Principles of catalyzing vitality and community can be found in Studio Daniel Libeskind’s Archipelago 21 master plan for Seoul, South Korea, which covers much of the rail yard surrounding Yongsan Station. The area in question is just outside the historic city center on the bank of the Han River, with 40 million square feet of new development in the form of 66 new buildings, 24 of which will be skyscrapers. The commission for the new Yongsan International Business District (YIBD)—which will include offices, residences, public spaces, and enough high-end retail to support the district— began with a competition held in 2005, between five shortlisted firms: Asymptote; Foster + Partners; the Jerde Partnership; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM); and Studio Daniel Libeskind. What distinguished his team’s proposal from the rest, says principal Daniel Libeskind, AIA, was that theirs was the only entry that didn’t feature a mega-structure: “To me, it’s more about a city with intimacy and grandeur," he says. "It’s not just about creating the tallest building in the world—but we have one of those, too!”
As with many of Libeskind’s other projects, this master plan teems with metaphor: He likens the development, Archipelago 21, to many islands, each one representing a different neighborhood. “The approach is about human beings,” he says. “It starts with human scale, with human imagination. It doesn’t start with abstraction.” Libeskind says that the new city is “designed as a magnet, and accessible in all senses,” thanks to its connection to 16 major rail lines in the terminal beneath it, through which the district will see about a half million daily visitors.
He’s been lucky, he continues, to have a client who cares about architecture, and who cares about creating “a coherent poetic idea.” Part of the draw for new residents to YIBD will be the collection of high-profile buildings, including those designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, Dominique Perrault, Asymptote, and REX, which promise to elevate the cachet of the hub Libeskind intends to create.