USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Too much of a good thing

The context of urbanism and city planning includes a social aspect related to that of utopian ideals. Often times, cities are conceived, at the genesis, partly under societal ideals that may or may not be successful. Our recent trip to Paju was an exciting glimpse into the beginning workings of an urban community being formed. Literally everything in that city is designed, planned, and executed.  Its architectural endeavors make it a remarkable and innovative urban scheme evolving into a new industrial asset to Korea. But how are we to judge how successfully Paju is? If its sole goal was to create a community of great architecture, it might have indeed accomplished the task. However, Paju presents an eerie, almost surreal look into a modern utopia that seems artificially discomforting and rigid. From an architectural point of view, is all that design desirable? How much before it is too much?

Paju Book City arose out an idea to create a community centered on the art of publication and literature. The recent and high-paced urban redevelopment of Seoul since after the Korean War adopted a culture of consumerism and urban density. As Seoul continued to grow larger, the traditional and vernacular culture of Korea began disappearing. The largeness of the urban fabric slowly deteriorates the role and importance of the human being, only offering a negative environment for an individual. Thus, the self-named “City to Recover Lost Humanity” is a modern response to this fast-paced urbanism. The city is about the people coming together under one common goal in art and architecture. By creating an exclusive city dedicated to the cultural values behind literature, Paju hopes to not only become a city of arts, but a cultural complex built upon solid artistic infrastructure.

Ironically, however, the architectural manifestations of this proposal almost seem to negate the very principle idea of the city itself. As a concept, the city was conceived out of “controlling personal, selfish desires in favor of considering common interests first” (PajuBookCity.org). However, if we look at the design features of the buildings, each architectural element of the city is one singular object in a whole field of objects. What lacked was a unifying theme that linked these buildings together. There’s a sense of disjunction between the structures that exhibit a loss-of-place feeling. Alvaro Siza states that in designing his Mimesis Museum in Paju, he found it difficult to design when you had no context to design with:

“I didn’t have as much context as I would like with which I could create a dialogue, I only had a site plan, so I had to concentrate on creating an atmosphere for the building” (Iconeye). As a result, many of these “jewel” boxes are constantly fighting for the attention of the viewer, primarily on the level of façade treatments being applied to almost every single side of the building, whether it be concrete, glass, wood slats, etc. It was interesting to see the overall de-sensitized reaction we had after walking for a few hours through the city; we were bored and nothing really spoke to us anymore. In that sense, Paju perhaps negatively represents the outcome of design; instead of stimulating the senses, it overwhelms them to the point of a numb sensation. Though Paju certainly has a far ways to go before becoming the artistic node it was meant to be, it will be interesting to see how this city and many of these dedicated communities will react to the changing fabric of Seoul.



Book City Culture Foundation, http://www.pajubookcity.org/english/sub_03_01.asp

Murphy, Douglas. “Mimesis Museum.” Untitled Document. Web. 19 Sept. 2010. <http://www.iconeye.com/index.php?view=article&catid=1:latest-news&layout=news&id=4509:mimesis-museum-south-korea-by-alvaro-siza&option=com_content&Itemid=18&gt;.

Filed under: Architecture, community, Culture, Korea, objects, Paju, Urbanism, Utopia

The Twilight Zone [Episode 1: Paju (“Book City”): Architectural utopia or hell?]

Our story begins in Paju “Book City,” South Korea, where a young man awakens to find himself in a world unfamiliar to him.

“Where am I?” Chris asks himself, strewn upon the ground with an aching pain in his head. He can’t seem to remember how he found himself on a lawn in front of what looks like a traditional Korean dwelling.

“It has to be Korean,” he thinks to himself as he observes the tiled roof and the thin white window screens that let light into the home.

But as his attention fades away from the old home, he becomes more unsettled, as he sees building after building, block after block of these marvelously designed pieces of architecture.

“I’ve died and gone to architecture heaven,” Chris manages to says, stunned by his good-fortune and taken aback at the sight that has befallen his eyes. He’d only been a student of architecture for 4 years but never in that time had he visited a place that seemed to have such a crispness and cleanliness about it. There were no dilapidated liquor stores or abandoned warehouses or “cookie-cutter” suburban homes.

No, these buildings were all carefully thought out and designed. Not simply dropped onto their sites because it was the most affordable option. There was surely a long planning process in place to make sure such quality buildings were erected here.

“What am I doing just standing around for, I must take this all in!” he exclaims as he began running up and down the street, taking in the majestic elements of each structure. He briefly stops at one, a dynamic concrete building with an exterior staircase that moves Chris to the core.

“Now this is what a staircase should look like. I need to see more!”

One after another he took in a building and it’s components, each one differing from the other.

But then it begins to dawn on Chris. The buildings that started off looking so unique and different from each other start looking more and more alike. A cold chill runs up his back as this thought occurs to him.

“No, no, it can’t be. I’m sure one of these buildings is addressing its context or at least contains an elevation that gestures to an adjacent site. There has to be at least one!” he cries out as he runs from building to building, trying to find one element, one material move that would prove his theory wrong.

He finds nothing.

The dream scenario quickly turns into a nightmare for Chris, who cannot seem to escape this collection of randomly disassociated pieces of architecture. He runs down one street, only to be confronted by more buildings.

Soon they’re everywhere, surrounding Chris until it’s as though they are right on top of him, stifling his breath, choking the life out him. He can’t breathe. He can’t think.

“GET ME OUT OF HERE!” he screams sitting up in his bed, beads of sweat drip down his face.

“Dude, what’s wrong?” Christian, Chris’s roommate, worriedly asks.

“I-I don’t know. I had a dream I was in this architectural utopia, where it was as if everything were designed by Gehry or Koolhaas…it was all crashing down on top of me. Ev-everywhere…” replied Chris.

“How could that be bad? That would be amazing!” says Christian.

Chris replies, “You would think, wouldn’t you?”

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: "Book City", architectural utopia, contextual relation, objects, Paju, planned city, south korea, Uncategorized


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu