The first “Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism,” which 50 cities and 40 universities from the world participated in, was held from September 2nd to November 5th. Symposiums and exhibitions about the city and architecture were held during the period and 400 thousand people visited. Donuimun Museum Village was the main place of the festival where Seoul kept the old alleys in its original image. Like this village, many old alleys have been changed into meaningful spaces in terms of communication among the neighbors, history, and work-spaces.
Uniqueness of alley attracts public attention
There are many high buildings and wide driveways in Gangnam which once attracted people's interest. On the other hand, Gangbuk has various unique small shops in the narrow paths which trigger curiosity. Chang Yongsoon, the professor of the College of Architecture of Hongik University, and Kim Taekbin, the Head Manager of E-Scape Architects, mentioned that the old alleys arouse people’s interest. They said, “Above all, the alleys have a long history and many memories. This is the reason why the alleyways like those of Donuimun Museum Village are attracting more attention than the functional streets of Gangnam.” They also added, “Nowadays in Seoul, it is transforming into a movement to revitalize the city from unconditional development to utilizing the old.”
Lee Ji-yeon (Freshman, Department of Chemistry) responded positively to this trend saying, “These days, many people visit the unique alleys. As the number of visitors increased, the region would be activated.” The alleyways are being newly utilized and people started to add modern technology or the needs of the people to them. As a result, a unique space, which is a combination of the past and the present, is created.
Narrow path preserves Korean historical heritage
The government and enterprise mainly demolish and rebuild the old buildings in the alleys. However, some areas are not destroyed and one of them is Donuimun Museum Village. It had almost been demolished due to the city redevelopment. However, Seoul Metropolitan Government appreciated the value of the old alleys in the village and decided to renovate them rather than rebuilding them.
Looking through the past, this place has been full of Korean history. It was forcibly demolished during the Japanese colonial period near the Donuimun Gate (Seodaemun Gate). There are also some Hanok, which are traditional Korean house, modern-style houses, and the residential area of the 1980s. In addition, the alleyways, which were created in the 19th century, retain their old form. Visitors can directly experience the modern cultural heritage preserved in the alleyways rather than visiting to a museum. The staff from Urban Space Improvement Bureau of the Seoul Metropolitan Government said, “Donuimun Museum Village will be a cultural spot for the citizens of Seoul, with the symbolic meaning of a history and culture, located in the city center.”
There are some Hanok in alleys of Donuimun Museum Village.
/Photograph by Hwang Hae-su
Old alley is changing into new cultural space for residents
Some residents actively utilize the alleys to communicate with their neighbors and receive mutual benefits. Three neighborhoods started to have a meeting to revitalize their town, Yangcheon-gu, Seoul, and now it has been developing a new alley platform, named Village Pop Cooperative. The organization mainly runs three programs: “MOT Table,” where a local mentor gives advice the local youth in the alley shop, “Evening Village School,” a hobby class where residents donate their talent, and “Finding Craftsmen’s Shop,” which helps to protect independent businessmen.
Kim Ha-suk, the Executive Secretary of Village Pop Cooperative, introduced that the cooperative’s missions are communication, coexistence, and vision saying, “We focus on the members of the village community rather than the value of the enterprise. The problem of capitalism, like polarization of wealth, is discovered. I think that we can make social economy through the relationship among people.” He added, “After taking a course in ‘Evening Village School,’ the participants donate what they made to the alley commercials: such as props and business cards. At first, they were reluctant to give their own goods to someone since they paid for the class. But, after the ceremony, giving their items to the commercials, the participants were proud to see that their items are used for the local commercials.”
“Finding Craftsmen’s Shop” program is supporting merchants in the alley of Yangcheon-gu: including Kim Kyeong-ok, Baek Mi-kyeong, and Jang In-ji.
/Photography from Village Pop Cooperative
Makers and the public share same alley together
Some alleys, which are redeveloped, often experience gentrification. In these places, the existing commercial supremacy disappears and franchise companies appear instead due to increased rent. However, there is an alley where the existing professional electronic makers are still left thanks to urban renewal. Sewoonsangga in Jongno-gu, Seoul, known as a former mecca of the electronics industry, was reborn newly in this September by “Again, Sewoon Project,” the revitalization project, pushed ahead by the Seoul Metropolitan Government. The project has a meaning of “Modern Vernacular,” reinterpreting the folklore in a modern way.
Chang Yongsoon and Kim Taekbin, the two co-designers of “Again, Sewoon Project,” introduced its meaning and purpose saying, “The surrounding area of Sewoonsangga has long been developed as unique alleys of modern industrial and artisan ecosystems such as metal, electronics, and publishing. We were impressed by the appearance of Sewoonsangga structure and craftsmen’s lives. Through the concept of ‘Modern Vernacular,’ we connected east and west by utilizing the alleyways, revitalizing memory and activating post-Fordist, which means low-volume production and low-consumption, craftsmen’s society. It was also meaningful to create a city space where citizens can freely walk around and enjoy.”
The Seoul Metropolitan Government is making an effort to prevent gentrification and increase visitors in Sewoonsangga. Park Ju-yong, Senior Researcher of “Sewoon Living Lab,” which connects professional makers of Sewoonsangga and external agents, said, “One of the important purposes of the project was to prevent gentrification and activate the existing commercials. Sewoonsangga association promised not to raise rental fee with Seoul Metropolitan Government. Though this promise is not legally binding, if someone raises the rent, it would be reported to Seoul Metropolitan Government. Then Seoul official informs the association of this and it persuades the person not to raise it. To prevent gentrification, solidarity is important.” He also added, “Technology can have a power when culture is combined. We consider Sewoonsangga as a place where father, who has a memory of the mall, and his child come together. Therefore, we are trying to increase a lot of visitors by running various cultural events. For instance, from November 18th to 19th, Dennis Hong, who is a famous robot engineer, held ‘I Am Dennis Hong’ exhibition in Sewoonsangga. A huge number of parents and children visited it. These efforts are now the starting step.”
"Sewoon Makers Cube" (left) and ome electronics shops (right) are in alley of Seunsangga.
/Photograph by Hwang Hae-su
Artists from various fields gather in alley
As Korean industrial structure has changed from labor-intensive industry to high-tech industry, the iron works started to decrease and artists have voluntarily gathered in such places since 2003. There was not any community for the artists in the past. In 2011, Seoul Art Space Mullae, which supports artists individually working in Mullae, was built after the constant meeting between the officials from Seoul Metropolitan Government and local artists to reflect the opinions of the artists. Sun Girl, the staff of Seoul Art Space Mullae commented, “We discuss with the local artists how to respond to the gentrification by holding forums and meetings. When proceeding a program, we always go on a steering committee to ask the local people’s opinions.” He also said, “It seems good to revitalize commercial areas and increase the number of visitors, but what the residents really want is the co-existence of ironworks and artists. It is our role to support and listen to what they really want.”
Now, there are about 300 artists working in more than 100 workshops in Mullae. Seoul Art Space Mullae proceeds Mullae Emerging Energe-Tic (MEET), which is a program providing support funds since 2012 to outstanding artists working there. Sun Girl mentioned that the qualities of the selected works have gotten better each year saying, “We consider that the MEET is the most proper way to support the artists. These grants would help them develop and become a foothold to their works. Also, it is expected to have an effect of promoting Mullae because they display their works in the galleries placed here.”
Kim Jin, one of the supported artists by the MEET, held the “Object Story” exhibition from November 8th to 12th, utilizing its neighborhoods’ precious things. She showed the satisfaction of the environment of Mullae, saying, “Originally, I first worked at Hongdae but moved to Mullae because the rental fee here is much cheaper than that of Hongdae. Mullae has a tight iron works community which makes it special. These days, while neighboring fellowship almost faded away in Korea, it still remains perfect here. I was impressed with this unique characteristic. That is why my exhibition topic is about them.” She added, “There are various fields of artists working here. Therefore, there are opportunities to visit other exhibitions and interchange with one another. Thanks to many ironworks, it is easy to get materials for the piece.”
Artworks in the alleys in Mullae and Seoul Art Space Mullae.
/Photographs by Hwang Hae-su
Alley provides new opportunities to people
In recent years, some residents and the government have brought a new sensation to the alleys. They gave life to the empty and old alleys and they became proper spaces to start career. In other words, they are utilized as foundation spaces. Village Pop Cooperative also runs youth support program, named Solo Evening Village School. It educates the young people to foster one-man business. Kim Ha-suk said, “If you start your business in the alleys, it is relatively cheap to rent. It is easy to make your own culture by communicating with the neighbors.”
In addition, “Sewoon Makers Cube” was constructed in Sewoonsangga, where start-ups can develop their business items, and would be piloted until the end of the year. Senior Researcher Park mentioned, “The start-ups will be re-evaluated at the beginning of next year and we will renew contract with the start-ups, which passed the evaluation.” The alleys are good places to novice makers, who want to start low-volume production. He mentioned that the maker can easily get materials in need in Sewoonsangga saying, “Many materials such as gears, screws, and sound devices are sold in Sewoonsangga. Experienced traders also recommend good ingredients to the new developers. So, they can make the complete product from the materials only found in this place. The materials are close to the developers so that they can reduce production costs and delivery time.”
Hwang Hae-su firstname.lastname@example.org
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