In most of the world, we are losing greenery at the hands of urbanization, but for Seoul, the case is kind of different. The Seoul station overpass was constructed in 1970 to connect eastern and western halves of the city. Safety concerns called for the overpass to be closed down in 2015 but the highway was opened recently, and not in a way anyone expected.
The Seoul Station overpass that was originally created to solve the traffic congestion problems of the city has been converted to a public sky garden. When constructed in the 70s, the overpass was meant to serve as a symbol of the country’s economic growth, but experts raised concerns over its safety in the 90s and the local government conducted regular inspections. When the engineers reported in 2012 that the 1,024-meter structure could hold heavy traffic for no longer than three years, the government announced demolition by 2015.
In 2014, the Seoul Mayor Park Won-Soon came up with an innovative idea for the overpass inspired by New York’s High Line park. The plan of demolition was aborted, and the overpass was designed to be converted into a sky garden with the widest variety of Korean plant species. The project was titled Seoullo 7017 to recognize the need to preserve historical landmarks and make the city greener and pedestrian friendly.
Seoullo 7017 marks the two significant years of the overpass, 2017 for when it was converted and 1970 for when it was constructed. The structure has 17 walkways accessible from different areas of the city. 645 giant concrete pots taller than human height, line the pathways. The pots are filled with 228 species of plants and flowers, making the place an urban nursery that may supply plants and trees to other areas of the city.
The Dutch design studio MVRDV is behind the transformation of the Seoullo 7017, who explain the project as: “Located in the heart of Seoul, a true plant village has been realized on a former inner-city highway in an ever-changing urban area. The pedestrianized viaduct next to Seoul’s main station is the next step towards making the city, and especially the central station district, greener, friendlier and more attractive, whilst connecting all patches of green in the wider area.”
In theory, the idea of transforming it an overpass sounds fantastic, but people have been mostly unimpressed with how it has turned out. Citizens expected the place to look like a regular park when it opened on May 20th, but since it is mostly concrete with small plants and young trees in pots, it just does not serve the purpose. The small trees are not enough to provide protection from the sunlight making the place impossible to visit on hot summer days. In a few years when the trees grow old, this would get better but just never as good as a proper park that people are looking forward to.
Ben Jackson of Korea Expose writes, “Most of it is paved with concrete slabs, while the trees and plants are all contained in tubs or cement rings. The trees, of course, will grow over time and provide more shade, but the design leaves a feeling of frustration that this is ‘Nature Lite,’ where concrete remains dominant over soil and vegetation. Why not fill the old overpass structure with earth, plant native seeds and lay a simple path between the trees and shrubs? Would such a radical approach be too much to ask for? It would certainly be cheaper. Less concrete paving and more rampant undergrowth would not allow such large volumes of pedestrian traffic to pass through the park, but no pedestrians crossed it when it was used by vehicles anyway.”
Not all reviews have been negative though. A visitor commented, “Amazing! Korea never failed to amaze me every time I visit…there is always something new for tourists to discover. Seoullo 7017 is another example of Korean creativity and ingenuity. It is an urban regeneration model that other countries can follow.”