If you live in a post-industrial city, odds are good that it's got its share of abandoned, blighted transit infrastructure. Some cities demolish it, some cities let it fester, and other cities repurpose it. In Seoul, they're choosing the latter.
Seoul has spent the past year deciding how to renovate a long stretch of highway overpass that cuts directly through part of the city, right next to the city's Central Station. The 900m long stretch of highway was built in the 1970s as the city boomed — like so many other elevated urban highways, cough cough, BQE — but sank into disrepair over the years. In 2006, the city had it shut down over concerns about its structural integrity — and it seemed it would finally be razed.
But around the same time, an idea was emerging in a number of other cities dealing with the same blighted infrastructure problem. New York, for example, turned its former elevated train tracks into the High Line. Seoul had even recently fixed another of its former highways, built in the 1950s when the government covered up a former stream with an elevated highway. In 2005, one year before this overpass was shut down, it opened as a restored waterfront pedestrian zone, called Cheonggyecheon.
So the opportunity to turn yet another ageing giant into something useful was clear. The city launched a competition to design the so-called Seoul Skygarden, and today, the Dutch architecture firm MVRDV announced it had won the rights to design it.
The overpass will be renovated and planted with an "urban nursery" of 254 species of local plants — according to the architects, they will be arranged in alphabetical order so visitors can easily identify and learn about each. But the overpass will be more than a garden, they explain:
VRDV's design creates a library of local plants, a Korean arboretum of species planted in 'neighbourhoods' and arranged along the 938 metre length of the Station Overpass according to their names in the Korean alphabet. In addition to the circular plant pots of varying sizes, a series of customisable activators such as tea cafés, flower shops, street markets, libraries and greenhouses will provide a catalogue of elements which will enliven the Seoul Skygarden.
So Seoul's continuing the trend it started in 2005 — hopefully, other cities will follow suit at the urban planning faux pas of the 1960s and '70s come due for demolition. For anyone who lives near these hulking old highways, that can't happen soon enough. [MVRDV]