I drove by the Seoul City Hall this morning and found a large section of the city hall missing. Gone in an instant, just like the temporary ice rink that was dismantled a couple weeks ago. A section of the city hall, the northeast portion of the building, was completely gone, torn down virtually overnight. I was surprised by the speed and stealth at which the city moved to dismantle it.
Mayor Lee Myung-bak strikes again, I thought to myself. Mayor Lee of Seoul is the one who spearheaded the greenification of the area in front of City Hall before the 2002 World Cup, a greenspace perhaps best known as the epicenter of a sea of "Red Devil" Korean soccer fans. As mayor, Lee also spearheaded the effort to create a park at Namdaemun, or South Gate. He led the effort to turn the elevated freeway above Cheongye Stream into an eco-park, a wildly successful project (now if he could just do something about the traffic…). Mayor Lee has done a good job beautifying Seoul by supplanting concrete jungle with greenspace at key locations. Although the projects have negatively affected some Seoul businesses and residents, most Koreans strongly support Lee’s efforts to improve the city’s image through beautification projects. In fact, Mayor Lee’s efforts are so popular that he is now the favorite to be Korea’s next president (elections are in late 2007).
I wondered why the city had decided to dismantle a big section of the city hall, so I did some research and discovered that the City of Seoul is planning to build a new city hall tower next to its current city hall. The current building, a C-shaped building built in 1926 and designated a historical landmark, is a rough granite remnant of the Japanese colonial occupation. The new city hall will be a 22-story tower standing next to the remaining portion of the old city hall. That explains the demolition of the northeast section of the building, I thought. When the Bank of Korea built a new location across the street from its former home, it left the original Japanese colonial building intact as a historic landmark. According to Korea University’s web site, the new city hall tower will be reminiscent of Bukhan-san, the mountain just north of downtown, and it will aestetically meld new and traditional architectural designs. The firm charged with designing the new city hall building also designed other stylish buildings in Seoul, including Tower Palace and the Sang-am Landmark Building.