A landmark’s owner makes its point

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A landmark’s owner makes its point

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The face of Seoul has changed a great deal recently. Downtown suddenly has a stream running through it; the city’s most famous landmark, Sungryemun, is no longer an island amid traffic; there’s a broad green (or white, as it is now) plaza sitting in front of city hall; a large chunk of concrete has been turned into forest.
Next up: N Seoul Tower.
What used to be known simply as “Seoul Tower” is now N Seoul Tower (the “N” is for “new”). The interior has been totally redesigned, with restaurants, bars and digital information screens. It took 1.5 billion won ($1.4 million) and seven months to turn the 30-year-old tower into a modern edifice ― maybe it will finally be worthy of symbolizing one of the world’s largest cities. Today, the facilities have been reopened to the public, which will have its first chance to see where all that money went.
Constructed in 1975, the tower was designed for radio and television broadcasting and occupied a spot that had been used during the Joseon Dynasty for a beacon tower on top of Mount Namsan. The mountain provided 243 meters (265 yards) of height and the tower itself was 236.7 meters, bringing its total height to 479.7 meters above sea level.
The vantage point was an irresistable tourist attraction, and the tower and its cable car became a landmark in a developing city with few attractions to point to. On a clear day, a person can see as far away as Mount Songak in Kaesong, North Korea from the observation deck, which offers a panoramic view. Adding to its attraction was the seasonal foliage of the mountain itself, which every year turns from brown to green to shining red.
As time went on, however, Seoul grew up and the tower began to show its age. The facilities were obviously substandard and the souvenir shop sold embarrassingly out-of-date trinkets. Seoulites who wanted to impress visitors could take them to Star Tower or the 63 Building; compared to landmark towers in Toronto, Sydney, Tokyo or London, Seoul Tower looked pretty lame indeed.
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“[The tower] on Mount Namsan was one of the capital city’s attractions, but it was an uninteresting place and people wouldn’t come a second time,” said Park Jin, the head of AI architectural design house, which redesigned the facilities.
YTN, the media firm and owner of Seoul Tower, finally decided that only a total renovation would do. The company had discussed a renovation since 2003, fearing that the facilities would have no future if drastic action was not taken. The final decision to renovate was made in April this year, and the company hired CJ Corp. to take over the operation of the tower’s commercial areas.
CJ Corp. put much of its focus on lighting ― 1.5 billion won of the total funds were used on the lights alone. Diodes and hundreds of strobe lights will illuminate the tower every day from 7 to 12 p.m., which the lighting theme changing according to season and weather.
What’s the first theme? The “Flower of Seoul,” in which the observation deck is colored red and the base is green.
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But it’s the inside that is truly different. The new observation deck, at 370 meters above sea level, occupies the upper section’s five stories, with lounges on the second and third floors and luxury restaurants on the first and fifth floors.
The observation lounge on the third floor has a futuristic feel, combining the stunning view of a super-modern city with high-tech media arts displays. Optical and digital telescopes allow visitors to capture close-up images of the surroundings, while the telescopes feed viewers information about any landmark it’s pointed toward. The outer edge of the lounge is floored with mirrors, creating the illusion of standing in the middle of the sky. Thirty-two flat-screen monitors on the walls guide viewers through Seoul with information about the reconstruction of Gyeongbok palace and the capital in the 1960s.
The second-floor observation lounge is more subdued. Signs on the windows point out major attractions in the city, and visitors can relax in a cafe. Once you’ve had enough coffee, take a bathroom break ― the view in the restroom is stunning.
The fifth floor rotates. It hosts a steak restaurant, n.Grill, so in the 45 minutes it takes to make a single rotation, so the average visitor will be able to see the entire city in the course of one meal. For those in the mood for Korean barbeque, there’s Hancook on the first floor (a play on the word Hanguk, meaning “Korea).
Part of the fun of seeing the tower is taking the cable car up to it. The station is a 10-minute walk from Myeongdong station, line No. 4, exit 3. The 605-meter trip also offers an interesting view of the mountain as the car chugs along at around 11 kilometers an hour.
Once you’re out of the car, head to the entrance by the wooden plaza and take the elevator to the observatory deck. Along the way, light-emitting diode screens on the left-hand side react and change color as people walk by (the designer of the display was Byun Ji-hoon, who also made installations for the SK Telecom building downtown).
The basement lobby, which is used as a waiting area, has seating and multiple screens for visitors to peruse clips of new movies or music videos. (The movies and videos will, of course, all be productions by CJ Entertainment, a division of CJ Corp.) The lobby also has two pavilions to be used for childrens’ performances and exhibitions.
On the tower’s ground level is a souvenir shop with goods made by young Korean designers, including T-shirts, cups, tower-like products and various handicrafts. There’s also a cafeteria. Upstairs from that is an Italian restaurant and bar that serves wine and beer at night. The floor space has also been designed to host movie screenings and weekend concerts, with the space sprawling out over a wooden terrace (this can be reserved for fancy parties).
“The Eiffel Tower is almost synonymous with Paris,” Mr. Park said. “The blend of nature and high technology at N Seoul Tower will provide a special experience for its visitors.”


by Limb Jae-un

Seoul Tower opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. every day. The entrance to the observatory deck costs 7,000 won, but there will be a 50-percent discount till Dec. 20.
Currently, cars are not allowed to go up Mount Namson beyond a certain point in order to preserve the natural environment. There are, however, several places nearby where visitors can park their cars, such as the National Theater of Korea, Namsan Public Library and Korea Freedom League, all located on the outskirts of the mountain. From any of the parking lots, take Bus 02, a yellow bus, which circles the mountain and also stops at Dongguk University station line No. 3, Daehan Cinema and Hanok Maeul (a traditional village). Visitors can also take the Seoul City Tour Bus, which drives around the city’s many tourist attractions. For information, visit www.nseoultower.com or call (02) 3455-9254.
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