Gangnam style again? The origins of South Korean urban modernity

  • Jung In Kim Soongsil University
Keywords: Gangnam, Urbanization, Architectural Modernity, Seoul


This study views architecture and cities as part of larger urban process that cannot be detached from the larger socio-cultural milieu, and this understanding begs us to delve with broader historical knowledge and deeper geographical understanding. Against conventional framework that espouses abstract economic mapping and hierarchical global city listings to address the locality, stories of Gangnam, a new city south of the Han River in Seoul, will represent emblematic unfolding of urban modernity in South Korea since early 1960s. The city is a showcase where, in Lefebvre’s expression, “the industrial” and “the urban” did not proceed in a sequential order of historical development, but progressed simultaneously and complimented one another under the austere form of national ideology. Here the city illustrates more than its macro-economic spatial narration, and represents the distinctive sociocultural and political conditions of its formation. Today, epitomizing upper- middle class lifestyle, Gangnam became a synonym for the new urban order where the new exchange value of space was expressed in the soaring price of once government-sponsored mass housings. Representing gradually territorializing urban consciousness, the culture and the symbolism of the new city strongly supported the consolidation of the fledgling middle class identity. Deeply immersed in both militarist and capitalist urban ideology, the city’s emerging middle class embraced the segregated spatiality engendered by the Han River and projected its newly gained social status and citizenship on the identity of a particular urban space, Gangnam. Beyond dominant framing of a city in economic structuralism, what is emphasized here is the construction of place through finding confluence of variant conditions in particular time and space. From the urbanization story of Gangnam, reflected were the complex thread of social and political influences that realized the culture of capitalist spatiality, where the illegitimate turned into the legitimate, the irrational to rational, and the abnormal to normal.
How to Cite
Kim, J. I. (2014). Gangnam style again? The origins of South Korean urban modernity. ARCC Conference Repository.