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Competition: New Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has launched an international contest to revamp the landmark Gwanghwamun Square in South Korea (Deadline: 23 November)

Open to architects, urban planners, landscape architects, and transport engineers, the competition seeks innovative visions to transform the 126,100㎡ public open space in the centre of a large busy boulevard next to city’s historic Yukjo-geori royal administrative complex.

The 60,000 million KRW project aims to resurrect the ancient square in Sejong-daero district which played a key role in major historic events throughout South Korea’s history but was transformed into a 16-lane roadway during the twentieth century and reconstructed as a traffic island nine years ago.

Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul

Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul

Source: Image by Dwkfolder

Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul

According to the brief: ‘Gwanghwamun Square is the central space of Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea, and an iconic place that represents this country’s identity. This place was the centre of dynasty politics in the Joseon period (1392-1910), and the epicentre of democratic movements in modern Korea, including the April Revolution in 1960 and the June Democratic Uprising in 1987.

‘The Seoul Metropolitan Government, in an effort to overcome the current spatial and functional limits of Gwanghwamun Square and to restore historical and cultural symbolism of Gwanghwamun area, is opening this international design competition. All experts or firms that are interested in this opportunity are strongly encouraged to register and submit a proposal.’

Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul

Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul

Source: Image by Alejandro

Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul

Located in the heart of the South Korean capital, Gwanghwamun Square is a deeply historic space which is currently overwhelmed by heavy vehicle traffic and poor pedestrian facilities. Common complaints about the current plaza include its failure to express its historic identity, poor pedestrian connections, absence of seating, and traffic noise.

The competition focuses on a 126,100㎡ area including the plaza and the surrounding Sejong-daero, Sajik-ro and Yulgok-ro roads. The project aims to transform the square into a new ‘people-centred space with restored historical significance and greater convenience’.

Judges include Dominique Perrault, principal of Dominique Perrault Architecture; West8 principal Adriaan Geuze; Seoul city architect Young Joon Kim; and Na-Kyoung Yu, principal of local practice Place Making Associates.

The overall winner will be invited to negotiate for the 2,764 million KRW design contract.

How to apply


The registration deadline is 5pm local time on 23 November and submissions must be completed by 5pm on 11 January.

Contact details

Gwanghwamun Square Project Group
Square Planning Team
Seoul Metropolitan Government

Tel: 82-2-2133-7739

Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Insun Hahm

The Hanyang University professor and professional advisor to the competition discusses his ambitions

Why are your holding an international contest to restore the historic significance of New Gwanghwamun Square?

Insun Hahm

Insun Hahm

Insun Hahm

Seoul Metropolitan Government is holding a variety of international design contests to get challenging ideas for important public buildings and places. As a national boulevard/square and as a place to reconcile the ideals of old dynasty and democratic republic, this square should be reformed by the most creative and cutting-edge design in this era. Also for a sensitive and disputable place like this, it is considered that the best way to get a consensus would be the process by the selected design through open competition.

What is your vision for the future of New Gwanghwamun Square?

We are hoping for a holistic design that resolves dilemmas such as between historic restoration / citizen’s gathering, oriental traditional ‘road’ / western ‘square’, landscape/cityscape, charming ‘voids’ / vibrant ‘surroundings’ and daily life / non-daily activities etc. The project site area is about 126,100㎡ and ithe basic design contains prerequisite vehicle roads specification. It is more desirable to envision the future for the core space of Korea and Seoul by thoughtful strategy rather than to improve existing physical conditions through skilful design competence.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

Even though this project has a high complexity of urbanism, architecture, landscape, history, traffic, we do not believe that the most creative and innovative solution is born from a big organisation or well-known planner. Rather, every applicant should have a deep understandins about the historic and cultural meaning of this place. The winning architects or designers will have exclusive credit and the rights to finish the design.


Albertopolis Public Realm case study: Q&A with DSDHA

The London practice discusses lessons learned redesigning the UK capital’s Albertopolis district

How will your project restore the historic Albertopolis public realm and remedy a traffic-dominated public space?

As two of London’s most visited and photographed monuments, the Royal Albert Hall and Albert Memorial are a key part of the recognisable public face of the Albertopolis and Exhibition Road Cultural Quarter. Despite this, the Royal Albert Hall has become an island, separated from its namesake’s memorial by a busy road, a sea of tarmac and parked cars, which hardly offer the dignity and welcome expected of such a nationally and internationally significant public destination.

In 2010, DSDHA Director Deborah Saunt was awarded the Research Fellowship in the Built Environment by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 to develop conceptual ideas and a long-term spatial vision for the Commission’s legacy as owners of the freehold to the entire Albertopolis Estate in South Kensington. This research then informed DSDHA’s masterplan for the area around the Royal Albert Hall and Albert Memorial, aiming to create a calm shared space between the Royal Albert Hall, the Albert Memorial and Kensington Gardens, thus extending the success of the shared space of Exhibition Road north to the Hall and providing a benefit to all audiences, as well as restoring the Hall’s original setting.

Albertopolis Public Realm by DSDHA

Albertopolis Public Realm by DSDHA

Albertopolis Public Realm by DSDHA

The proposed public realm will transform the entrance to the park at the front of the Royal Albert Hall with step-free access, accentuating the link between the Memorial and the Hall. The crossing will be widened, and the carriageway narrowed, to help slow traffic and improve crossing for pedestrians. The space around the building will be redesigned to create new and appealing public space and improve connectivity with both the Gardens and South Kensington as well as the Royal College of Art, Imperial College and the Royal College of Music.

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

When undertaking a project we always embed ourselves in the site to observe the way individuals behave via grounded research. We typically interview a number of passersby asking them what has brought them to the area and where they are directed; we record their movements at different times of the day and across the seasons. Moreover we look at the digital traces that they leave behind. In this case for instance, after conducting an online keyword search and sifting through photo sharing sites, DSDHA have carefully layered hundreds of images on top of one another, creating single images of the Albert Memorial and the Royal Albert Hall that bring strangers together into a shadowy dialogue across time and space. These pictures prove that the prominent landmarks are almost always photographed from the same locations and viewpoints, allowing us to track where people tend to gather, either alone or in crowds, where they stand still to take pictures, to create shared memories as part of a global community etc.. We have used this and a number of other techniques to analyse the site, map visitors’ patterns of movement and behaviours and develop a public realm strategy that will sensibly improve the experience of moving and viewing across the area.

Albertopolis Public Realm by DSDHA

Albertopolis Public Realm by DSDHA

Albertopolis Public Realm by DSDHA

What advice would you have to contest participants on rethinking New Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul?

Generating specificity of place and a sense of inclusion in public realm design are key issues to address. This has to start with deep, human-centred research and a sympathy with the ever-changing nature of urban settings and their often-concealed topography and history. As no place is ‘ever the same place twice.’

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