Rooftops becoming an urban oasisAs city dwellers’ demands for “green spots” increase, Koreans are utilizing space that was previously considered useless and dangerous ― rooftops.
In Europe, rooftop gardens have been around for centuries, but in Korea the general conception has been that gardens and courtyards should be on the ground.
This has changed rapidly in the past few years, however, and as the terrace cafe culture settled in, large buildings began creating resting spots on the roof. A few potted plants and benches were all that were provided at first, but the growing popularity of these “green spots” led to more cultivated gardens.
“Small Nuri” is the name of the rooftop garden atop the Unesco building in Myeong-dong, downtown Seoul. The tiny “park” is a wild pocket of flowers, bushes and insects. There is even a mini pond.
“It’s not very big, but sometimes I like to come up here and look down at Myongdong Cathedral. It’s nice because there is no park in this neighborhood and I don’t have time to walk to the nearest one,” said Park Mun-hwa, 64, who works at an accounting firm in the building.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been pursuing a project to increase rooftop gardens since 2002. Private building owners who wish to create such facilities can get city government funding of about 18,000 won ($17.60) to 22,000 won per square yard for an area between 197 and 790 square yards.
“Creating these green areas helps lower the temperature of the city and reduce pollution,” said Yoon Se-hyung, a Seoul city official. “More people are realizing the benefits of investing in rooftop gardens. We didn’t have many applicants at first, but this year 33 buildings received funding. Most were hospitals, schools and kindergartens.”
The Bethel Kindergarten is one example. Surrounded by a wooden wall for the safety of the children, the rooftop garden serves as a play area and an actual garden in which the children plant tomatoes, cucumbers, turnips and other vegetables.
Retailers were among the first to get involved in the trend. Department stores such as Hyundai Department Store’s Mokdong branch in western Seoul and Apgujeong branch in southern Seoul have rooftop rest areas for their customers.
“After staying indoors for several hours of shopping, it’s nice to come out into the sun and rest,” said Kim Hyun-ju, 37. “This kind of area is what brings me back here.”
The Galleria Department Store in southern Seoul has a rooftop terrace restaurant that serves Italian food. On a ritzier level, restaurant Andrea recently opened on the 9th floor of Avenuel, the new luxury department store of the Lotte group. The restaurant has an outdoor terrace that overlooks the downtown scene while providing a sense of being “within nature” at the same time.
The popularity of rooftop gardens can especially be seen in the plans for new housing. Model houses for apartment complexes such as Sungwon Construction’s Santeville show a rooftop park with a putting green and jogging track.
Other new buildings, luxury residential buildings and office complexes in particular, also include rooftop gardens as one of the “special features.”
But rooftop gardens are not only for the rich. Private homeowners are also increasingly creating such spots. Companies such as Urban Jungles supplies do-it-yourself greenhouses and kits to easily install flowerbeds, shrubs, grass and the like.
“Before, we only had corporate clients but we’re beginning to get calls from individuals. Since well-being is such an issue these days, we believe that more people will want to grow their own vegetables and flowers at home in the future,” said Kim Sun-nam, an Urban Jungles official.
“We have to revive the ecological functions of nature and yet there is such limited space on the ground. Rooftop gardens are therefore the perfect alternative in the city,” said Kim Hyun-su, a researcher at the Korea Institute of Construction Technology. “Rooftop gardens are different from interior decoration in that they create a breathing space rather than just an area that is visually pleasing.”
by Wohn Dong-hee