Sewoon Archipelago

Project

Sewoon Archipelago is a series of eight tectonic artifacts that use the existing kilometer long shopping center as its framework. In the core of the city’s industrial heart, the island invites the isolated local community to integrate once again with Seoul’s Sewoon Sangga Shopping Complex. The local community has seen its manufacturing complex vanish to make way for high rise commercial development and with a lack of hope and promise for the future of their city. Plans of demolition only reiterate the countries skepticism in the function of its democratic state that votes to evict communities in order to generate wealth and economic certainty. The archipelago thus uses the pork food industry, a long standing identifier of South Korean tradition and national pride, as way of revitalizing the derelict structure. Pigs have an interesting place in South Korean culture: where locals believe that placing pig heads outside of their shops will bring them good fortune, or that consuming pork will detox their body from the pollutants in the air. South Korea infamously proposed sending pigs and creating pig farms in North Korea in order to ease tensions and denuclearize the peninsula. Furthermore, this year is the Year of the Golden Pig, bringing about economic prosperity and good luck to the people of South Korea.

The archipelago creates a spectacle of the pig farm by celebrating the consumption of food as a driving force for modern identity. This island rejects the pseudo-globalist society in which South Korea currently depends largely on countries like the United States and Europe for the import of their pork industry. It denounces the idea that South Koreans can’t be self-sufficient and sustainable without having to destroy every object of its past in order to make way for the future. Furthermore, it juxtaposes the dominant narrative of demolition as revitalization tactics of the global capitalist economic agenda.

It proposes a series of eight interdependent programmatic islands that work together as a thriving system of prosperity and harmonizes with the food culture and civic benefit of the masses. Each of the islands has the right to continuously expand and reach out to the local context of the industrial complex, making the site around a welcome territory of its large scale construction. Managing a different context and locality, each of the eight farms responds rapidly to the growing changes of the cities as well as reinvent itself in order to coincide with the city whilst self-generating a metropolis of its own. Each archipelago could not exist without its neighbor, just as Seoul would cease to exist without its local industrial complex, creating a bottom up economy. Therefore, the archipelago reflects on the identity of the urban condition that plagued South Korea from unwarranted transitions, which neglected civic society in order to create economic prosperity.

Once the kilometer long Archipelago stimulates itself as the new urban core. It becomes apparent that the site is an incubator for the city, creating civic life by feeding the metropolis in turn for reviving the Sewoon Sangga area and the core of its industrial complex.

Interview

What prompted the project?

The project Sewoon Archipelago is an extension of my personal research into the relationship between landscape and urbanism as well as the contemporary unsustainable nature of demolition and redevelopment tactics of the market economy. The project was conceived at the intersection of these two observations: reestablishing an existing kilometer long Sewoon Sangga building into a kilometer long pig farm.

What questions does the project raise and which does it answer?

By questioning the demolition of Sewoon Sangga, a considered portrait of Korean modernization, this project challenges the architectural norm of demolition to make way for modern redevelopment. This building was constructed in 1967 during South Korea’s developmental dictatorship. It is often seen as the symbol of South Korean modernism. However, if we continue to demolish the buildings of the 60s and 70s, what will remind us of that era? The Sewoon Sangga Shopping Complex is without a doubt a exceptional structure– recalling the scale, ambition and monumentality of Corviale for instance. As architects, we must investigate thoroughly the history of any given site in order to understand the culture and social-political structure of its context, prior to coming to the conclusion of demolition. Thus the project responds to this question by using the rich culture of Seoul in order to reinvigorate the derelict kilometer long Sewoon Sangga building. By using pigs, a longstanding motif for wealth and prosperity as well as being essential to South Korean cuisine, the building would integrate Seoul’s food culture and industrial fabric as one.

What informed the choice of Seoul as testing ground and site?

One may argue that South Korea and Seoul have been on the pursuit of modernization and identity since the Japanese colonial era and the post-colonial influence of the United States. This, as well as other modern cities can be seen as a case of multiple modalities- a term coined by sociologist Shmuel Eisenstadt. Sewoon Sangga, in Seoul, was a result of this social-political transition. Using Sewoon Sangga as a testbed was the ideal site to investigate the aforementioned observations: the site has two prominent mountain landscapes on the north and south axis as well as the many planned demolition strategies since 2010.

Could you define the term archipelago and island for you and in relation to the project?

The term Archipelago is defined as “an expanse of water with many scattered islands.” If we consider the site of Sewoon Sangga, a large kilometer long structure amongst a sea of industrial shops in heart of Seoul, the kilometer long structure is itself isolated from the city fabric without any relation to its context. The eight islands thus create an overlap with the vast industrial landscape to not only integrate once again with the city but mend the isolated and fragmented buildings of the site by weaving the kilometer long seawall within the industrial sea. These terms also extend the theory of landscape and architecture by redefining varying land forms as architectural typologies.

How do these notions relate to the language of representation and diverse mediums used to articulate and reveal the proposal?

A process of model making, scanning, digital documentation, and physical collage created a new dialogue between the digital and analogue. This allowed the design to overlay and interlock with the site. The collages revealed these overlaps the kilometer long farm would create by the process of varying media exploration and experimentation. These would allow for a reintegration with the derelict structure and the city. The line drawings revealed a level of inhabitation as well as scale and activity that would exist post occupancy. Seoul’s lively and vibrant city fabric are celebrated by these various media in order to share the experience that the farm would create. These various tools sought to preserve the history that defined an important era in South Korean hisory. By extending its history into the future, a new narrative revealed the significance of its food culture and place within society.

Should you have to isolate one principale image/medium through which to reveal the vision, what would this be and why?

The use of model making, both in the traditional sense and the new method I developed through digital tools creating analogue drawings, could be said was the most successful method in the development of the project. The making of models allowed for a level of abstraction that could be read as both whimsical but a project that is meant to be built. Many projects lack a sense of space and experience that allows users to imagine the emotion that the building would create. The project also responds through rigorous research that eent into investigating South Korea’s relationship to pigs, which could in fact change the way the city functions. Model making was used to investigate this phenomenon spatially in various dimensions.

How does the project situate itself within the current economic climate of tax wars between the US and China?

Although South Korea’s pork consumption is so large that an average person eats nearly 2 pigs per year, the majority (if not all) of the country’s pork comes from overseas: with a large portion coming from the United States. Now that many countries, such as South Korea, may have to deal with the possibility of skyrocketing import tax, they may see their beloved food culture become too expensive. In order to become dependent from the fatuous decisions of the United States’ economic war with China, South Korea can independently become a world leader in pork production. Globalism itself can have its advantages, but one may argue that our pseudo-globalist society benefits the few who are in control of the market and the bourgeoisie capitalist class. As previously mentioned, in the last decade, South Korea has sent pigs and agricultural tools to North Korea in order to ease tensions and denuclearize the peninsula. Could South Korean pork production possibly even ease tensions with the United States and China?

How do you see the project developing in the near future?

The project seeks to reestablish a remarkable piece of history by celebrating the culture of the city in order to revive the industrial complex that keeps the city alive. By allowing the city’s landscape, both physically and metaphorically, to grow by means of its food culture, the entire city benefits. Therefore, the project could allow a rise in culinary education as well as agricultural innovation in Seoul. The extension of the natural landscape that is essential in South Korean culture furthers the production of society by extending the extensive hiking trails and living that exist in Seoul.

How do you envision the city thriving and developing as a result of the incubator?

It is difficult for one to imagaine the scale of such a building in the middle of a modern city such as Seoul. Due to the scale of the project, the farm would have a significant impact on the city and the country as a whole. In one respect, the city’s food culture would transform to a export oriented production scheme which would make the site a hub for social life and culture. Many of South Korea’s culinary traditions would be celebrated in order to create a city that lacks national identity. Another aspect would be the reestablishment of the structure to include a farm, extending Seoul’s vast hiking trails and housing. These aspects would create a new industry in which agriculture dominates the city narrative. One may hike, eat, sleep and live all within the kilometer long building. This reestablishment would in turn create a precedent for further redevelopment schemes in the city that could rethink the demolition tactics that drive modern redevelopment.

What is for you the architect's most important tool?

The most important tool for architect’s is research. As architects, we should become almost obsessive with the culture and social-political elements that make up any particular site or context. By understanding and creating an environment that fully responds to the culture of its place, the building will easily integrate with its site vis a vis a more rigorous research based approach. Furthermore, one may argue it is easier to design with a larger framework of knowledge, both through cultural history and social context. This in turn creates a much more fruitful relationship to the architecture that is developed.

About

Graduated MArch Architecture at The Bartlett School of Architecture with Unit 13. Daniel also has a MArch in Urban Design from the Bartlett as well as a BArch from the University at Buffalo in New York.

He has also worked internationally  in New York, NY, Guangzhou, China and London, UK. You can view his work and CV at danielavilan.net.

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