A 1.2 Km Megastructure monster in the heart of Seoul. Analysis of Kim SooGeun's (Architect) 1967 Sewoon Sanga Project in Seoul.

Programmatic drawing of Sewon Sanga, Seoul (2010)

The Sewoon Sanga is a unique building, uniquespecifically because it’s the first example of a building that I haveencountered, which has become an urban fossil in its present life. Even before it physical demolition thebuilding has become a testament of a bygone era; an era that, if we are tolisten to the present public opinion, has few virtues to be remembered yetalone to be preserved.

Further reading at the bottom of the article...

Sewon Sanga megastructure today, a beautiful state of balanced decay where architecture and programme and finely balanced
Drawing of the existing conditions
Programmatic table of the multiple functions within the complex
Level by level analytic drawing of the complex
Historical photographs of Sewon Sanga as it was in 1967 
Original sketch by the architect Kim, SooGeo
Axonometric of the complex and the surrounding city fabric
The interior of the upper levels of the complex now used by electronic and microchip silicone companies
The Scale, materiality and form of the Sewoon Sangga all seem to repulse.

This unanimous derision is a direct result of the buildings architectural impact. Even its original creator, the renowned architect Kim, SooGeun, is allegedly quoted to have disowned the building ashamed of its regrettable impact on the city. I don’t wish to enter any discussion about the relative merits of the building; rather I wish to shift the focus away from an aesthetical premise towards an urban reading.

The Sewoon Sangga is not a conventional building but much closer to a form of complex urbanism which via a flexible array of overlapping structural grids (reinforced concrete columns) creates a matrix of possibilities. Seen from this perspective, form and appearance become secondary and somewhat redundant compared to its articulated programme layout.

The building is the materialization of an urban section; where road, circulation, building services, public domain and commercial space all merge into a single unity. Sewoon Sangga stands as the antithesis to much of the present polymorphous architecture currently being developed in Seoul and around the globe, where its structural neutrality, rather than flamboyant formalism, has developed into its most significant urban asset; it has become a programmatic chameleon able to blend and change its architectural chromosomes to suit any possible function.

Today Sewoon Sangga is a landscape of programmatic possibilities where the four sections of the once connected, 1km long concrete dinosaur, houses a multitude of events. The array of activities, ranging from specialized commercial shops selling electronic/acoustic/karaoke equipment to small ateliers where single practitioners can be seen welding and repairing semiconductors, create a sense of wonder akin to an alchemist’s laboratory. Besides the commercial activities, which also include a 300 bedroom hotel, there lies a network of public and semi-public activities one would never expect: a library for its residents, various churches of different denomination embedded into the buildings structure, restaurants and large kitchens acting a kind of soup kitchen to the whole centre.

This freedom of activity is directly connected to its porous architectural planning which allows the adjacent surroundings to leak and penetrate into the building. What at first glance appears as a world of disorder and discontinuity is actually a labyrinth of urban dwelling creating endless experiences among goods and trades. Unimaginable juxtapositions, such as a florist sharing the same space as electrician happen and seem natural within the Sewoon Sangga.

It is able to work in an incredibly sophisticated and multifaceted manner at a scale not witnessed before and possibly never again in Seoul. Its architectural thinking is directly concerned with creating latent possibilities, non-linear spatial/multi-programmatic networks, a clear (and wonderful) manifestation of architecture and the city constantly metamorphosing into one.

Acknowledging the past and especially discussing past architecture is not an exercise in nostalgia but a way to seek a cultural continuity. References, especially building references hold a relevance vis-à-vis the contemporary. Unfortunately, far too often Seoul discards this continuity in favour of an arbitrary “new” that has become synonymous with a culture of “anything is acceptable” as long as its new.

Today’s society has transformed the utopian dream of the 1960s into the nightmare of the new century; however such a generic approach risks to ultimately deny and suffocate Seoul’s authenticity. This is not an open call to keep anything regardless of its status, but rather a call for a selective preservation.

The above research was carried out as part of a research project funded by SNU (Seoul National University) between 2009- 2010. The full article on the subject was published in SPACE Magazine October 2010 #515.


Boreum, Lee (SNU)
Seung Ho, Park (SNU)
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