finished until 2015 at least, but in August, Gale cut the ribbon on the 100-acre “Central Park” modeled, like so much of the city, on Manhattan’s. Climbing on all sides will be a mix of low-rises and sleek spires — condos, offices, even South Korea’s tallest building, the 1,001-foot Northeast Asia Trade Tower. Strolling along the park’s canal, we hear cicadas buzzing, saws whining, and pile drivers pounding down to bedrock. I ask whether he’s stocked the canal with fish yet. “It’s four days old!” he splutters, forgetting he isn’t supposed to rest until the seventh.

As far as playing God (or SimCity) goes, New Songdo is the most ambitious instant city since Brasília 50 years ago. Brasília, of course, was an instant disaster: grandiose, monstrously overscale, and immediately encircled by slums. New Songdo has to be better because there’s a lot more riding on it than whether Gale can repay his loans. It has been hailed since conception as the experimental prototype community of tomorrow. A green city, it was LEED-certified from the get-go, designed to emit a third of the greenhouse gases of a typical metropolis its size (about 300,000 people during the day). It’s an “international business district” and an “aerotropolis” — a Western-oriented city more focused on the airport and China beyond than on Seoul. And it’s supposed to be a “smart city,” studded with chips talking to one another, designated as such years before IBM found its “Smarter Planet” religion.

Being seriously ahead of the curve explains why Gale had such a hard time finding a tech partner to bring this dream to fruition. First in line was LG, one of Korea’s homegrown conglomerates. None of its ideas had made it past the prototype stage. Next up was Microsoft, which signed a deal giving it carte blanche to mold the city in its image. “Designing an entirely new city from the ground up provides a unique opportunity to create an ideal technological infrastructure,” Bill Gates boasted. But before he could even measure for drapes, Gale decided a plumber would be a better fit and threw Microsoft over for Cisco.

Last spring, the networking giant became New Songdo’s exclusive supplier of digital plumbing. More than simply installing routers and switches — or even something so banal as citywide Wi-Fi — Cisco is expected to wire every square inch of the city with synapses. From the trunk lines running beneath the streets to the filaments branching through every wall and fixture, it promises this city will “run on information.” Cisco’s control room will be New Songdo’s brain stem.

And that’s just the beginning. No longer content to sell just plumbing, the company is teaming up with Gale, 3M, United Technologies (UTC), and the architects of Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) to enter the instant-city business. At a Cisco event near New Songdo last summer, Gale stunned the room by announcing plans to eventually roll out 20 new cities across China and India, using New Songdo as a template. In the spirit of Moore’s Law, he says, each will be done faster, better, cheaper, year after year.

Cisco calls this Smart+Connected Communities initiative a potential $30 billion opportunity, a number based not only on the revenues from installation of the basic infrastructure but also on selling the consumer-facing hardware as well as the services layered on top of that hardware. Picture a Cisco-built digital infrastructure wired to Cisco’s TelePresence videoconferencing screens mounted in every home and office, with engineers listening, learning, and releasing new Cisco-branded bandwidth-hungry services in exchange for modest monthly fees. You’ve heard of software as a service? Well, Cisco intends to offer cities as a service, bundling urban necessities — water, power, traffic, telephony — into a single, Internet-enabled utility, taking a little extra off the top of every resident’s bill.

Read More!

The South will rise again! Looking at Korean Apartments

There are not many people who would argue that North Korea will make a comeback and outshine their Southern brethern, but once, this wasn’t the case. During the war, both Koreas were raped, pillaged and flattened by waves of Chinese soldiers or American bombers. The North had more reminents of Japanese industry, the South (except for Seoul) had been used by the Japanese as a rice-basket.

Quite easy to find Pyeongyang on the map

Quite easy to find Pyeongyang on the map

By the early 1960s South Korea was heading the same way as the US backed Banana republics of Central America, or the Banana Republic of Asia, the Philippines. There was little or no industry, life, as the historians like to quote (Mills, I think) “was savage, brutal, and short”. This goes well for the architecture as well.  The other night I was flipping through my old Lonely Planet guide for SK with a student, and my student was complaining that all the photos were 50 years old. They weren’t, but they only showed the most rural aspects of the country. If you were to browse the book in a shop, you would get an image of Thailand’s North, or Laos.

South Korean cities, until recently, were much like their Northern counterparts. Filled with awful public buildings and horrific Eastern European apartment blocks. The two countries couldn’t possibly be more different now. In the North there are virtually no cars on the street, and people have even forgotten how to look for traffic, cars are so rare in the countryside. In the South, this isn’t the case. With car ownership reaching North American levels (almost 82% of people, compared to 89% in the US). This causes problems, as Korea is 70% mountainous, there just cannot be enough tunnels or bridges to handle the masses of cars.

I stole this photo fromOverlooking an old neighbourhood in Ulsan

A new way of thinking, Concrete and Green

A new way of thinking, concrete and green

The beauty of average Korean cities, on either side of the DMZ leaves a lot to the imagination. Both countries were rushing to build nations, not to build quaint neighbourhoods for strolling around on a Sunday afternoon. The military-industrial complex that Kim Il Sung and Park Jung Hee developed in the 1960s helped create a ‘quantity over quality’ mindset in their respective people. Of course, today nobody in the North has anything, but in the South the ‘Quantity’ mindset is slowly being replaced by the ‘Quality’ one. The endless white towers of the 1990’s and first half of this decade aren’t being built as much. Newer, larger towers (that usually end up painted a shade of white) are springing up around the country. The architects are finally being allowed to build more interesting projects. Space is still at a premium, but the parking lots crowded out with cars are being buried beneath inlaid brick paths and small parks.

The newest generation of Korean apartments are spacious and well designed on the inside, and much more community oriented on the outside. The old ‘domino’ apartments had only space for cars, not for people, but the human is being thought about now, and children play in playgrounds, rather than in carparks in the new complexes.