Stream’s stylish bridges cross centuries of historyAs Seoul prepares to finish the Cheonggyecheon project ― a billion-won restoration of a stream that formerly ran through the city ― it’s also taking both stylish and historical approaches to restoring the bridges that crossed the waterway long ago.
There were originally nine bridges crossing Cheonggyecheon before it was covered. Three of the original bridges are being restored, and Seoul plans to build 22 bridges in all.
The bridges will return the stream to what was a pedestrian-oriented waterway, with women using its clean water for laundry and children playing on its banks in the early 19th century. But the water became more polluted as Seoul’s population grew. By the time it was covered in 1958, it was merely an open sewer.
Seoul eventually built an ugly, elevated highway that ran through the central part of the city.
A legacy of its blazing quest for development during the 1960s, the road offered a quick way to zoom around the city but was the epitome of urban blight. But a few years ago, the highway and road underneath was crumbling. Underground sewage was slowly eating away at its foundation.
There were two choices: rebuild it or tear it down. Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak ― a former congressman and chief executive officer of Hyundai Engineering and Construction ― promised during his 2002 campaign for a dramatic project that would restore the stream that ran through the city decades before, with naturally flowing mountain water that came from the west outside of Seoul.
Despite the resistance of store owners and businesses in the area, Mr. Lee proceeded with the restoration.
Fifteen of the new bridges will accommodate vehicles and connect Jongno and Euljiro streets, and seven bridges are just for pedestrians. The construction of more than half the bridges, including ones named the Naraegyo (gyo means bridge), Malgeunnae Dari and Dumul Dari, are close to completion.
Two bridges that will be restored near the head of the Cheonggyecheon ― Gwangtonggyo and Supyogyo ― will reflect the Joseon era.
“The concept of the bridges in the upper stream was conservation,” said Choi Jun-yel, an official at Chungsuk Engineering. The company was responsible for the bridges in the upper stream.
The original bridge named the Ogansugyo existed until 1907 when it was dismantled to help the Cheonggyecheon’s flow. When Seoul uncovered the asphalt road, it discovered a number of foot stones from the original bridge. But the modern Ogansugyo needs to sustain heavy traffic, and instead of restoring it, Seoul decided to build it in a way that reminds one of the original city wall. The upper-stream bridges are more conservative because Seoul wanted to stress the historical aspect of the bridges and did not want too much flash. Since the upper stream is also narrower, it presented design limits.
The bridges tend to be longer in the eastern part since the stream becomes wider. Bridge construction in the westernmost part of the upper stream was slowed at one point due to discussions over the preservation of the Gwangtonggyo and Supyogyo.
For the brand new bridges. a group of Korean language researchers, historians, cultural asset officials and civil engineers have named them according to the historical background of the surrounding area.
The concepts for bridge designs are as diverse as the bridges themselves. Architectural highlights are pedestrian bridges, as ones designed for vehicle traffic are inherently limited in their design.
“The bridges in the middle part of the stream [which was divided by the fortress wall] are designed to create a harmony of old and new,” said Um Seong-ryoul, an architect at EBI Korea, who initially designed eight bridges. “There were many historical relics inside the wall that surrounds Seoul.”
Among walking bridges, the Saebyeok Dari or Dawn Bridge symbolizes a boisterous morning in Dongdaemun’s traditional market and has a triangular tent over it.
Naraegyo and Malgeunnae Dari are similar in shape, with two cable-stayed arches. Both are located near Dongdaemun, the center of the fashion district in Seoul. The two bridges are shaped like a butterfly’s wings.
The Malgeunnae, which means “clear stream,” has two cable-stayed arches that are intercrossed and look as if the wings are folded before flight.
“I wanted to create a futuristic and dynamic image of the area,” Mr. Um said.
Relics discovered underneath road
When heavy equipment started breaking down the concrete that covered the Cheonggyecheon, it was like breaking open a casket containing the past.
The presence of pieces of the bridge Gwangtonggyo were known before the road was uncovered.
But it was not known that parts of other bridges ― mostly foot stones and pillars ― remained from the original stream.
The discoveries so alarmed authorities that construction in places near six bridges ― the Mojeongyo, Gwangtonggyo, Ogansugyo, Supyogyo, Haranggyo and Hyogyeonggyo ― was temporarily suspended at the request of the Cultural Properties Administration in March 2004 to prevent further damage from construction.
Seoul city officials were raked by public and culture officials for charging ahead with the construction without considering how to preserve the uncovered relics.
The Gwangtonggyo was one of the widest bridges. The bridge was 12 meters long (36 feet), 16 meters wide and 3 meters high.
Parts of stone fence pillars of the bridge were kept at Tapgol Park in central Seoul and the Seoul Museum of History and the Changgyeong Palace also have parts of the store fence from the bridge. Seoul plans to use the pieces when restoring the bridge.
Gwangtonggyo and Supyogyo ― the two bridges to be restored ―will be only used as walking bridges. Gwangtonggyo, which was built in 1410, is considered a fine example of stone bridges from the Joseon Dynasty.
One of the bigger bridges across the Cheonggyecheon, it was famous for people walking on it on the full moon of Jan. 15 by the lunar calendar. People believed that stepping on the bridge would drive away bad luck for the coming year.
Inscribed on the stone remnants of the Gwangtonggyo are images of vines and clouds as well as religious symbols.
“What’s most important is to replicate it as close to the original from the Joseon Dynasty,” said Lee Gap-heon, the head of Seoul’s cultural properties management team. The restoration team is carefully examining photographs of Gwangtonggyo taken early in 1900s, he said.
“Unlike other bridges, it takes more time because we need historical research,” he said.
According to Kwon Wan-taeg, a Seoul official, the original stones will be used along with replacement ones.
The Supyogyo was built in 1420 during the reign of King Sejong. The name, Supyogyo, originated from a water gauge drawn on the foot stones of the bridge as well as a separate stone erected in the place where the bridge existed. A water gauge was placed there to measure if a flood was imminent.
The original parts of the granite stone bridge were moved to Jangchungdan Park near Namsan in central Seoul when the Cheonggyecheon was covered.
One of the problems in restoring these bridges is that they are too short and low for water to flow beneath but pipes will be installed underground to help water flow to preserve their original look.
Re-establishing Supyogyo is a little more complicated because the original bridge in Jangchungdan Park is actually longer than the length of space it is allowed on the stream. Seoul originally wanted to move back the original Supyogyo to the site, but it is necessary to shorten the bridge to make it fit into the available space.
The city has not yet come to a conclusion on how to rebuild the bridge on the stream.
by Limb Jae-un