Friday, 6 September 2013

Seonyudo - Isle of Urban Nature: Part 1

Built out of the rubble of a devastating war, contemporary Seoul has, over the last half-century, grown into one of the most highly-populated cities in the world, and is a bustling centre of industry and finance in East Asia. Its miraculous, fast-paced growth left little time for attention to aesthetics, and while it has its share of parks, natural spaces, and even a national park jutting into its boundaries, it exists predominately as a sprawling, concrete mass of high-rises, overpasses and apartment blocks.

But with famous recent projects like the Cheonggyecheon and the Han River Renaissance Project, Seoul's government is slowly trying to "de-urbanise" the city and tip the balance in favour of nature and greenery. One lesser known example of the work they're doing is Seonyudo, an island on the Han River. From the 1970s until the turn of the millennium the island was the site of a sewage treatment facility, but this was recently shut down and transformed into an eco-conscious park filled with plants, ponds and recreational facilities. The park still bears remnants of its former, industrial past, in the form of vine-covered pylons, waterfalls in former sedimentation tanks, and filtration pipes turned into playground equipment. It all comes together to form a space that feels distinctly organic yet urban at the same time.

Angela and I recently visited the park, along with Angela's friend from back home, Edgar. It was one of the most interesting parks we've seen here.

The second part of this post also includes photos of our subsequent evening in Hongdae.

We started our adventure at Dangsan Station on Line 2.
The Han is just a short walk from the station, and halfway across the river, spanned by bridges, is Seonyudo. From here you can't see what's hidden within the park, and it looks like a relatively ordinary island.
Crossing the bridge to enter the park.

One of the first things we saw was this harmonious water space.
Angela and Edgar, paddling in the cool waters as a reprieve from the summer heat.
There was an outdoor piano nearby.
Me, realising I no longer remember how to play piano.
We met some characters straight out of an anime series.

The park kept on surprising us with more cool sights, including a wall where people can write down their "Before I die..." ambitions.

I'll leave you to guess which one is Edgar's.
It was while we were writing down our lifelong ambitions that a film crew came along and asked us (or more specifically, me) to help them film a TV show. They got me to walk around and pull poses with these good-looking actors. Fortunately, I didn't have to do any talking.

We later found out the show was to air on Korean TV, on SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System). Unfortunately, we couldn't track down the name of the show, or any footage.
These columns from a former sewage reservoir have been turned into green towers of leaves.

Deeper into the park we ventured, until we came across this botanical wonderland, where the foundations of the former sewer plant had been turned into an aquatic garden of lilies and reeds sprouting from old water treatment basins.

Nearby, a bride and groom were taking wedding photos. We weren't sure whether they were a real just-married couple or simply models promoting the wedding clothes. Sometimes in life, it's better to go with the more romantic, heartwarming assumption.

More concrete relics of the water treatment facilities that once covered the island.

As we crossed a bridge we caught another sight of the happily married couple.
Toilets located inside a sewage vat. Postmodernism at its finest.
A playground made from the bowels of the city.

Most visitors enter the island via this "Rainbow Bridge," which lights up with pretty colours at night.

The 7-11 on the island had some pretty views over the Han.

Click here to continue the adventure in Part 2!

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