Skyscrapers can solve problems
The race to build a super tall skyscraper in Seoul is on between Lotte with its 123-story Lotte World and Hyundai Motor, which plans to build a 105-floor high-rise on the huge plot of land it bought from the Korea Electric Power Corporation last year. The Seoul metropolitan government is also considering redeveloping Yongsan District into a state-of-the-art urban center modeled after Roppongi Hills in Japan. But many people are not happy with the planned changes to Seoul’s skyline. Safety concerns have already risen over the second Lotte World. Here are contrasting views from experts.
The tallest building in a city has somehow became a point of national pride in many countries. Dubai wouldn’t be the same without its iconic 829-meter Burj Khalifa. Saudi Arabia wants to beat that record by building the Kingdom Tower beyond the unprecedented 1,000-meter mark. Malaysia’s Petronas Twin Towers and Taiwan’s 101 Tower have not only changed their capital’s skyline but also boosted the city’s urban image.
The second Lotte World building in Jamsil, southern Seoul, will be among the tallest high-rises in the world when it is completed next year. It is projected to stand at 555 meters, or 1,820 feet. Skyscrapers are also being erected in Haeundae in Busan and Yongsan District in Seoul. Critics say super-tall buildings can ruin the skyline and add to traffic congestion. Some also talk about the so-called skyscraper curse, saying the economy runs into trouble every time a country builds one of the world’s tallest buildings. But congestion problems are preventable by controlling how many licenses are issued to commercial tenants.
Skyscrapers offer solutions to many problems in populated urban areas. First of all, they make efficient use of land. Our country’s population is heavily concentrated in certain areas because 65 percent of the land is mountainous and 21 percent is reserved for farming. Residential and commercial areas take up just 6.4 percent. Parks and green spaces are limited. When excluding natural mountains, public park spaces in the capital take up just 3 percent. There are 9.9 square meters (106 square feet) of public parks in the capital for each Seoul citizen, less than half in London or Berlin. Because land prices downtown are too expensive, most large public parks are located on the outskirts of Seoul. Tall and lean skyscrapers can be a smart solution to making use of the limited urban area so that more space can be turned into public parks.
The same can be said for residential areas. If apartment floor space is doubled vertically, average green space can be increased by more than 50 percent. The population density in Seoul is much higher than in New York, Tokyo, London and other major cities. High-rise apartments can give their inhabitants a clear view and meet various high-end residential needs. Apartment buildings with more than 50 floors are common in Hong Kong. Many redevelopments in Seoul have failed to secure enough green space because they were crowdedly built in unimpressive and similar heights. Urban density can be controlled through limiting floor space and does not need to be limited by the number of floors. A dense forest of average-height apartments can damage the urban environment more.
Skyscrapers are useful not only for offices and residences, but for multifunctional purposes. Amid a shortage of the number and variety in lodgings for the growing number of foreign visitors, the government has even decided to allow hotels to be built near school zones. High-rises can be functional as hotels, shopping centers and for other multicomplex purpose. They can also help draw tourists. The Tokyo Skytree tower is visited by 50 million people a year since it opened in 2011. The Shard, an 87-story building in London, and the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore have become tourist attractions and helped draw more visitors to the city. They also aid in domestic demand and jobs. Once the second Lotte World is complete, more than 20,000 people will be hired, adding a value estimated at 7 trillion won ($6.5 billion). Skyscrapers can revitalize the local economy and community.
Korean engineers are recognized for their prowess in constructing tall buildings. Many of the world’s tallest structures, including Burj Khalifa, have been built by Korean companies. There have been concerns about flaws in the building of the second Lotte World. But at a closer look, one cannot be but awed by its magnificence. Construction surveillance and safety management were excellent. I hope to one day look on the skyline of Seoul and the city’s spectacular architectural high-rises as I approach it from the sky.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily.
*The author is a researcher at the Construction Economy Research Institute of Korea.
by Choi Min-soo