Cultural Center, Seoul
Critic: Peter Taguiri
Designed at RISD Architecture 

Sewoon Sangga is a shopping area located in Seoul. Although originally built in 1966, the strip of land on which Sewoon Sangga stands today was flattened during the Second World War to contain the spread of fire in the event of air raids and act as an urban evacuation corridor. Following the departure of the Japanese and, eight years later, the end of the Korean War, the vacant stretch was appropriated by squatters, refugees, and prostitutes, causing the authorities to eventually take action. As a result, Kim Swoo Geun was commissioned to fill the gap. Once constructed, the building was also an emblem of emerging Korean Modernity.

Another important aspect of this site is its almost North-South orientation along the axis of the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Namsan Park. The Gyeongbokgung Palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. It was originally built in 1935 and is located in northern Seoul, South Korea. It is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon dynasty, Gyeongbokgung served as the home of Kings of the Joseon dynasty, the Kings' households, as well as the government of Joseon.

The Namsam Park is also considered an auspicious site. While currently offers panoramic views of downtown Seoul, it used to be a location to send smoke signals called Mongmyeoksan Bongsudae' which was a form of emergency communication system during much of Seoul's history until 1985. Additionally, the Shinto Shrine was positioned at this site from 1925 to 1945. It is these details that make this gap that is now patched with an emblem of modernity a site of thorough speculation. Sewoon Sangga is also a metaphor for excess as it functions as a city within a city. While this mixed residential-commerical development initially housed Korean celebrities and provided much-needed commercial spaces at the time, an evolving urban fabric has now lead to the demise of this neighborhood.

However, an adaptive reuse plan must be proposed to resurrect this historic site. Currently, the building is over-programmed. It houses fab labs, artist studios, shops, housing, gallery spaces, and much more in the same premise. Most importantly, while adding a basement to the building site it was discovered that it, in turn, houses ruins of indigenous civilization! While Sewoon Sangga houses an impressive variety of programs it struggles to cater to any of them very well. Issues span from very small commercial units to lack of awareness of major historic sites like the ruins. Excess of content has made navigating this space harder.

“Given the prime location (of being situated by the Palace) and the ruins that must be conserved in the current ‘basement’ this neighborhood already sets a foundation of possibly evolving into a cultural district. Hence, this particular building in the Sewoon Sangga Scheme could be reimagined as if it were a cultural center run by an already significant oranization like Arumjigi.”

The current design makes use of the existing grid structure and facade design to allude to and acknowledge how pivotal the construction of the building was to Seoul’s own history. Except the entrance is now change to a ramp to allow for ADA requirement-friendly accessibility. This also allows the visitors to first acknowledge the area of ruins first that has previously gone unnoticed. The visitors also begin their journey from the very past to the present as they move up the levels.

The circulation of this structure focuses on making visitors revolve around and acknowledge their surroundings as they weave between exhibition spaces. The experience of observing the city and moving around the axis of the Palace and the Park is exaggerated with an experiential ramp located on the East.