Korea gears up to scrape some sky

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Korea gears up to scrape some sky

Architecture has a simple equation ― taller equals better, more famous, more attractive, and prouder owners. Skyscrapers can become points of national pride by dint of nothing other than height.
Korea has a few of its own to boast of, such as Star Tower in Gangnam and the 63 Building in Yeouido, but it is perhaps the only country in the world whose tallest structure is an apartment building: Tower Palace, in Dogok-dong, Seoul.
Those big-box bragging rights are about to shoot sky-high, however. No less than five new massive office towers, all over 100 stories, are being planned for construction within the next eight years. Real estate developers and construction firms are drawing up ambitious plans to build some of the world’s tallest buildings in Korea. Once the plans are materialized, these futuristic glass structures will change the face of Korea’s biggest cities.
The Lotte Group is at the forefront of the movement, with plans for two new skyscrapers, one each in downtown Busan and Songpa district, Seoul. Lotte initially submitted the plan for a 100-story building to the Songpa district office in 1994, but the project never took off due to height restrictions around Seoul Airport in Seongnam. So far, Lotte’s new plan has passed evaluations on traffic and district unit planning, but it needs to go through a construction evaluation and be authorized by Seoul city and Songpa district.
“It could become a landmark of the country and something that foreign visitors can associate with Korea,” said Park Yun-hyon, a Lotte Group executive. The building’s construction was also a personal wish of the Lotte Group chairman, Shin Kyuk-ho, Mr. Park added.
Lotte isn’t the only one looking to raise roofs. A consortium is planning a 112-story twin-tower structure in Incheon’s Songdo district, and a business group will erect a 110-story complex near Haeundae Beach in Busan. There’s also the 120-story “Landmark building” intended for the Digital Media Center in Sangam-dong, western Seoul. That one, however, is still in the first stages of planning.
Building a “superscraper,” however, is even more difficult than it sounds. Only four buildings in the world have met the 100-story challenge: Taipei’s TFC 101, Chicago’s Sears Tower (108 stories) and John Hancock Center (100) and the Empire State Building (102). A handful of buildings with more than 100 stories are being planned or are under construction, including Burj Dubai, the World Financial Center in Shanghai, the Tower of Russia in Moscow and Union Square in Hong Kong. Compare this with the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the second tallest building in the world, with 88 stories.
A question remains: what commercial viability and symbolism can justify the enormous costs of building five skyscrapers with more than 100 stories in only one country?
There are plenty of reasons, but symbolism tops the list. The ability for tall buildings to become landmarks and symbols of cities not only attracts tourists, but neighboring hotels, department stores and even office buildings can take advantage of the prestige of being near the landmark. That in turn translates into higher rent and more tenants.
Yet building a skyscraper and recouping your investment on it are two very different things.
Once a building nears 100 stories, the average cost will double due to the technological difficulty of making the structure stable, said a Samsung Corp. executive who gave his name only as Mr. Kang. “The costs are higher and it has to be cost-effective. In an economic sense, it is unprofitable. They are built because of the metaphors associated with them.”
Samsung Corp. has built some of the tallest buildings in Korea, including Tower Palace, and in the world, such as one of the Petronas Twin Towers and the Burj Dubai, still under construction.
The construction of these buildings was made possible by state investments. The Petronas Towers, for example, was intended to be a symbol of the country’s rising economy and is owned by Petroliam Nasional, Malaysia’s state-owned petroleum company. The United Arab Emirate government owns a 40-percent stake in the Burj Dubai project. Without government investment, most developers would have been unable to bear all the costs.
Most skyscrapers also need to be placed within pre-existing commercial and urban developments. A huge building in the middle of a desert, after all, does little good.
However, the Landmark building, intended for use as an international business center, is located in a remote, relatively unpopulated area in Mapo district near the World Cup Stadium, while the site in Songdo where the twin towers are to be built is not yet filled and the development of the free trade area is only beginning.
Even the 45-story Star Tower, the biggest building in Korea by floor space (21 hectares, or 52 acres), had difficulty finding tenants when it opened in southern Seoul in late 2001. “There must be enough demand for office space after construction. Without it, it is impossible for developers to recoup their investments,” Mr. Kang said.


Busan Lotte World
Location: Jungang-dong, Busan
Floors: 107 aboveground
Total height: 465 meters (508 yards)
Construction cost: 1.5 trillion won ($1.5 billion)
Completion date: first phase, 2008; second phase, 2013

Lotte has already broken ground for its mega-complex in downtown Busan. By the end of the first phase, the building will house a convention facility, department store, discount store and offices. The second phase of the construction will create the 107-story building with a hotel, a casino, restaurants, offices and observatory deck.


Lotte World II
Location: Songpa district, southern Seoul
Floors: 112 aboveground
Total height: 555 meters
Completion date: 2010

Lotte’s application to build the skyscraper is still pending. If Lotte clears all its regulatory hurdles, the building will be 47 meters taller than TFC 101, the world’s tallest building in Taipei, and 75 meters higher than N Seoul Tower, located on top of Mount Namsan in Seoul. The complex will contain a six-star hotel, luxury department store, outdoor shopping malls, duty-free shops and offices.


Portman Twin Towers
Location: Songdo district, Incheon
Floors: up to 151 stories
Total height: up to 610 meters

The Portman consortium is planning to construct its twin towers in the free trade area in Songdo district, Incheon; the consortium has already signed a memorandum of understanding with the city and is mapping out details with city officials. The consortium includes real estate developer Portman Holdings, based in Atlanta, the United States, and Hyundai Construction and Engineering. The twin towers will be connected by three skybridges. If the towers are actually built, they will be the second tallest buildings in the world, behind Burj Dubai, a 160-story building (700 meters), currently under construction in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.


Busan Centum City
Location: Haeundae Beach, Busan
Floors: 110 aboveground
Area: 2.6 hectares (6.5 acres)
Completion date: 2011, tentative

The Solomon Group is hoping to finance its Centum City project in Busan entirely through public financing.
“The location is suitable for building the skyscraper because it is an open field,” said Lee Cheol-hyong, a Solomon Group representative. “The Centum City [will be] an international business area that represents Busan.”
The real estate developer plans to hold an international design competition for the skyscraper in April.

by Limb Jae-un
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