eoul’s recent history has been marked by rapid modernisation, an eager acceptance of technological advances and urban growth on an impressive scale. Many of its most high-profile developments can be found south of the Hangang (Han River). The 123-storey Lotte World Tower is close to completion – at 555 metres, it is the tallest building in South Korea. There are also expansion plans for the COEX district, where Hyundai has purchased a huge plot of land opposite the convention and shopping centre, with plans to build hotels, as well as more event and retail space.
In the CBD, located within the historic city walls north of the Han, plenty of growth is happening, too, albeit in a less grandiose fashion. By using a relatively recent addition to the city’s impressive collection of parks, it’s possible to bisect the busy, skyscraper-filled downtown area and get a sense of Seoul’s broad appeal. In South Korea’s pre-industrial era, when Seoul was a fraction of its current size, a stream meandered through its centre, used by wives to wash clothes. Its name was Cheonggyecheon – today, it is referred to simply as “the Stream”. After the Korean War, which ended in 1953, things changed – the Stream became lined with shanty towns and increasingly polluted and dirty. In 1958 a road was built over it, followed by an elevated freeway in 1976. The Stream was forgotten in the rush towards an industrialised future, and the whole area became something of an eyesore. Left: Sunset along Cheonggyecheon stream