Seoul going for its own High Line: the Skygarden to use an old elevated highway

The High Line concept is spreading around the world: Seoul is now making plans for the Skygarden.

Like the High Line, the Skygarden will make good use of unused infrastructure: the Seoul Station Overpass hasn’t seen traffic since 2009, when it failed a government safety inspection. Unlike the High Line, the Skygarden is part of a more expansive government-led initiative to make Seoul’s built landscape greener and more walkable. “The mayor of Seoul is quite active in establishing an improved architectural climate in the city,” says Winy Maas, MVRDV’s lead on the project. Last fall, Seoul’s mayor, Park Won-soon, hired architect Seung H-Sang to be lead the change as first “city architect,” a job that involves supervising a team of urban planners, researchers, and designers, as well as overseeing public projects like the competition for Skygarden. Construction should begin in October, and the park is expected to be completed in 2017.

MVRDV’s design scales over time, spilling over into other parts of the city. Skygarden will function as a nursery to a bevy of trees that will eventually be transplanted to several rooftop gardens town. The architects plan to build out satellite gardens within a radius of about 800 feet, and then expand another 800 feet about a year later. In total, the pedestrian park will be home to 254 species of flora, which Maas calls “a complete collection of Korean vegetation.” His project will continue the Korean tradition of clipping, cutting, and arranging lush landscapes in precise ways. “It’s a very specific culture that doesn’t exist in other places,” he says.

Reaching the same success of New York’s High Line may not be easy to do. Public spaces or parks don’t automatically become popular just because they have been constructed. The High Line helped revitalize an area but there was already a good amount of foot traffic nearby. As Jane Jacobs would suggest, successful parks require a steady flow of people in and out in order to provide an interesting scene as well as ensure safety. So, in this case in Seoul, the context of this new park matters as well as the fact that it will be an interesting nursery. Are there other nearby uses that help ensure a steady flow of people? Is there land nearby with a mix of uses and/or development potential? Does the fact that this used to be a highway help increase the cool factor (the High Line is fairly narrow but a highway would be wider and could provide for some other uses – plus, removing highways might actually help traffic flow)?

Plans for the first skyscraper that can disappear

Construction is expected to begin soon on a South Korean skyscraper that could hide itself:

[T]he world’s first disappearing skyscraper has just been approved for construction for the Incheon International Airport area outside Seoul, South Korea. No date is given as the projected completion yet, but according to Architizer, Tower Infinity, designed by GDS Architects, will rise 450 meters (1476.38 feet) in the air and feature “a cutting-edge LED façade system that allows visual information behind the skyscraper to be captured and simultaneously projected from the tower’s surface.” The building, in turn, will “blend into the background like an enormous, crystalline chameleon.”

Tower Infinity, which will be filled not with residences but with “entertainment and leisure purposes,” will have the third highest observation deck in the world, and its the exterior can also be used as a giant screen to project photos or movies. Despite its massive, thunderous stature—the architects believe that the primary function of the skyscraper, which they’ve nicknamed the “Anti-Landmark,” is to “celebrate the global community rather than focus on itself.” They write: “Instead of symbolizing prominence as another of the world’s tallest and best towers, our solution aims to provide the World’s first invisible tower, showcasing innovative Korean technology while encouraging a more Global narrative in the process.”

Whether Tower Infinity is “a magical piece of technological ingenuity, or a cynical new branch of architectural exhibitionism,” as Architizer puts it, one thing’s for sure: the $28B “Dream Hub,” a minicity of architectural experimentation composed of buildings by Daniel Libekind, Foster + Partners, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, among others, as well as a rather controversial number by MVRDV, probably won’t happen in Seoul.

It will be interesting to see how this type of facade will be deployed. Imagine a regular show where the building lights up and then suddenly disappears. In a less urban area or if the backdrop is conducive, the building could disappear to be replaced by a scene of nature. Or, the LCD facade might be used as a giant advertising screen. Perhaps new regulations and codes have to be developed by urban municipalities to limit what the building might do.

But, I can’t help thinking the building has a future in action movies, perhaps the James Bond or Mission: Impossible series, as the centerpiece in some bizarre plot.