Dispatches from the Field: Underground Shopping in Seoul


Today we bring you the second in a series called Dispatches from the Field, a feature where we ask Flavorwire friends and family living abroad to share thoughts and images from their travels. This installment showcases Seoul, South Korea, through the lens of Eric Reeder, a recent transplant from San Francisco and an architectural design professor at Konkuk University.

“Let’s face it, when most Westerner’s think of East Asia, they think Tokyo, Shanghai or even Hong Kong,” Reeder explained in his initial email to Flavorwire. “Seoul is mysterious, and in many ways yet to be discovered by foreigners. This is changing rapidly and has been substantially over the past decade and yet little is being written about Seoul.”

That’s all about to change with his first dispatch after the jump.

“Outside of its 15 million local residents, Seoul continues to exist under the radar for much of the outside world. Knowing Seoul requires venturing beyond its fragmented urban exterior; it’s an incredibly complex place, and what often makes it so is what one can’t see from the outside.

“The Kangnam Underground shopping market on the city’s south side extends underground for nearly a quarter mile. Like many parts of Seoul, the public transportation system gives rise to spatial and consumer opportunities — the market has grown as an extension to major transportation hubs of subway, city and regional bus systems. Two approximately fifteen-foot wide parallel corridors, seemingly endless, are lined with bargain stores that are packed eager shoppers on any given day. Store owners trade natural light and window ventilation for cost conscious compact spaces adjoined in uniform, neighborly functions.

“A transformational ‘zoning’ greets visitors as they move through the long, linear space. Textiles give way to housewares and then floral arrangements; the underground ‘blocks’ of changing merchandise are the soul elements of alteration in an otherwise homogeneous stretch of uniform space. This shifting array of stuff overflows from shoebox-sized stores into the narrow quarter mile walk. Corridors narrow to a single file passageway in the slimmest of spots, with goods spilling out into the pedestrian way. Shoppers weave and dodge their way along an ever changing and shifting path. Not so comfortable if you’re claustrophobic, but on a frigid winter January day the protected environment can be a comfortable reprieve from the outdoor elements at street level above.

“Like many parts of the unseen city of Seoul, this public way remains open long after shop owners have closed for the night. A convoluted day shifts into desolate night at the Kangnam Underground — urban scale metamorphosis that has come to represent much of Seoul as an ever transforming place be it seen or not.”

For more from Reeder, visit his architecture blog, Condencity, here.

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