The Last Citizen Apartment of Seoul

Seoul Citizen Apartment

On the foot of the Namsan Mountain lies an apartment building that has the name “Second Model Apartment” (in Korean 제2시범아파트) It was a part of the Seoul’s citizen apartment program forty years ago and the only survivor of this program today. The basic architecture and the cracks on the facade reveal that the building is old, maybe too old.

Seoul Citizen Apartment

Originally, the apartment was called the Second Citizen Apartment (제2시민아파트). It is the last relic of a time in Seoul’s history when there was a rapid population increase and many illegal settlements.

In the later half of the 1950s and in the 60s Seoul couldn’t react to the rapid population increase. Many buildings and houses were constructed without permits. The president Park Chung-Hee ordered the mayor of Seoul Kim Hyun-Ok to build citizens apartments and house the people from these illegal settlements in them. The mayor Kim Hyun-Ok had the nickname “Bulldozer” because during his time many areas in Seoul got erased and replaced by modern large-scale structures, such as apartments, wide roads and elevated freeways. Seoul begun to loose it’s historic streetscape, a small labyrinth-like and organic road network.

Seoul Citizen Apartment in Hoehyeon

 

There have been a total of 136,650 buildings without permits. There have been three measures to handle this situation: (1) citizen apartments should host the citizens; (2) large housing projects were built in Gwangju, a city in Gyeonggi-do (now the area is part of Seongnam) and (3) 46,650 buildings were legalized by doing local improvements.

The first citizen apartment was the Keumhwa Citizen Apartment (금화시민아파트), planned and executed as a single project by the Seodaemun District. Construction begun in 1968. Shortly after that Seoul announced a city-wide plan to invest a total of 24 billion KRW from 1969 to 1971 for the construction of around 2000 apartment buildings. Each apartment in such a complex was planned to have a size of 33 square meters (or 11 Pyeong in the Korean apartment unit). Residents only had to make a down payment when moving in and they had to pay off the apartment within 15 years. However, in total only 447 citizen apartment buildings were constructed.

 

The Wow Apartment Collapse

In 1969, the first year of the plan, around 400 citizen apartment buildings were constructed. After a fatal disaster in 1970 the citizen apartment project was cancelled. 447 buildings were constructed in total.

Among the citizen apartments was the Wow Apartment Complex in Mapo District. 15 five-story buildings were part of the complex. Construction was done from June to December 1969. Four months later a building (apartment unit 5) suddenly collapsed, killing 33 residents and injuring 40 people.

The reason was poor and too quick construction, mistakes in the static calculations, bad quality of the concrete and mountain runoff water. The combination of various factors led to this disaster. The mayor Kim Hyun-Ok resigned and an inspection of the citizen apartment showed that 75% of the existing buildings don’t fulfill safety standards. Now there is a park (Wow Park, 와우공원) at the former location of the apartments.

 

The Fall of Seoul Citizen Apartment

After the Wow Apartment Collapse the citizen apartment programs was cancelled and until 1977 around 100 apartments were demolished. Until now almost all of the apartments were redeveloped or modernized. Except this one: The apartment building in Hoehyeon is the last citizen apartment.

It was constructed in 1970. There are 340 apartments (each has the typical size of 33 square meters). It was the first apartment building with a central heating system. The building has ten stories but no elevator. Thus, the main entrance isn’t on the ground floor, it’s on the sixth floor:

Seoul Citizen Apartment Entry

As you can see in the next picture, the building is more or less built into the mountain and the lower floors don’t receive a lot of sunlight.

Seoul Citizen Apartment

The second entrance connects the opposite part of the building with a bridge leading to the seventh floor:

Seoul Citizen Apartment

 

Seoul Citizen Apartment

In comparison to the Wow Apartment Complex this apartment building is more robust and has a better structure. Nevertheless, the Second Model Apartment received a grade D in safety in 2004. E is the worst grade and there are currently 59 D-rated and 3 E-rated apartment buildings in Seoul. Demolition plans were announced in 2006 but the city and apartment owners couldn’t agree on the amount of compensation.

 

Seoul Citizen Apartment

The building doesn’t seem to be in a good condition and sooner or later it will disappear.

Seoul Citizen Apartment

 

Similar to the blog post about the Joongang Cinema, I wanted to capture the last surviving Seoul citizen apartment. Here is a clip about the apartment where you can also see how it looks inside:

 

Sources and Information: Namu Wiki | Chosun News | Navercast | Wikipedia

About This Author

<p>Co-Author of Kojects. Interested in Sustainable Transportation, Urbanism and Korea.</p>

7 Comments

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  • I hope that they replace this structure with something which actually takes into account the local geography and respects–or even tries to incorporate and interpret–traditional Korean design. I’m saddened by the enormous number of projects going up all over the country that are essentially modern commieblocks. Is there wisdom you can share about the nature of Korea’s real estate market that would explain why there are still so many soulless buildings being constructed?

    Luke 2 years ago Reply


    • Thank you for the comment and question. It isn’t the most beautiful building but it represents an important part of history. So I think that the disappearance of this building in the near future is going to be a sad :)

      Hm, that’s a tough question! In my humble opinion, there are various reasons like maximizing profit, short lifespan of buildings in Korea on average and only a few players in the construction business. Then there are also many government regulations regarding apartments and their structure. They are very counterproductive towards alternative apartment architecture approaches.
      A friend used to work as an architect and he told me that a whole apartment complex was designed by three employees within a short time. One of them was even just an intern and so did little. There are already many predefined design elements by law. As a result there is little space, time or manpower for creativity. Probably a construction company also doesn’t want to take any risks (stick out from the others and not sell all housing units).

      Nikola 2 years ago Reply


  • Very nice write up. I often walk by those apartments and wondered what their history was.

    brier 2 years ago Reply


    • Thank you! I hope to tell the story of more buildings and areas in Seoul in future posts.

      Nikola 2 years ago Reply


  • I’m not sure if Wow Park is where the collapsed apartment was. Looking at old photos, it looks further down the hill, where those Samsung apartments are.

    It’s a neat walk, though, down the hill from the park to the Shinchon side (by the hospital). It looks like some of foundations to the old Wow Apartments are still there on the hill.

    Btw, you can see video of the Wow collapse at the e-history website: http://ehistory.go.kr/page/pop/movie_pop.jsp?srcgbn=KV&gbn=DK&mediaid=20077100&mediadtl=34065&quality=H

    Mark Russell 2 years ago Reply


    • I think that you’re right. I couldn’t confirm the exact location of the Wow Apartments but looking at pictures it seems to be at the location of the Samsung apartments.

      Thanks for the video! Very interesting.

      Nikola 2 years ago Reply


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