Powerful curves of the DDP, a regeneration project in Seoul

The Regeneration of Seoul Downtown

Tiếng Việt

A busy commuter highway was transformed into a nature-filled public area. An abandoned stadium was replaced by a world-class exhibition centre. And on the site of the old campus, a man-made canyon was created. Seoul has received a major facelift for the last few years. From a mere industrial centre in the 1960s, it has grown into a modern, eco-friendly capital that many cities in the world want to model after.


Following the Korean War (1950 – 1953), the city of Seoul was left with nothing but rubble. Bridges, streets, and many other infrastructures suffered severe damage as a result of bombings and artillery strikes. In a bid to accommodate the economic and population growth, major urban development projects that focus on reconstruction and modernisation were carried out. However, this kind of rapid expansion brought massive environmental problems to Seoul citizens, especially those in the downtown area. As the result, the government and urban planners have to think of a way to regenerate the city.

Cheonggyecheon Stream

One of Seoul’s most remarkable changes has been the regeneration of the Cheonggyecheon Stream. Running through Seoul downtown, this stream was highly polluted and used to be an open sewer in the 1940s. To remove this eyesore and the stench from its dirty waters, the authorities paved over Cheonggyecheon Stream with concrete, and later with an elevated four-lane highway. The stream seemingly disappeared from the eyes of the public. Yet the area beneath the freeway was still in appalling condition. Worse, it was turned into a hotbed of criminal activity.

Things only started to change in 2003, when the city government pursued a more sustainable development plan. Within 29 months, the old highway was completely demolished and Cheonggyecheon Stream was transformed into an inner-city green haven. By pumping clean water from the Han River, the dried stream returned to its original state. Its ecological system is also gradually reviving. Furthermore, as space for cars was replaced by trees and pedestrians, air pollution significantly decreased in the area. And once again, the Seoul citizens can enjoy nature directly at their front doors.

The regeneration of an urban stream

Practical Information

  • Starting from Cheonggye Plaza (Subway line 5, Gwanghwamun, Exit 5), the stream passes under a total of 22 bridges before flowing into the Han River. A few attractions can be found along its length, including Insa-dong and Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
  • On several occasions, the stream serves as an open-air exhibition where people can enjoy various art objects along the stream.
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Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Another regeneration project that has caught international attention is the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). On the site of an abandoned stadium, the world-renowned architect, Zaha Hadid created the most peculiar architecture in Seoul. It appears like a giant alien spaceship, with “powerful, curving forms of elongated structures”. There seems to be no sharp angle, both inside and outside of the building.

Comprises of four halls, the DDP serves as the key venue for design-related shows, conferences, exhibitions, as well as other cultural gatherings. As Seoul aiming for a more eco-friendly urban design, several ecological features are integrated into the building. For example, the double-skin facade to reduce heat absorption, solar panels, and an in-house water recycling system. An expansive lawn is also placed on the walkable roof, bringing a slice of nature to crowded Seoul downtown.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza
No sharp angle, both inside and outside of the building

Practical Information

  • Conveniently located at the centre of Dongdaemun district, DDP is easily accessible by subway Line 2, 4, and 5. Station: Dongdaemun History and Culture Park.
  • Most halls and exhibitions close at 19:00, with the exception of the Museum Hall where you can shop at the Design Market or have a coffee at the Design Rest Area.
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Eunhwa University

Trace of regeneration can also be found outside the city core. One typical example is the Eunhwa University in Shinchon-dong. Belonging to one of the most prestigious universities in South Korea, this institute attracts thousands of new students each year. As the number of enrollment increases, a “larger than site” response is necessary.

Designed by Dominique Perrault Architecture, the new campus complex is part building, part landscape, and part sculpture. It resembles a canyon, with two linear educational buildings sandwiching an elongated plaza. Aside from creating rooms for lectures and other recreational activities, this “canyon” brings natural light into the buildings which are technically underground. It also offers students and residents in the area a direct route to travel through the campus. The regeneration project is topped with two beautiful gardens, providing extra green spaces for the university as well as the city.

The new campus of Eunhwa University
The rooftop gardens

Practical Information

  • Eunwha University is located in Hongdae and can be reached by Subway line 2.  Station: Eunwha University, Exit 2 or 3.
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11 thoughts on “The Regeneration of Seoul Downtown”

  1. I think Cheonggyecheon Stream is my favorite! It just looks amazing. A great concept right in the center of the city. The autumn colors in Seoul are beautiful, and you have captured that so well. I am now curious how Seoul looked back in 1940s or even later (before they became first-world)!

  2. Lignum Draco – ... A blog about nothing in particular, because "Candid photography is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get". Photography by "The Wood Dragon" since 2012.
    Lignum Draco says:

    Thanks for this tour. I’ve not been but it’s amazing what they’ve done. I suppose the Olympics probably had something to do with the city’s rejuvenation.

  3. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    I remember Cheonggyecheon was particularly beautiful, although the night I walked along its banks happened to be the moment I felt tipsy thanks to the surprisingly potent makgeolli I had for dinner to wash down the succulent bulgogi. I love exploring the kind of architecture as displayed at DDP and Eunhwa University, although in my trip to Seoul I didn’t have enough time to visit both. For me Zaha Hadid’s mark on DDP is apparent on its curves which somehow remind me of Munich’s BMW Welt.

    1. Haha I love the makgeolli as well, especially the one with orange flavour 🙂 As you have mentioned, the two buildings do share some similarities. But, personally, I like the DDP more because it’s somewhat intimate. The BMW Welt, on the other hand, is a bit harsh and gloomy. Germany-style, I guess.

      1. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
        Bama says:

        That means I really shouldn’t miss DDP the next time I go to Seoul. I’m not surprised you got that impression when you went to the BMW Welt. 🙂

  4. Alison and Don – Occupation: being/living/experiencing/travelling In our sixties, (Don is now 77) with apparently no other authentic option, my husband Don and I sold our apartment and car, sold or gave away all our stuff and set off to discover the world. And ourselves. We started in Italy in 2011 and from there have travelled to Spain, India, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia, South America, etc. - you can see the blog archive. We will continue travelling until it's time to stop - if that time ever comes. So far it suits us very well. We are interested in how the world works, how life works, how the creation of experience works, how the mind works. As we travel and both "choose" our course, and at the same time just let it unfold, we discover the "mechanics" of life, the astounding creativity of life, and a continual need to return to trust and presence. Opening the heart, and acceptance of what is, as it is, are keystones for us both. Interests: In no particular order: travel, figure skating (as a fan), acceptance, authenticity, walking/hiking, joy, creativity, being human, adventure, presence, NOW. Same for Don except replace figure skating with Formula One motor racing.
    Alison and Don says:

    The rehabilitated stream looks (and no doubt is) lovely, and DDP is a truly remarkable building. Seoul looks like an interesting city.
    Alison

    1. No doubt. There is a lot to see and do in Seoul. I barely scratched the surface, even though I spent five days in the city 🙂

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