August 18, 2013

Seoul's Modern Architectural Marvels

After the end of the Korean war, Seoul, like many Korean cities, was left in shambles.  Reasonably so, rebuilding efforts were focused more on practicality than aesthetics to reconstruct the city quickly and effectively.  These days, however, Seoul's skyline is an eclectic mishmash of modern architecture, from towering cement apartment complexes to eye-catching glass and steel marvels.  Impressive modern buildings can be found just about anywhere in Seoul, a UNESCO City of Design, but there are a certain few that I think visitors should keep an eye out for while exploring the city.  Check them out below.

Ewha Womans University Ewha Campus Complex:  From above, it's difficult to distinguish just what Ewha Womans University's ECC actually is.  This is because the ingenious complex designed by French architect Dominique Perrault is mostly underground; despite this, the entire interior of the building is spacious and full of light. Merging architecture with landscape, Perrault created a functional yet tranquil space to study.  Or to enjoy one of the many facilities the building has to offer: an indie cinema, a fitness center, cafes, and boutiques.  (Get There: Ewha Womans University Station, Exits 2 and 3)

Ewha Womans University's ECC Center.

Jongno Tower:  Built in 1999, the Jongno Tower isn't the newest building on this list, but it is certainly one of the most recognizable.  Soaring 433 feet over downtown Seoul, the tower resembles a hovering UFO more so than what it actually is: a 33-story office building.  Situated on its top floor is Top Cloud, an upscale restaurant and bar, that offers diners a spectacular 360 degree view of the city in addition to live musical performances.  (Get There: Jonggak Station, Exit 3)

Jongno Tower hovers over downtown Seoul like an illuminated UFO.

Seoul Central Post Office:  Seoul's Central Post Office, also known as Post Tower, was designed by the Space Group, the city's leading modern architectural firm.  Resembling a giant unzipped zipper, it's an unusual contrast to the European-style water fountain and Bank of Korea building that stand across from it.  Post Tower is especially impressive at night, when it is illuminated in lights of every color.  (Get There: City Hall Station, Exit 7; Euljiro 1-ga Station, Exit 7 towards Shinsegae Department Store; Hoehyeon Station, Exit 7.)

Seoul's Central Post Office wows at night. (Photo:

Urban Hive: Standing over central Gangnam like a giant cheese grater, the "Urban Hive" is one of the more memorable buildings south of the Han River.  Having been erected one floor at a time and entirely from concrete rather than with interior columns or a steel-framed foundation, the building set a new precedent for skyscraper construction in Korea.  The architect, Kim In-chul, also placed much emphasis on the human element when planning the Urban Hive.  Included in his award-winning design are a rooftop garden and 3,371 window-like holes that each offer a unique view of the cityscape.  (Get There: Sinnonhyeon Station, Exit 3)

Cafe patrons admire the unique interior of Gangnam's Urban Hive. (Photo: Manfredo1)

Sangsangmadang:  Located near Hongik University, one of Seoul's top design schools, Sangsangmadang is an intriguing building that entices passerby with its imaginative facade: a curvy steel frame over an 11-story glass structure.  Although this building is impossible to miss from the outside, many often don't realize that it's interior is also worth checking out.  The unique complex houses a cinema, a performance hall, a contemporary art gallery, and a shop that sells fun and funky products designed by young Korean artists.  (Get There: Hongik University, Exit 9.)

Appropriately situated in Hongdae, Sangsangmadang is an immaginative space that encourages creativity and modern design amongst the area's artists. (Photo:

Seoul City Hall:  Having just been completed last year, the new Seoul City Hall is arguably the most futuristic building on this list.  Situated just behind the former Japanese-constructed City Hall and overlooking Seoul Plaza, the building's facade, made of solar panels and special UV filtering glass, appears as a tsunami-like wave.  Despite the controversy this coincidence created in regards to Korean-Japanese relations, it's unquestionable that the building's design and functionality are extraordinary.


Government building or alien space ship?

Seoul City Hall's interior: the world's largest green wall and futuristic installation art.

The building's interior is an interesting and somewhat mind-boggling combination of jungle and outer-space.  Escalators ascend into spaceship-like pods, installation art pieces of plastic tubing and balloons hang from the ceilings, and live plants crawl up the walls.  The energy-efficient, eco-friendly building may be the first of its kind, but I have a feeling it will certainly not be the last.  (Get There: City Hall Station, Exit 5)

Which of Seoul's modern architectural structures do you think deserve to be on this list?  Add them in the comment box below.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted.  Content may not be republished unless authorized.


  1. I think that you made some excellent choices for your list, though I'm a bit curious about the absence of Kyobo Tower in Gangnam. The red brick facade od the twin towers reunited by a glass bridge has always fascinated me. It's an eclectic mixture of classic and modern craftsmanship that is worth an honorary mention. I'm also looking forward to seeing the DMC Lite Monument's completion in 2015. DMC in itself is home to more architectural wonders that have remained off of the radar simply due to its outlying location... It's worth a Sunday stroll to check out the futuristic ghost town.

    1. Chris,
      Thanks for your insight! I definitely should have interviewed you before writing this piece. To be quite honest, I think there is a lot of architecture in Seoul that I have yet to explore. Perhaps I should write a "part 2" to include some of the places you mentioned. I will definitely check out the DMC Lite Monument... it sounds interesting! Thanks!

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  4. Honestly, modern architecture in Seoul never really wowed me in the way that it does in other cities - I felt that a lot of structures lack imagination and any real creative flare when compared to other cities (London, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney, Paris...), even some of the ones on this list. But Urban Hive is pretty cool.

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