Wall Street Journal
After years of slow-going, the South Korean government on Monday took a major step forward in turning the big military base in the middle of Seoul into a park.The Land Ministry announced the winner of a design competition for the master plan of what for now is being called Yongsan National Park. It’s the team of Iroje of Seoul, the modern architecture specialist behind Kyobo Book City in Paju and Daejeon University’s Anniversary Hall and West 8, a firm in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam that served as landscape architecture office to the Korean firm.The park will be the first national park, meaning one managed by the national government, inside a South Korean city. More importantly, it’ll give ultra-dense Seoul some badly-needed green space and will be similar in size to New York’s Central Park.The land sprawls around a small hill called Yongsan, which means Dragon Hill, has been a military base for more than a century. It is below Namsan, the mountain in the middle of Seoul’s north side.U.S. military officials for years have been trying to move out of Yongsan Post to a more modern and larger facility in suburban Pyeongtaek. That new base, called Camp Humphries, is the centerpiece of a decade-long consolidation effort to bring the number of American bases and posts in South Korea to about a dozen from more than 50.Disputes over the cost of relocating the military base have hampered the move.The National Museum of Korea, built on the former golf course of the Yongsan Post, and the Korean War Museum will serve as anchor points for visitors to the park.West 8 and Iroje came up with a plan to restore some of the topography in the park, including streams and hills that had been altered through the years. As well, it reconnects a “line of force” running from the Han River to Namsan.“The jury believes that this project can evolve and adapt in response to the expertise of the local community and deeper cultural values,” Christophe Girot, the selection jury chairman, said in a statement.A small portion of the current Yongsan Post will remain U.S. property. It will be redeveloped into the home of a new U.S. embassy and embassy housing. That will solve another one of Seoul’s urban design problems – getting rid of the current U.S. embassy, one of the ugliest buildings in the city.