Seoul architecture and urbanism biennale calls out for collective city-making

Seoul architecture and urbanism biennale calls out for collective city-making

Set across five locations in Seoul, Collective City is a platform for discussion about how architecture, city and governance can work together to create more humane cities. Projects by the likes of Atelier Bow-wow, amid.cero9 and Forensic Architecture take a pro-active and research-led approach to new urban solutions.

In the past, cities were formed as a result of collective effort – for the people, by the people. Yet as humanity has evolved, modern-day cities have degenerated into an outcome of capitalism and commercialism, marred by political and economic ambitions. Seoul is a city where such influences are evident, which is why it serves as the perfect venue to host the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism.

The city’s relentless urbanisation takes root in its history. After the Korean War (1950-1953), it undertook painstaking efforts to catch up with the rest of the world. Stripped of aesthetics, ergonomics and a sense of community, high-rise apartments and buildings were rampantly built across the city. When the travel ban was lifted in the late 1980s, well-travelled Koreans added foreign taste to the urban dynamics. As the city modernised, commercial and political interests demolished historical remains and residential areas.

The 2019 edition of biennial, themed ‘Collective City’ aims to address such issues related to the formation of the cities across the globe, and create an open platform for discussion exploring the relationship between architecture, city and governance and what it means to create a ‘collective city.’ Weight is more on urbanism than architecture.

DDp Aerial view Seoul
Aerial view of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). Photography: Sergio Pirrone

‘It’s about the logic that makes the city more humane,’ said Francisco Sanin, Colombian architect and educator who co-directed the event with Jaeyong Lim, principal architect at OCA. ‘The aim of this biennale is to position Seoul in the world arena to engage in debate, exchange experiences and conversations on what’s going on in other parts of the world. We wanted to create an equal footing for the global south.’ In such effort, they invited cities from Africa, South America and South Asia to share their perspectives.

Exhibitions are scattered across five different locations in the city – Seoul Hall of Urbanism and Architecture, Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), Donuimun Museum Village, Sewoon Plaza, and Seoul Museum of History – purposely curated to make visitors explore the city.

The Seoul Hall of Urbanism and Architecture is an introductory building of the event showcasing a few Seoul-related projects and a few from the Cities exhibition. The Thematic exhibition at the DDP features 48 projects and six documentaries that challenge the current paradigms of city. Introducing the exhibition is the Baeksa Village Residential Area Preservation Project, a collaborative effort for a village design from 10 Seoul-based architects working with local communities.

‘It’s a call for cities to think about the people that will live in them rather than the top-down modernist designing of the city as an aesthetic,’ said Beth Hughes, curator of the thematic exhibition, who heads the architecture programme at Royal College of Art. This section features Atelier Bow-Wow’s Urban Rural Exchange project, which seeks to involve city-dwellers in farming; a wall of black and white cartoons exploring an alternative future for LA by City Form Lab and Harvard GSD; and a deep dive into ‘Jimjilbangs’, a traditional form of communal living, that explores non-conventional domesticity by amid.cero9.

The Donuimun Museum Village, a traditional residential area-turned museum town, is dedicated entirely to the Cities Exhibition, showcasing works of 80 participating cities addressing their cities’ most pressing issues. Case studies include five Korean examples of Cheong-ju, Cheon-an, Tong-yeong and Ulsan.

Outdoor installations draw attention such as audio installation City of Sound: City of Dust by Nick Sowers who documented the sounds of the temporary Black Rock City constructed for Burning Man in Nevada. Stereo speakers are diffused through acrylic panels surrounding an aerial image of the city. The speakers emit sounds of the city generated by the people, transportation and equipment.

Installation of the Seoul Architecture and Urbanism Biennale
Installation view of the Live Projects exhibition exploring markets as a collective formation at the Seoul Museum of History. Photography: Sergio Pirrone

The Global Studio in Sewoon Plaza exhibits research projects by 40 schools on how architecture becomes a tool to convey actions of the collective to change the city. Last but not least, the Seoul Museum of History explores how markets, formed like a collective city, are evolving and how they should be utilized.

The inaugural biennale, launched in 2017, dealt urbanism with a focus on ecological issues such as environment, resources and food. The 2019 edition continues the thread as a centre of discourse on urbanism and architecture – this time with weight on socio-urban dynamics and public engagement for devising collective strategies.

‘Rather than being a one-time event, it is meant to be a prototype for government, professionals, and citizens to act together to make the city better,’ said co-director Lim. The biennial runs until Nov 10, 2019. §

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