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Seoul to turn Han River islet into new city landmark

Feb. 9, 2023 - 15:42 By Son Ji-hyoung
An aerial view of Nodeul Island (Courtesy of The Korea Tourism Organization)

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon announced plans Thursday to transform Nodeulseom, an artificial islet in Han River, into a new landmark by embracing a set of regulatory changes to allow architectural landmarks on the island.

Under the tentative plan led by the municipal government, construction will begin in January, following feasibility reviews such as research and the architect selection process for the renewal.

Vying for the Nodeulseom project are Denmark-based Bjarke Ingels Group, Germany-based Jurgen Mayer, the United Kingdom-based Thomas Heatherwick, and four Korean designers -- Kim Chan-joong of The System Lab, Kang Ye-rin of Society of Architecture, Na Un-chung and Yoo So-rae of Nameless, and Shin Seung-woo of Design Group Oz.

Oh suggested the islet under Hangang Bridge should have a skywalk that offers pedestrians a panoramic riverside view of South Korea's most populous city, foot bridges that connect to the either bank of the Han River, a floating concert stage, concrete structures that emerge as the water level drops, and concrete platforms that stick out of the islet's mound wall.

Recalling his trip to European cities in October 2022, Oh said megastructures there often with undulating or cantilevered exterior designs have rekindled his desire to make the city waterfront more attractive and enhance the citizens' quality of life.

Among Oh's inspirations were Metropol Parasol in Sevilla, Spain; Market Hall in Rotterdam, the Netherlands; and The Valley in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

“Looking at the beautiful, unique and symbolic structures (in European countries), I came to think Seoul City has regulations standing in the way of attractive architectural designs," Oh told a press briefing in Seoul City Hall, pledging to ease related regulations.

A Han River view from Nodeul Island (Courtesy of The Korea Tourism Organization)

What used to be a deserted sandy islet was a bone of contention between Oh and his predecessor, the late Park Won-soon. Park suspended Oh's Nodeulseom renewal plan in 2012, and opened a cultural center in Nodeulseom in 2019. Oh was a two-term Seoul Mayor before Park took office from 2011 to 2020. Oh was reinstated in 2021.

But Ryu Chang-su, vice mayor II of Seoul Metropolitan Government, said the city government will try to maintain the operations of the cultural center on Nodeulseom even after the renewal project breaks ground.

Nodeulseom is one of the four sites chosen for public-run renewal projects to build new landmark structures. The Nodeulseom project will be followed by the construction of the second Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in western Seoul, redevelopments of Seoul Dongbu Detention Center and a public garage in southeastern Seoul.

Oh was serving as the mayor of Korea's capital city when it approved a construction of Dongdaemun Digital Plaza, a cultural center designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid.

"Beginning with Nodeulseom, Seoul is consecutively inviting urban architectural innovations," Oh said.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks in a briefing about a new landmark at Seoul City Hall on Thursday. (Yonhap)