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Seoul Commune 2026: Rethinking "Towers in the Park"
Sarah Rich, 24 May 07

The model of sustainable design for urban residential buildings increasingly emphasizes not only energy efficiency and intelligent use of materials, but also social interaction and a sense of community. The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Homes criteria actually include community-related considerations towards the top of their 8-point rating system, highlighting the importance of looking first to the context and density potential of a site before beginning to build.

As cities grow, of course, there will be little choice but to pack into more closely-knit dwellings. Some future-focused designers have been considering how to accomplish this task in architecture while preserving exposure to greenery and creating a sense of non-claustrophobic interaction. We've seen it in Denmark and now a new project emerges out of Seoul, Korea. Seoul Commune 2026 was conceived by Seoul firm, Mass Studies, which investigates "architecture in the market-oriented context of mass production and intensely over-populated urban conditions." The project riffs off of the "towers in the park" typology utilized in a number of large Asian cities, which sets highrise apartment towers in an expanse of green space, creating openness to offset the compact privacy of the residences. But Mass Studies feel that this model is missing something -- the middle ground where people pass one another frequently and have a chance for real engagement. So they blurred the boundaries. In the nascent green building tradition of enfolding architecture in foliage, Seoul Commune 2026 puts the park on the tower.

The creation of interjunctions between interior/exterior and public/private space on a variety of scales accommodates various residential activities and facilitates spontaneous social interactions. We have imagined a spatial condition in which the towers become the park and the park becomes the towers, with the total emerging as a seamless whole.

Seoul Commune 2026 was presented at Art Center's Open House exhibition which explores the integration of architecture and technology for creating more future-appropriate housing. The plans for this project are extensive and multi-faceted, looking at how to best design the building envelope, how to determine the ratio of private space to common, and how to route and distribute various kinds of traffic, among other things:

The ground floor space is reserved for pedestrians. Three walkways converge there and circulate around each tower’s elevator core. Two out of three pedestrian walkways expand vertically and create the vertical connective tissue for the double helix stairs/terrace, thus expanding the park vertically. All vehicular circulation moves below the ground and is connected to underground parking spaces at each of the towers. A monorail loop on the second floor offers public transportation and people movers connect the neighboring towers.

While the exploration that surrounds this project responds in part to a future megacity scenario (using Seoul's highly dense southern city, Apgujongdong), in Korea as a whole, the primary concern isn't a frenetically booming population, but an aging and declining one. As a result, the society has undergone a "hyper-individualization" that isolates citizens domestically. Simultaneously, the presence of advanced communication technology has led to the formation of more interactive communities in a virtual space which have no physical location to support them if they want to be transferred into real space. Mass Studies felt that an apartment model designed such that people would frequently pass one another, with spaces intentionally designed to support and encourage further interaction, could be transformative on a social level. It addresses current conditions which setting a framework for a forecasted future in which technology permits separation, but community continues to be important. The Commune model is not a one-off, but something to be replicated, in shrinking and growing cities alike, since it serves to make urban density comfortable, healthy and sustainable.

[Read more details on the building plans here.]

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I'm really surprised that China's making the same mistakes Le Corbusier made. The first floor is reserved for pedestrians? Then why would they be there? Pedestrians go where they need to go - they don't linger where there isn't something to do. Park space is great, but it's not safe to separate all these modes of transport because you end up with people walking alone, without lots of eyes (like on a busy street) making people feel safe.

Jane Jacobs tore all of this apart, and the idea that we can create livable space by compartmentalizing uses is still just as unworkable as it is in Brasilia.

Posted by: Ben Schiendelman on 25 May 07



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