Prepared for: Korea Land & Housing Corporation
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Master Plan
Size: 120 acres
Transit: Metro, Bus
Units: 9,500 
Project Duration: 2022-

To support sustainable growth of our cities, we need to provide robust urban infrastructure, diverse services, and thriving commercial centers in our new neighbourhoods. To do that, we need high density. Tall neighbourhoods enable us to effectively accommodate the density our cities need.
However, these neighbourhoods often lack the vibrant public realm and attractive urban environments found in many older low- and mid-rise neighbourhoods.

What are they missing?

Two critical qualities we call “Vibrancy” and “Charm”.

Vibrancy is the quality of being dynamic, active, engaging, and inviting to explore.

Charm in an urban environment can be associated with being serene, warm, tranquil, and imbued with hidden gems.

Can we achieve charm and the needed density in today's new neighbourhoods?

Our team has invested a lot of effort into understanding why most contemporary, dense, urban developments can not compete with the vibrancy and charm of many older neighbourhoods, and we identified 2 main factors:

Scale: Oversized streets, open spaces, and buildings cannot foster a human scale. They make it difficult to establish intimate spaces and discourage the concentration of people and activities which is essential for a vibrant and charming public realm.

Excessive car access: Most new neighbourhoods prioritize car infrastructure over walkability and transit access. This dominance of cars detracts from the potential of the place, and exposes residents to noise and air pollution.

The Challenge: Creating a Tall yet Charming Neighbourhood in Post-War Neighbourhood in Seoul

A comperison of scale of existing neighbourhoods and our proposal (left)

Some specific types of low mid-rise, post war modernist neighbourhoods in South Korea are being redeveloped rapidly, and on a large scale. We were tasked to design a dense neighbourhood as Phase 1 of one of these large-scale urban redevelopment in Seoul. Situated in a central area, the site is in close proximity to 2 major subway stations, but faces connectivity challenges due to being surrounded by freeways on 2.5 sides. The existing structures on the site are primarily low mid-rise, modernist, post-war apartment buildings. 

The Approach: Adopt effective strategies from the existing context while discarding elements that no longer align with existing and future needs of the community, and develop a typology that integrates the advantages of both low-rise and high-rise neighbourhoods and minimizes car dominance to foster a human-scale, safe, and pleasant environment.

Two distinct typologies shape the urban fabric in Seoul and many other cities in South Korea:

Low-rise: Older traditional neighbourhoods and post-war low-rise neighborhoods, mostly comprised of small detached houses on small lots or very small apartment buildings

What are these neighborhoods doing well? 

These neighbourhoods have managed to create a charming and vibrant built environment. Their narrow, quiet streets, and shorter blocks create a human-scale feel, allowing for a diverse range of experiences and making them enjoyable to explore. Because of these characteristics, a large crowd isn’t necessary to bring life to the public spaces in these neighbourhoods.

Where are these neighborhoods falling short?

They are unable to support higher density without compromising living space and open space, both public and private.

A pedestrian view - old city charm at grade

High-rise: A more contemporary version of Tower-in-a-park neighbourhoods, with slim towers, sitting in a landscaped surrounding.

What are these neighbourhoods doing well?

They can accommodate a high density within a small footprint, supporting numerous services and commercial activities. They maintain ample separation between buildings, providing generous public and private open spaces. Additionally, they create airy, light-filled units with great views.

Where are these neighbourhoods falling short?

An oversized public realm is a prevailing feature in these neighbourhoods. The absence of a human scale, coupled with the dominance of car infrastructure, creates an environment inhospitable and uninviting to pedestrians, leading to a poor pedestrian experience.

A new urban typology

We combined the desirable components of common low and high-rise neighbourhoods in Seoul to create a new typology where the dominant experience is small-scale and pedestrian-friendly, while 75% of the floor area is in high-rise buildings.

Plan view:a new, dense neighbourhood with old city charm
Old city charm in a new tall neighbourhood: low-rise and high-rise with pedestrian-friendly streets

Rather than fixating on form, we prioritized the human experience: how people perceive their neighbourhood at a human scale, how they navigate it, and how they engage with the public realm. We established two main principles:

Principle 1: Enriching Human Scale in the Public Realm, While Integrating High-Rises to Accommodate the Density

The absence of human scale is a significant issue in typical tall neighbourhoods. However, restricting buildings to 2-3 storeys is not always a practical solution.

  • Focus on creating human-scale streets and blocks.
  • Integrate high-rises into the design to accommodate necessary density.
  • Place tall buildings throughout the neighborhood to prevent them from overwhelming the perceived scale or diminishing the pedestrian experience.
    (You can learn more about our Scaling Down approach here.)

Principle 2: Mitigating Car Dominance through Design

Implement design measures to reduce the dominance and influence of cars on the overall urban experience, including:

  • Introducing various types of car-free and car-shared streets.
  • Design the network so that pedestrian-only streets form the majority of streets, providing the most direct routes.
  • Designing shared streets to accommodate dedicated and connected biking and walking paths.
  • Opting for narrower street designs to encourage slower traffic and deter speeding.
  • Minimizing the number and presence of parking lots.
  • Situating pedestrian destinations to be reachable via a separate network running parallel to major vehicular routes.