Seoul tries to be reborn as a world class cultural and beautiful city. It seems to be late, but it is not too late. So it is time to welcome and encourage the city government of Seoul which elaborates some pilot projects. At this moment, we have to understand exactly what urban culture and urban beauty is because correcting an already built environment is very expensive in every respect - culturally and financially - as we know.
Making cultural cities should not mean building special cultural facilities like opera houses and fine arts galleries. The design of the cityscape should not be understood only as a visual aesthetic matter or purely ornamental cosmetics. Urban culture in a comprehensive sense means that citizens?aily lives, and urban beauty has, unlike in other fine arts, an ordinary and social sense. In this context, a cultural and beautiful city is where citizens can carry their daily lives joyfully and in a "human-friendly"manner. "Ordinary urban beauty" assumes feelings of comport, order and richness that the citizens perceive in their "ordinary" environment, in their working and living places just during carrying their daily lives. That is the most essential and sustainable urban beauty that stimulates urban culture.
In this context, making a vivid and joyful city is more than the design of individual buildings and street furnishings. It means an urban design in a comprehensive sense and demands some basic changes of our views seeing and managing our cities.
Urban Planning and Design in the Common Sense
Urban planning in the common sense means looking at cities from the daily life perspective. In quantitative urban planning, "beauty" is not the subject of discussion; at most, functional beauty is considered. It is positive that a cityscape becomes the important theme of discussion not only in urban planning, but also in daily life: still, quite a few urban planners try to prove objectively the quality of cityscapes by quantitative analysis. In city planning, decisions must be made for an "unclear user group" thus objectivity is necessary. However, when emphasizing objectivity, logicality, and rationality of urban planning, the urban environment can be misinterpreted only by numbers or a sort of indicators. On the contrary, urban design matters how and in what shape those functions can be put into the physical space. Urban design is making three-dimensional space from the viewpoint of ordinary people and for their daily lives.
Nowadays, there is a tendency to make "gigantic green axes" or "huge parks" to build a city with rich green areas. This attitude results from the view that they are still managing the city based on quantitative aspects. To increase accessibility to the green space in daily life, it is better to place many small parks in neighborhoods rather than one big park in the center. These small parks lead to the streets with trees and form a pedestrian network. By doing so, people will feel more greenery than the actual portion of green space will provide.
Various Urban Housing Forming a Vivid Cityscape with Diverse Street Spaces
Housing is the most primary function in cities. It takes up 70 percent of the urban area in most cities and plays an important role in forming the physical shape of the city. Furthermore, people in this residential area become the main actors and actresses leading the culture of their city while the physical shape of the city functions as a "stage" Therefore, residential areas must play significant roles in forming cityscape.
Generally, urban residential buildings are planned as the type of multi-unit housing for the high density land use. The main issue in this type of multi-unit housing is how to coexist "public and private", "vivid city and quiet residential atmosphere", "communication with neighbors and retreat for one's own solitude". Here, street spaces can be laid out as a "negotiator" between those "two poles" by forming various street spaces which make the gradual transition from public space to private space, inducing diverse social interchange and creating actual urban culture. Building diverse residential housing types along various streets, wide streets, narrow streets, and small paths, people in various classes will live together creating a vivid culture street.
In this context, it is to change the obsession of the "South-oriented housing". Now Koreans are traveling around the world experiencing the western culture. In a short time, the so called the "south-oriented wall-like and high-rise apartment buildings" which are the most preferred housing type in Korea, will be compared to the various urban housing types of the Western world. If then they will be skeptical about such "superstition" that defines residential quality only by placing the building in south-north-orientation.
For those busy office workers, the south-orientation should not be a decisive factor, because the most important issue is the distance from their working place to their home. And if there is a problem with west-orientation, then is it not simple to solve it by using long eaves or blinds from traditional methods applying insulating material in outer wall from new technology? The fifth and sixth floors, which form the street space, should be used as an office with a courtyard and the tower above the regular floors can be occupied with the housings of nice views, which also might be attractive to young wealthy people. After all, it truly becomes in favor of human, cultural, and environmental aspects by developing an urban space where various types of housing under different conditions in size and shape coexist harmoniously.
To build a vivid cityscape with individual buildings and public spaces, also changes in construction and development level are needed. Different scales of development must be encouraged. Sometimes, it is necessary to have large-scale development run by major companies or public corporations; however, it is not easy to develop varied public spaces through large-scale development. Public spaces including street spaces can have an abundance of diversity when it comes to different scales of development to attract various developers and individual builders. When developers from different social classes can participate, including medium-sized developers and individual building owners, it is possible to make a city for various social members, and consequently a vivid and beautiful city with a personality.
From "Object-Architecture" to Architecture that Forms "Street Space"
Street space with easy accessibility for everyone motivates unintentional behavior and can operate as a stage for various urban activities which require continuity of space. However, this kind of continuing space pattern can only build up by street-oriented types of architecture. If the structures that line up along the street trigger functional and visual interest to the people, then the street space will become truly "walkable" and "enjoyable"
Not by simply placing the independent buildings, but organizing the plot, mass, floor plan, facade of individual buildings in terms of three-dimensional design based on urban public street space. That is to say, let us make various spatial, functional and social experiences through "custom-made type architecture" which follows hierarchy, pattern, and sequence of the street.
Anti-super Block Conception: Small Blocks Assure More Street Spaces
In order to build the "walkable" and "enjoyable" streets, the streets with a priority for pedestrian, the current super block ideology has to be excluded. The super block is a result of modernism which is based on the idea of car-oriented cities where traffic roads and parking lots have more weight rather than the continuity of pedestrian space.
Street patterns which are formed by small blocks result in the continuity of street space as well as wide selections of routes. Once space continuity and various routes are recognized by the people, they start to have sense of orientation in the city, feel comfort, pride and enjoy various social activities. When developing new towns, it is essential to reserve enough public street space. And the basic premise of this idea starts with networking of street space, designing three-dimensional street space and dividing the district into small blocks which are linked to the street space. By subdividing the plots in different sizes and shapes, it will lead to a variety of building masses and designs.
Vitalizing Street Space Through Mixing the Uses
From the 60's or 70's, Jacobs, Jan Gehl or Donald D. Appleyard had pointed out that social activities only occur effectively when different mixed land uses form daily life along the street space. It will motivate people to walk and have contact with neighbors.
In Korea, most streets are shown to foreigners as market streets except those huge apartment blocks. Diverse commercials and retails run by families line up along those streets and make up mixed-use. Therefore, preserving and developing the existing structures rather than wiping-out and building new are reasonable ways to preserve the urban culture. The well-known SoHo district in New York is based on such idea by Jane Jacobs.
Address System Ordering Street-space
Address system is important for the ordered streetscape. Without the name of streets and the systematical plot numbers, streets can not be perceived as continuing spaces. In Korea, no one tells a cab driver the destination by street names or plot numbers. People always tell the taxi driver to take a left turn at the huge building or take right turn at the retail shop with the big red sign on it. They only recognize the place by the name of "huge" buildings or "strange" objects. Eventually, under such circumstances, the commercial signboards must be bigger and more "striking" than others in order to have some edge for the customers, and it is a matter-of-course that all the signboards become gaudy. In this case, any strong restriction about the design of commercial sign boards can not contribute to achieve an ordered streetscape effectively.
Street names that can be used and perceived by people should be utilized, not some kind of made-up names which might appear in a fairy tale. Also orderly-organized address systems should be considered. In order to make this happen, plot numbers should be given by the order, which can be resulted from determining street patterns through three-dimensional space simulation starting from the planning level, and dividing plots. Then, plot itself might be used as an expedient for regulating development scale.
Comprehensive Understanding of History and Culture: Cityscape with a Feeling of Time
Nowadays, consciousness on the history of urban-scape as a cultural heritage has been raised. Traditional Korean-style houses, historic city walls and palaces, Confucian temples and schools, arsenals have been already, or will be restored. Nevertheless, 'apartments' known as representative of Korean housing type, built under the premise that they will be rebuilt in 20 years or 40 years, had no chance of becoming historical residential architecture building from the very beginning.
Thus, recent recognition of Korean history is excessively past-oriented and obsessed with restoration. It may have based on remorsefulness of the ignorance so far; however, restoration of once destroyed architectures or cities is not like the bringing back a once stolen masterpiece such as a 'white porcelain of Joseon dynasty'. No matter how great historical buildings are, if you aren't able to feel, taste and experience them in daily life, you will lose interest gradually. Most of existing historical buildings in the world have met the demand of changing times, accepting new uses constantly.
It is important that today's construction becomes tomorrow's history as well as finding work of the past. It means we should be more careful when we build something today, we can make tomorrow's shining historic city by constant uses and efforts to keep it, instead of compulsorily restoring the past once destroyed. Reconstruction in every 20 years or 40 years is anti-cultural and anti-ecological behavior.
Cityscape with an urban culture is stocks of diverse urban lives for generations in this 'historic city'. Culture does not occur one day; it is made by constant accumulation of 'daily life' not the accumulation of special events. The number one priority is to make a city for citizens's ordinary life, not to focus on making events like the culture zone, the hub of eastern Asia, and Chinatown. We should never forget that the tourists who come to the city always want to feel and experience the history & daily life.