December 4, 2017

Seoul's Sky Garden~Reuse of an Urban Overpass

This year I visited two of the great urban reuses of existing transportation infrastructure with local designers and creators~the High Line in New York City which was originally a New York Central Railway 1934 spur and the Seoullo 17, the Sky Garden built upon the 1970 Seoul Station Highway Overpass in South Korea. The High Line is 2.33 kilometers long and 30 feet above the ground, and has become an elevated greenway and popular people place. A recent visit was described in this Price Tags post.
The Seoul Station Overpass was about to be demolished for safety concerns about structural integrity. It is one kilometer long and 17 meters (55 feet) above the ground, roughly the same height as the Georgia Viaducts. Instead of demolishing this overpass, it was seen as a catalyst for urban regeneration and linkages in an area that was previously disconnected for pedestrians.   In 2015 HRVDV won a competition to design a this 33 million dollar project as an arboretum which has 254 species of trees, rhododendrons, and plants (all labelled and in alphabetic order on the Sky Garden).  There are 24,085 trees planted and 645 large pots placed along the Sky Garden. There are baby trampolines (carefully constructed in conical forms), plant sculptures, a bakery, a library and even a nursery. The project opened in May 2017 and has been praised for its  adaptation of a motordom artifact.
There is great attention to detail in the finishings and the construction,  and the Sky Garden is bathed in blue light in the evenings. It is used by people of all ages for walking and for visiting, and is seen as an “observatory” over the different lanes of vehicular traffic below. One of the desired outcomes was for users to become more aware of the heavily used streets  and the glassed in guard rails  of the Sky Garden invite that conversation. There is also an “observatory” platform on the Sky Garden for a more bird’s eye view. The designers have playfully cut large diameter cores into the centre of the overpass and placed clear plexiglass covers over those holes so that pedestrians can view for themselves the “structural integrity” of the bridge’s inner workings.
DSCN0166View from Seoullo 17 of TrafficDSCN0136One of several entrances to Seoullo 17 integrated into new plazas at ground level
Like the High Line the Sky Garden has been very popular with local citizens and the travelled width of the walkway is only fifteen feet, the same width as much of High Line in New York City. Adminstrators now say that they wish the pathway widths had been a bit wider, but no one anticipated the overwhelming use and acceptance of the space. Even the wayfinding and local maps  are  now designed with the Sky Garden being the central artery to scores of attractions, shops and services from the many entrances to the elevated walkway.  Seoullo 17 has quickly become a central part of Seoul’s revitalization and you can view more about the project’s background and opening day in this YouTube video.

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  1. I think it’s silly we are getting rid of the viaducts when there are so many interesting things like this we could be doing with them. The whole idea is to tie the neighbourhood together but I think if they wisely utilized the land under the viaducts it would tie it together better than a 6 lane road at grould level. Too late now though….

    1. The NEFC project plans to retain a lengthwise slice of one viaduct as an elevated walkway. The American landscape architect retained for this project is, after all, on of the key people who created NYC’s Highline. The issue with our viaducts is that they are 6X larger in surface area than the Highline, and they have afforded the creation of derelict land beneath them. The Highline is also dominated by a wonderful 19th Century “iron architecture” structure which is a most interesting thing as seen from below. Very New York. The viaducts are 60s concrete, and their form is ubiquitous. No comparison.
      It appears that the Seoul overpasses bridge several roads and parts of the city, so removing them may still affect their utility. Our viaducts will be replaced with an equal amount of road space on the surface.

      1. The latest is that the viaducts will be removed in their entirety because they’re too seismically unstable. They will replace part of the Dunsmuir viaduct with a plaza integrated with Rogers arena and then continue it with a bike/pedestrian path down to grade roughly following the SkyTrain guideway. All new construction.

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