A Dutch architecture firm that previously turned heads in Seoul for less-than-favorable reasons has been selected as part of an international design competition to transform a decaying stretch of elevated highway in the South Korean metropolis into a joyous — and really giant —public garden that’s positively bursting at its concrete seams with a variety of flora.
The firm in question, MVRDV, should not be confused with OMA, an also acronym-ed, also Rotterdam-based architecture studio that co-submitted the winning proposal in Washington D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge Park design competition. That project, much like the so-called Seoul Skygarden, is an aerial greenway project revolving around the adaptive reuse of aging or obsolete infrastructure (see also: the High Line et al.).
The Seoul Skygarden, a magnificent floating arboretum of sorts, would breath new life into the Seoul Station Overpass, an elevated two-lane roadway built in the 1970s as a direct connection to Namdaemun Market. Unlike the 11th Street Bridge Park, a project that will be erected atop the foundations of a long-demolished freeway bridge spanning the Anacostia River, Seoul Station Overpass is currently open to traffic.
However, a plan to shut down the 56-foot-tall overpass has been in the works since 2006 when safety inspections found that the aging roadway was less-than-ideal in the safety department. In 2009, weight restrictions on vehicles were enacted. In recent years, the dreaded “D” word — demolish —was viewed as a less likely scenario with officials and residents pushing to keep the overpass intact. Instead, it would close to traffic and be reused in some manner.
According to the English language website of South Korean newspaper The Chosen Ilbo, many of Namdaemun Market’s merchants have been in vocal opposition to any adaptive reuse schemes fearing that severing vehicle traffic via the overpass would negatively impact their businesses.
Resistance aside, MVRDV, working in collaboration with a small handful of landscape designers, engineers, consultants and architects of both the local and Dutch variety, has dreamt up one hell of an urban green space. And while it might birth a detour for vehicular traffic, the Seoul Skygarden will create a much-welcomed shortcut for pedestrians traveling to and from the market from the west who would normally have to take a 25-minute walk around Seoul’s main railway station complex to get there. According to MVRDV, the travel time by foot coming from the west would now be a quick 11 minutes.
In reality, it’s unlikely that a walk across the 3,000-foot-long Seoul Skygarden —“a pleasant shortcut through a green oasis in the midst of all the traffic and concrete,” in the words of MVRDV’s Winy Maas — will take 11 minutes as MVRDV’s proposal packs it with so much bottleneck-inducing beauty including 254 species (!) of trees organized library-style. Park-goers will be encouraged to stop and “take a selfie next to their favourite local plant while knowing its name.”
MVRDV’s design creates a library of local plants, a Korean arboretum of species planted in ‘neighbourhoods’ and arranged along the 938 metre length of the Station Overpass according to their names in the Korean alphabet. In addition to the circular plant pots of varying sizes, a series of customizable activators such as tea cafés, flower shops, street markets, libraries and greenhouses will provide a catalogue of elements which will enliven the Seoul Skygarden.
In the future, the overpass will evolve with new plants and new activators so as to become an‘urban nursery’, rearing trees for the surrounding districts. Additional structures of stairs, lifts and escalators as well as new ‘satellite’ gardens, can connect to the Skygarden, sprouting like branches from the existing structural piers. These extensions can inspire further additions to the area’s greenery and public spaces, and will connect the Skygarden to its surroundings both physically and visually through plant species related to each of the neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods make the Skygarden easy to navigate due to their alphabetical order and consistent signage, as well as the clear differentiation between plant species in each cluster, and give a unique character to each space.
All sounds lovely right?
According to a government spokesperson, the city is expected to sign a contract with MVRDV next month; a series of public hearings “to make the plan more concrete” are also in the works. Traffic would be blocked from the overpass in October of this year and, if all goes as planned, the Seoul Skygarden would be open to the public as soon as 2017.
That’s one super-speedy garden in the sky.
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