Located between Jongno 3-ga and Toegyero 3-ga in Jongno-gu, Seoul, the Sewoon Shopping Mall is a series of eight buildings that stretches over 1 kilometer toward Namsan Mountain to the south and Jongmyo Shrine to the north.
The first four floors of each of these buildings house a variety of stores selling all kinds of electronics from audio systems and lights to karaoke machines and game consoles. The fifth floors up are used as office spaces and residential areas. Many years ago, the mall flourished as the region’s center of commerce and culture, but in recent years has experienced recession due to the rise of the Gangnam area and the popularization of internet shopping. Currently the Seoul Metropolitan Government is carrying out plans to renovate the Sewoon Shopping Mall and restore it to its former glory.
In 1945, an open space was cleared in the middle of Seoul to make provisions for bombing and to prevent fires from spreading during the Pacific War. After the war, refugees flooded to the area, and a large shantytown of unlicensed structures sprung up. Concerned that the shantytown would soon become a center for crime and poverty in Seoul, the Korean government commissioned Kim Swoo-geun, the most well-known architect at the time, to use the plot of land to build the nation’s first combined commercial and residential complex. The structure, which was christened the Sewoon Shopping Mall, was opened to the public in 1968.
In the 1970s, the Sewoon Shopping Mall flourished and was the nation’s most luxurious commercial and residential complex. Popular celebrities and high-ranking officials moved into the building, and the shopping mall enjoyed prosperity as a department store, supermarket, and home appliances store. There was even an indoor golf range. The mall continued to thrive with the introduction of computer games in the 1980s and the development of the gaming industry. Representative companies from the gaming, console, and karaoke industries set up shop at the mall and formed a commercial network. The selection of products and parts sold at the mall at that time grew so great that people often said that the mall even had everything you needed to build a tank.
The Sewoon Shopping Mall is noteworthy not only because of its overwhelming size, which covers an area of over 1 kilometer in length, but also for its role in introducing a revolutionary architectural style to the city and ushering Seoul into the twentieth century. The design of the mall was groundbreaking at the time, and incorporated a 3D multidimensional, multi-functional “city” design, huge internal and external structures, artificial land, aboveground streets, a rooftop garden, and a pedestrian mall.
The Sewoon Shopping Mall was far from an ordinary mall. The mall was much closer to an entire city than a mall in terms of its design and infrastructure and was considered the pinnacle of architectural splendor. As a mega-structure with a collective urban system housed within its walls, the Sewoon Shopping Mall began to transform (as it continues to do today) and attracted the attention of Korean and foreigner visitors worldwide. Despite the mall’s initial popularity and innovative design the emergence of large scale electronic markets, such as the Yongsan Electronics Market, and the advancement of the Internet, began to threaten the very existence of the Sewoon Shopping Mall in the 2000s.
The sad fate of the Sewoon Shopping Mall seemed as if it were sealed when in 2007, the government announced plans to redevelop the area. In December 2008, the first phase of a project to demolish the shopping mall and create a large green area was underway. However, the demolition project soon screeched to a halt due to protests from area residents and the overall decline of the real estate market. After initial plans for demolition fell through, the re-development of the Sewoon Shopping Mall was back to square one. In March 2014, the Seoul Metropolitan Government conducted an opinion poll of local residents and overseas experts and decided to preserve the mall. The city then began to look for project ideas to renovate the Sewoon Shopping Mall, and the focus shifted to ways to bring about “renewal” as opposed to tearing the mall down.
After coming up with the theme of renewal, the Seoul Metropolitan Government, area business associations, architectural firms, and local residents discussed how the renewal would take place, and the idea of a new “community design” project was born.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government embarked on a process to establish agents of renewal and enacted policies together with area residents to open a new chapter in the history of the Sewoon Shopping Mall. One of the main topics of discussion between the government and project participants was whether or not “renewal” could be achieved without “redevelopment.”
Through this and other projects around the city, the Seoul Metropolitan Government sought ways for Seoul to be reborn as a city where the past and the present peacefully coexist. Even today, the Seoul Metropolitan Government continues to create new urban resources using accumulated technologies that still preserve the cultural and historic value of places like the Sewoon Shopping Mall.
The Sewoon Shopping Mall crosses major historical streets that run from east to west, such as Jong-ro, Eulji-ro, and Toegye-ro, as well as Cheonggyecheon Stream. Though the shopping mall intersects these streets, it also connects them as well.
As such, the Sewoon Shopping Mall has a huge potential to create new things and connect isolated parts of the city.
After the government decided on a renewal plan in 2014, they started to put their words into action and held an international design competition for the Sewoon Shopping Mall in February 2015. Participants in the competition were asked to submit designs to revitalize the public space of the mall; a total of 82 entries were submitted—44 from abroad and 38 from home. The fact that there were more international submissions than domestic ones only serves to underscore the amount of interest foreign architects have shown in the Sewoon Shopping Mall.
The winning design, by E2scape Architecture’s “Modern Vernacular”, featured wide pedestrian bridges that would create a sense of continuity between Sewoon Shopping Mall and Jongmyo Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage that represents the 600-year-long history of the Joseon Dynasty. The design also included plans to transform the “Sewoon Greenway Park,” which had been used for urban farming, into a multipurpose space where an array of events could be held such as flea markets, outdoor exhibitions, outdoor performances, outdoor film screenings, sports events, and more. Once this design is implemented, the Sewoon Shopping Mall will once again be able to take its rightful place as a major cultural space in Seoul.
After the renewal of the mall has been completed, public spaces called “platform cells” will be created both inside and outside the mall for use by merchants and residents as well as a variety of cultural organizations. In addition, a two-story high pedestrian pathway will be constructed under a three-story-high pedestrian deck to allow for a better flow inside and outside the mall. The pedestrian deck will connect the “Ga” building of the Sewoon Shopping Mall and the Cheonggye Shopping Mall, creating the only place in Seoul from which to get a bird’s-eye view of Cheonggyecheon Stream and the surrounding cityscape.
In 2016, the creation of these new public spaces will also pave the way for an array of programs that will allow the merchants of the Sewoon Shopping Mall and citizens to come together and reconnect.
The Sewoon Shopping Mall is not only an architectural heritage of Seoul, but is also deeply significant to the historical and cultural industries. Through the revitalization of the Sewoon Shopping Mall, the city government expects Seoul to become even more vibrant as the center of history and culture in Korea.