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Reworking Seoul’s last moon village

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Florian Beigel and Philip Christou are one of 12 teams of architects working on the regeneration of a South Korean shanty town, with a strict remit to preserve the existing urban grain

Florian Beigel and Philip Christou are one of 12 international architectural teams collaborating with Korean architect and Seoul city architect Seung H-Sang to regenerate the last remaining of Seoul’s shanty towns, known locally as ‘Moon Villages’. Seung is pioneering the project along with Seoul’s mayor Park Won-soon.

Correspondence began in spring 2014, when Beigel and Christou, of Architecture Research Unit, which is based at London Met’s CASS school, were invited to rebuild 25 houses across two neighbourhoods, each measuring around 2,500m2.


104 Moon Village is the last remaining shanty town in Seoul

Thousands of homes in the village are derelict; crumbling as a result of decades of bodged repair jobs and in need of complete regeneration.

Yet Seung insists on preservation of the cultural heritage of the site through retention of the urban grain, land terracing, alleyways, streets and alleyway yards. The topography and plot boundaries must be kept exactly as they are, for he wants the regeneration to recall what was there before, thereby maintaining local memory.


A massing model explores how the individual buildings respond to one another

The crucial interplay is therefore between specific preservation and complete regeneration. Christou and Beigel say they will address this by treating each property individually, and honouring ‘characterful relationships’ between them. They plan to develop the village’s public space through vegetable gardens and new green areas.

They have described their undertaking as challenging, interesting and unusual. It has required the pair to hone in on the essential details of the existing dwellings, from the ‘ingenious use of every little left-over space’ to the ‘varied material palette’.

Collective Memory

Florian Beigel and Philip Christou in conversation with CASS graduate James Ragonesi, based on an email correspondence that began in the spring of 2014

104 Moon Village, Seoul, was mostly built from the mid-1960s onwards, by its residents, on the lower slopes of the steep hillsides at the north-east edge of the city. Each dwelling carries with it the story of its piecemeal construction over time.

James Ragonesi You have been invited, along with 11 other architectural teams, to work on design proposals for rebuilding the last remaining shanty town in Seoul, South Korea, the so-called ‘104 Village’. Each architect has been asked to design two separate hillside neighbourhoods within the village. What was your initial response to what the Koreans call a ‘moon village’, and how have you gone about the study and recording of its topographical, cultural and social identity?

Florian Beigel and Philip Christou This is a very interesting and unusual design project. The intention of the organisers is to preserve the memory of the existing village in some way, while rebuilding all the houses. The challenge is to decide what aspects to preserve, and what to take away.


The brief demands that roads and alleys are preserved

We first visited this village in October 2013 and we were of course very enthusiastic. There are many types of beauty in the existing settlement, among its messiness and apparent disorder. We had to stop ourselves from over-romanticising, and to keep a clear and simple attitude about the design task.

Some of our architect friends in Seoul think this whole project is nostalgic and unnecessary. Others understand that it will become an important prototype project for future urban redevelopment, particularly in Korea.

The Korean architect Seung H-Sang, as Seoul city architect working with the mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon, has initiated the project and given direction to the brief for the invited architects. We have worked with Seung on several projects over the years in Korea, including Paju Book City. Seung has the idea that all the existing streets and alleyways, stairways and little public spaces, or ‘alleyway yards’ should be kept as they are, but newly paved. Also, all the existing topography of land terraces and retaining walls that the houses are built on to, as well as all the existing house plot boundaries will be kept. Existing and new shared green spaces such as shared vegetable gardens will make an important contribution to the public space of the village.

There are many types of beauty in the existing settlement

JR The site is one of the last surviving village settlements of its kind in Seoul. How can architects give a sense of time and memory to this place, preserving its past and yet addressing the present conditions of low-cost living, sanitation, quality of life and density?

FB&PC A team of historians, sociologists, and architects have made detailed studies and surveys of the village’s existing physical and social conditions. A comprehensive briefing document was prepared for the participating architects. All the houses will be completely rebuilt with better insulation, better roofs, better windows and doors and a longer lifespan.

We are looking very carefully at the photos we have taken on site, without preconceptions. We are thinking of using a varied material palette similar to that of the existing buildings. We are concentrating on the design of the shared public spaces of the alleyways and small lanes. Our primary concern is finding characterful relationships between each of the new houses along both sides of the alleyways. We have made proposals for the plan and elevations of each house individually, responding to the specific qualities of the shared spaces and the culture of living in this place.


Design development sketch

JR Do you find dealing with the city at the large scale of ‘104 Village’, then finds its way back into your architecture at a more intimate scale ?

FB&PC Yes of course. We call it ‘architecture as city’. This works at all scales, from the intimacy of the low windows that face the boulevards at the CASS, giving good views for people sitting and working at a table inside a studio room, to the scale of a neighbourhood street, and to the scale of a city structure that acts like a topographical element in the landscape. Each is architecture as city.

JR Currently the houses follow the profile of the landscape, having full contact with the earth, almost growing out of the hillside. As you mentioned, the new building structures should adhere or respect the existing plot boundaries. How are you proposing to reconcile the differences in the topography?

FB&PC One of the most interesting aspects of this project for us is the fact that there is a ready-made landscape infrastructure of retaining walls and alleys that we are asked to inhabit with new dwellings. In some cases, we will need to repair or rebuild retaining walls. We are trying to take a close look at the way the buildings are made, the nature of the existing ceramic tile roofs, the way the entrance gates are positioned, the arrangement of the external patio spaces in relationship to the sun, and the tiny living rooms and ingenious use of every little left-over space. We hope to bring many of these special qualities of the existing houses into the design of the new houses.


The teams painstakingly surveyed the existing environment as part of the design development

JR It is often the case that this type of work, in sites that are full of history and emotions, becomes intimidating, especially for young designers. How would you advise one to approach this type of project?

FB&PC There is no reason why a site that is full of character, history and cultural significance should be intimidating to an architect. Such a site gives one inspiration and is a pleasure to work with, even if it is a highly significant historical site, such as Hadrian’s Villa outside Rome. (We usually ask our diploma students at the CASS to make design proposals on sites like these.) Once you have understood that the context has special qualities, you find it is possible to make proposals that can heighten these collective memories of the place. You realise no site is static. Each place one works with, however mundane or seemingly empty, has had many alterations, so your intervention is only one piece of a long story of the site, and this story will continue in the future.

Teams working on the 104 Village Project

The 104 Village Project is organised in three coordination groups.

There are 24 neighbourhoods in total and 12 architect teams.

Each architect team to design 2 neighbourhoods with 25-30 plots per neighbourhood with a gross internal floor area in each neighbourhood of approx.2500m2.

Group 1

Minah Lee (Hyup-dong-one) - Design guide coordination, infrastructure-subconsultant coordination

Hyunsik Min (Kiohun Architects )

Min Lee, Jin Son (Ison Architects)

Dominique Perrault Architecture, Paris (with Yoonhie Lee)

Group 2

Jongho Lee (Studio Meta) - Coordination with Seoul Metropolitan Govt.

Kwangsoo Kim (K works)

Hyunah Chung (DIA architecture)

Florian Beigel and Philip Christou (Architecture Research Unit, London), (with Jonghwan Ahn)

Group 3

Sung Ryong Cho (Cho Sung Ryong City Architecture) - Coordination of permits and other common issues

Haewon Shin (Lokal Design)

Seungsoo Shin (Design Group OZ)

Francesco Sanin, Syracuse, NY (with Hong Ki Tek) 


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Readers' comments (1)

  • There's definitely something of Hassan Fathy about this. I like it a lot. So often these places are bulldozed and replaced with something faceless and anonymous and the community that was there is destroyed. It's good to see city authorities that have the interest in commissioning such a complex and well considered project.

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