Songdo International Business District (IBD) is a fully master-planned new city in South Korea and one of many satellite cites developed in the last 20 years. Songdo IBD completes a transformation of Incheon, one of South Korea’s most significant ports and historical locations.
Incheon Metropolitan City, formerly known as Chemulpo, is emblematic of the cultural and economic transformation of the Korean Peninsula and East Asia — a transformation that bears the historical marks of imperialism, colonialization, liberation, and the onslaught of modernization. Seoul, currently the third largest city in the world and the most populous, is South Korea’s capital city. Located in a basin valley, Seoul is constricted for additional growth even as the pressures of population expansion continues. Incheon, and subsequently Songdo and other “satellite” cities, are the products of strategic governmental policies aimed at making the Korean Peninsula the premier hub for international business as Asia continues to is drive global economic growth. Songdo IBD includes 1,500 acres and is near Incheon Airport, one of Asia’s central business hubs for air travel and a major catalyst for the project.
Songdo IBD is an ambitious master planning effort that began with the establishment of the Incheon Free Trade Zone and a master plan competition for Incheon Metropolitan City, which was followed by the development of a regional development strategy that included the building of the Incheon International Airport and the Incheon Bridge — key infrastructural elements that would make Songdo IBD possible.
Songdo IBD emerged from a planning vision of the government of South Korea, POSCO, and the selected master developer Gale International. The long-term phased development plan agreed upon by the government and the selected developer called for a total development of over 100-million gross square feet of programming, 1,500 acres of developable land, and a total expenditure of $35 billion, of which a $250 million Phase 1 has now been completed. The master plan — developed by Gale International and executed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects as lead master plan architects — integrates sustainability, includes immense urban infrastructure, and proposes a hybrid urban planning model with principles derived from Western and non-Western contexts. Key partnerships include major financial partners JP Morgan and Shinhan Bank; Cisco Systems and ARUP Engineers; and The Whitman Strategy Group, among others. The development boasts a progressive environmental agenda as well as an experimental “ubiquitous network-based / intelligent urbanism” platform for computing and digital services.
CSUD will identify key economic, social, and cultural goals of the project by examining the real estate transactions, the conceptualization of the master plan and its responsiveness to environmental conditions, the imagined public communities that are occupying the new city, and the role of design in constructing new conditions. The symposium will locate the project within the Western and non-Western cultural, social, and political traditions of South Korea and the Asian peninsula. As explosive growth is rampant throughout Asia and the Middle East, the symposium will identify the differences in how large-scale projects are financed and developed over long phasing periods with the partnership of government entities. The symbolic capital of each competing city relies upon their unique design and the cultural ambitions that exceed the real estate project; therefore, the symposium will open up questions of aesthetic translations in the urban and architectural design, as well as how artistic practices are made manifest in the culture at large.
The symposium will also ask questions: What is the relationship between New Songdo City and historical "new towns" and utopian communities? What kind of history do the inhabitants of Songdo imagine for themselves and their new community? To what extent is modernity positioned between cultural erasure and cultural progress? Are the claims of Songdo as a "ubiquitous networked" city and as an environmentally sustainable city inflated or accurate? How will Songdo age with time, and how will it be positioned within a constellation of other new cities that are and will emerge in the next 10 to 20 years? To what extent are Songdo’s claims to an identity so affiliated with business working against an alternative construction of urbanism that would accommodate a wider array of classes and demographics?