Seoul Searching2009.04.17 19:34



[Korea Now] A $300 million project on an island in the Han River will be completed in 2014 


The Han River, a majestic body of dark-grey water that swerves through the South Korean capital is the first sight that greets visitors to Seoul, as it did Yi Sung-gye, the founding father of Chosun Dynasty 615 years ago. Oh Se-hoon, the mayor of Seoul, felt though that the Han River lacks one critical element -- a landmark that would grace the home of 10 million Koreans, and hopefully match Sydney Opera House in its soaring scale and photogenic appeal. 

The Han River Art Island is mayor Oh's answer to improve Seoul's face to Sydney caliber. Nodul Island, a long-deserted islet planted in the middle of the river, frequented only by some occasional amateur tennis players, will be reborn as a giant art complex after a 450 billion won (US$300 million) cosmetic surgery. 

The Island will house two concert halls and art gallery after the redesign. However its most prominent feature will be the 1,785-seat opera house. Not that Seoul lacks a world class opera house either -- hundreds of operas and top musicals have been performed every year in another opera house built in southern Seoul 13 years ago. 

One compelling reason to build another opera house at the Han River, according to Seoul city officials, is that it will be the first water-front opera house Seoul will have -- just like Sydney. The Island can be currently reached by land via a bridge but after the renovation opera fans and tourists will also be able to choose from river boats and speed boats to get there. Complete with a ferry terminal and new foot bridge, Seoul officials hope that the new opera house will be remembered as the jewel of the Han River once completed. 


Since the current steel bridge that connects Nodul Island to both sides of the river would not be wide enough to handle increased foot traffic, Seoul metropolitan government plans to expand sidewalks and build a 550-meter-long pedestrian overpass from north as well as elevators on the river banks. 

Architect Park Sung-hong who designed the Island says he tried to visualize a traditional Korean dancer with four giant wings that sweep over concert halls and galleries. Thus his design project was dubbed "Dance. 

French architect Jean Nouvel was initially commissioned to design the Island after he won the international design competition but Seoul awarded the commission to Park after it decided it could not swallow Nouvel's world-class design fee. 

There will be one remarkable difference between Sydney Opera House and its younger sister in Seoul -- Sydney took nearly three decades to build its opera house from inception to completion but Seoul will finish the Island by 2014, just shy of five years. 

Now this is the one landmark achievement the Island will be remembered the world over even if it ever fails to impress international tourists with its aesthetic appeal. 



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