Archive for the architecture Category

Green roof sightings in Seoul

Daum Communications / Ilshin Building

Green roof tops Daum Communications / Ilshin Building, Seoul, Korea

Seoul is not known for it eco-friendly building designs, but a couple of buildings I encountered recently, which have significant green roofs, have made me thinks that there may be hope yet for this city.

A Green roof according the Wikipedia:

A green roof is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and soil, or a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. This does not refer to roofs which are merely colored green, as with green roof shingles.

The most significant benefit of green roofs are:

  • Reduces cooling cost in the summer
  • Reduces the city’s average temperature
  • Reduces stormwater run off

The best known green roofs are Chicago City Hall, The GAP Headquarters and Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge Plant.

Daum Communications / Ilshin Building

Click image to view slideshow

Yesterday I visited the new offices of Daum Communications, the distant-second-but-nicer-place-to-work Korean portal site (#1 is It is housed in the newly completed Ilshin building in Hannam-dong which is also the home to the Italian embassy. On the roof of the building I was surprised to discover a green roof. The chairman/CEO of Ilshin Spinning, Kim Young Ho, the building’s owner, is no stranger to design and architecture, having graduated with an architecture degree from Pratt in NY, and served on the board of the Korean Institute of Architects and also know for his formidable modern art collection. The anecdote recounted by one of the Daum staff was that he delayed the opening of the staff cafeteria on the 2nd floor of the this building because he was not happy with the design of trays.

ewha Communications / Ilshin Building

Click image to view slideshow

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself at Ewha Womans University (Note: “Womans” is not a misspelling), one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Korea. I was very impressed by their recently completed the Ewha Campus Complex, which was designed by French architect, Dominique Perrault. The building itself unnoticeable at first glance since it is half buried in the ground, but this makes for an impressive green roof.

Dongdaemoon Design Plaza (photo:

Dongdaemoon Design Plaza

Ground was recently broken for Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which replaces the aging Dongdaemoon Sports Complex. The London-based architect Zaha Hadid was awarded the commission following an international competition. The most prominent feature of the design is its fluid surface green roof that weaves and connects the various part of the design.

Seoul, 15 years ago

Mapo, Seoul, 1994

Click image to view slideshow of Mapo redevelopment, 1994

Digging through some old photos, I found this set I took in 1994, of Mapo area, in Seoul. This area had been home to many informal settlers (so called “moon village” or 달동네) but had been “condemned” to be redeveloped and replaced by more of Seoul’s ubiquitous apartment blocks.

David Kilburn, in a comment to one of my previous post Hanoi: Think different wrote about Seoul:

… A Korean architect I know describes modern Seoul as a city designed to drive people insane. This is a far cry from Korea’s own architectural traditons where it was always important that buildings were designed to nestle harmoniously into the landscape, neither dominating nor destroying it. The geomantic ideas that are better known as the Chinese ‘Feng Shui’ were always important. Nowadays, the landscape is eradicated to pave the way for squadrons of identikit apartment blocks? Who benefits, certainly not the residents. The real beneficiaries are the owners of constructio companies, real estate speculators, and the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who play their own role in detroying quality of life.

David has a very interesting documentary The Destruction of Kahoi Dong about the destruction of Han-ok’s (traditional Korean houses) in Seoul.

Cities: the future of humanity

Here’s a presentation file for a lecture that I gave at my alma mater Yonsei University. Keep in mind this was an invited lecture to undergrad student in the architecture program as part of a class that fulfills their urban design requirement (read: not very academic).

Hong Kong trip and thoughts on social business

Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009

Click image to view slideshow of the Hong Kong trip, May 22-23, 2009

The last time I visited Hong Kong was in 1989.

Some things have indeed changed. For one thing, it’s part of China now. Also the skyline has many new additions, including the 88-floor (415m) 2 International Finance Centre tower, which is apparently the world’s 8th tallest building and tallest in Hong Kong. This will be soon surpassed by the International Commerce Centre being constructed across on the Kowloon side which will stand at 118-floors (484m).

Hong Kong also has a shiny new Norman Foster designed airport. Clean and efficient and the landing is not as super-hairy as the old Kai Tak airport. At the old airport you passed through mountains, cleared slums and then after a steep bank landed on a strip that seemed to go out into the water. As much as this is thrilling to some, I would prefer something a lot less eventful.

Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009
Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009

Many things haven’t changed. Hong Kong still maintains itself as one of the financial capitals, a shopping haven, one of the world’s most important shipping ports and trading gateway to China. And trams still run through its streets as do ad-covered double-decker buses.

I did the usual touristy things. I wandered through the infinitely looped and connected shopping malls and made the trip up to the Peak via the Peak Tram. Another new thing, there they built the Peak Lookout and charged HK$20 to take the escalators to the top for the view down to the skyscrapered financial district. What a rip-off! But I had to commend the thorough capitalistic mindset of extracting (extorting) money even for the view.

Even as a tourist, I was very impressed at how efficient a city Hong Kong is: The 24-minute train ride from the new airport to the center of the city. Buildings connected via covered walkways so that you don’t get wet and remain chilled. Public transport is cheap and fast. HK$5 (=US$0.65) for a 4-stop trip on the MTR from my hotel in Causeway Bay to Central. And apparently this efficiency is the reason people choose to do business here, reflected in the minimal red tape. When I asked my brother, who works for HSBC, where Hong Kong citizens’ loyalty lies, it is indeed money over state. Many Hong Kong businessmen fled to Canada, Australia, UK and other countries before the handover in 1997 only to return after they secured their citizenships.

Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009
Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009

Hong Kong is by far one of the most cosmopolitan places I have been to. They don’t care where you come from, just as long as you have the money or you are willing to do business. Given how global Hong Kong is, it’s still amusing to see that taxi drivers and clerks at 7-Eleven don’t speak English and didn’t have a clue as to what I was talking about. And Statue Square in front of HSBC which is the heart of Hong Kong still gets inundated with Filipino maids on Sundays, which is their only day off.

The weather was awful most of the two short days I was there, so I hung out a lot indoors. I ended up buying 2 books: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism” by Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, father of microfinance and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in 2006.

It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since I visited Hong Kong, which was half a lifetime ago. now that I have reached about the halfway mark of my life, I think it’s about time I figure out how to spend the rest of my life. I now realize the irony in my second book selection, given that I am was in one of the most capitalistic cities in the world. But it seemed appropriate that this is at the core of a decision that lately I have been thinking very hard about: whether to pursue capital gains or social gains.

According to people like Muhammad Yunus and Bill Drayton the world is changing. There is emerging a new type of business: Social business or social entrepreneurship. You know it’s gathering steam with you can see it appearing as MBA tracks in major business schools such as Oxford, Duke and Stanford just to name a few.

According to Yunus, Social Business is defined as:

Social business is a company that is cause-driven rather than profit-driven, with th potential to act as a change agent for the world.

Bill Drayton elaborates in an interview in 2007 that:

In the last two and a half decades we have seen all across the world, the structure of the social half of the world become as entrepreneurial and competitive as business.

They both forecast that we will see radical change in the way business will be conducted in the future, especially given the backlash against the greed of the past decades and the present danger to the world not being nuclear annihilation as it was in the 60’s and 70’s but the destruction of our life-giving environment and the fragile state of the world’s economy.

The current economic crisis is indeed a harsh wake-up call that there needs to be a fundamental change in attitude and values and not only in way we conduct business. If we can put our minds so singularly to solving business issues and the generation of wealth, it can also be applied to solving the crisis in environmental and social justice we are facing.

It’s strange how physical trips often lead us on thought trips.

More photos from the trip on Flickr.

Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009

Hong Kong is a harbor/port in addition to being a financial capital and shopping haven.

International Symposium: Hanoi 2030

Hanoi 2030: International Symposium

Hanoi 2030: International Symposium

As if working on the 1st Report for the Hanoi master plan was not enough, between our reports to the Vietnam government steering committee and the Prime Minister, we held a 2-day international symposium April 21-22.

The main goal of the symposium was to gain a better understanding of Hanoi within a global context, by inviting prominent international experts and scholars who have studied or worked in Hanoi to provide their opinions on how Hanoi could develop through to 2030. These in turn would be reflected in the master plan the project I am working on is developing.

The key objectives and expectations were:

  • Invite international experts and knowledge leaders who have experience working in Hanoi/Vietnam to present their expertise and global perspective for the future development of Hanoi;
  • Identify potentials, drivers and assets that may shape Hanois future;
  • Discuss long-term goals and objectives for the sustainable development of Hanoi.

The main themes of the symposium were:

  • Heritage Preservation
  • Social Development
  • Hanoi and Environmentally Sustainable Future
  • Peri-urban Agriculture & Food Security
  • Issues of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Urban Management
  • Urban Challenges of Sustaining Economic Growth

The speakers were:

  • Jeremy CAREW-REID, Director, International Centre for Environmental Management
  • Michael DIGREGORIO, Ford Foundation (Vietnam) – program officer – Education and Scholarship; Media, Arts and Culture
  • Sylvie FANCHETTE, Geographer, Research Institute for Development (IRD)
  • Ana FIRMINO, Center of Studies for Geography and Regional Planning, Assistant Professor at New University of Lisbon
  • Shizuo IWATA, Director, ALMEC Corporation
  • Richard LEECH, Executive Director, CB Richard Ellis, Hanoi
  • Laurent PANDOLFI, Co-director, IMV
  • Christian PEDELAHORE, Docteur en Architecture. Architecte DPLG – Urbaniste SMUH
  • Paul SCHUTTENBELT, Planner/Governance expert, Urban Solutions
  • Leo VAN DEN BERG, Alterra Green World Research, The Netherlands
  • Michael WAIBEL, Senior Lecturer Department of Economic Geography, Hamburg University
  • Lawrie WILSON, Director of International Projects, Hansen Partnership

The symposium was closed to the public and limited to invited participants only, but we had a strong turnout and at one point the hall which sat about 200 was filled up. I played the part of moderator, with a list of questions prepared for our speakers in case the audience was not being responsive. Thankfully I did not need to ask too many questions.

Hanoi 2030: International Symposium

The general opinion from the experts were that Hanoi is a unique city, however it is in danger of losing these qualities if they are not properly protected through good planning, management and policies, enforcement of regulation and development of its assets. Of course these opinions were expected since I personally interviewed and invited the speakers who could support our goals and objectives of establishing a sustainable Hanoi. But all these experts had years of experience working in Hanoi, and it was apparent from their presentations and discussions that they truly loved Hanoi as much as the Vietnamese and this was the reason they continue to work in Hanoi and Vietnam. It’s not easy for an outsider to adopt a city, but in the case of these experts it was clear that they thought it worth their work and life to make the choice to stay.

I was left questioning, how many cities in Asia elicits such a dedication from the international community? Hanoi does seems to be in the spotlight these days, being the venue to many international conferences.