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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  n.67 Santiago dic. 2007 

ARQ, n. 67 Concursos de arquitectura / Architectural competitions, Santiago, december, 2007, p. 64-69.


Architecture as argument: DOGMA/OFFICE, an architectural competition for a new administrative City in Korea

Jorge  Heitmann  *

* Independent Architect, Santiago, Chile


In a utopian framework, architectural competitions assume special importance. The author examines the competition for Korea’s new administrative city, from an analysis of the challenge set to DOGMA/OFFICE’s proposed Grammar for the city, whose ambitious language made the city a focus of debate.

Key words: Urbanism-Korea, competitions, administrative cities, DOGMA/OFFICE, South Korea.



PROBLEM / Where do we place the emphasis if the project is a whole city, from head to toes and starting from scratch? The answer to this question, which was limited for centuries to brief instructions in treaties such as our familiar Leyes de Indias, is apparently unapproachable today.
The current universally accepted status of capitalism, which has gradually been transferring its power from the political to a merely economic one, has led us to identify our desire for freedom and democracy with that of free market policies as the only practical option.
Along these lines, architecture has abandoned, citing Kersten Geers, the possibility of being a project, of being a real argument and not a mere solution(1) .
In a context bombarded by posts (historical, critical, modern, postmodern, etc.), we have opted for what is apparently the only escape route, an accommodative pragmatism, putting aside part of what has historically characterized architecture: its resistance as an option to what is real and as a catalyst of possible new realities.
This realistic approach adopted by architecture has resulted in projects that, on one hand, only focus on the sensual aspects, the iconic capacity or else in an argument that, with futile scientific expectations pretends to derive a certain architectural form from studies, statistics, systems and diagrams that, finally, end up being foreign and unconvincing. In spite of special cases where they may respond to a specific situation with relative success, they become more and more implausible when the problem becomes very complex (such as in designing a city), so that any attempt to reduce it to real information seems irrelevant and inadequate.
This is the point where architecture can take either one of two directions: either it reinvents its attitude so as to have something to say about it or else it disappears, at least from these leagues, and limits itself to resolving problems with solutions that are more or less brilliant or sad to a greater or lesser degree.
Recently, however, a higher awareness of the imperfect market system, which is far from free, has produced a concentration of economic power and brought about aberrant inequalities, seems to be opening up new possibilities.
Unfortunate examples in architecture, such as the project for Ground Zero in Manhattan after 9/11, in which disputes over authority on behalf of various interested organizations finally ended up turning the project into another real estate speculation instead of a memorial for the victims of this terrible event, is another instance of this crisis.
This has resulted in a new attitude that seems to be incubating along the lines of what George Baird and Reinhold Martin anticipated in the articles that appeared in the Harvard Design Magazine, numbers 21 and 22 respectively. Referring to the same case of the Ground Zero project, they conclude with a call to review this pragmatic position adopted by architecture.
“The question of utopia must be put back on the architectural table. But it must not be misread as a call for a perfect world, a world apart, an impossible totality that inevitably fades into totalitarianism. Instead, utopia must be read literally, as the non-place written into its etymological origins that is nowhere not because it is ideal and inaccessible, but because, in perfect mirrored symmetry, it is also everywhere”. (Martin, 2005).

It is precisely in this context in which the architectural competition, which in the last decade has reached unprecedented relevance, appears to be empowering this possibility of architectural criticism and it is within this context that the following project is presented.

PROPOSAL/ In May 2005, a specially-appointed presidential committee announced the opening up of the process to construct a new multi-functional administrative City in South Korea. Concern for the uneven development of the rest of the country in comparison with the Metropolitan Area of Seoul as a result of the quick economic growth experienced by northeast Asia over the last decades, finally motivated radical decentralization strategies which included the relocation of the main political-administrative institutions to a new city.
The new City, which was originally proposed for 500.000 inhabitants on a surface of 73 km2 (comparable to the community of La Florida in the city of Santiago, with 1,5 times more density), in addition to housing 12 ministries, had to take into account other activities typically found in any multi-functional city, with special emphasis on industrial, educational and cultural aspects. The location chosen was the basin of the Geum River, in the province of Chungcheongnam, 120 km south of Seoul.
The first phase of this process consisted of organizing an international competition of a wide variety of ideas, of which the winning project would be defined to serve as the base for the development of the Master Plan of the new City. This architectural competition in Chile is already quite familiar due to the publication of the article Ciudad Nueva in ARQ 64, where the only Chilean proposal presented, was prepared in collaboration by Cristián Undurraga and Pablo Allard, and was selected as one of the finalists.
This initial phase continued with the formulation of a development plan in several stages, with new independent tenders for the various project areas, whose construction had to start in July 2007 to be definitely finished by 2030.
After a two-day deliberation, the diverse seven-member jury, including three locals and four internationals, headed by geographer David Harvey, Nader Tehrani, Winy Maas and Arata Isozaki, decided to give a special twist to the original awarding structure (one first place, two runners-up, three third places, and four honorable mentions) and opted for a more comfortable decision by awarding five first places and five honorable mentions.
Apparently -confirmed by participants and jury members alike- one of the main reasons that fostered the debate and frustrated any attempt to designate one sole winner, was proposal DO17888, which later on, once chosen as one of the five winners, was revealed as DOGMA/OFFICE.
The project under question was the result of the collaboration between two young offices located in Rotterdam, comprised of architects in their early thirties: DOGMA-OFFICE, composed of Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara
(2), and OFFICE KGDVS(3), belonging to Kersten Geers and David van Severen. Both offices joined their names for the purpose of this competition.

PROJECT/ The proposal, A grammar for the city, is based on reducing the problem to a few factors. In the first place, on identifying the incapacity of the architect to define the way in which the programs vary, the flows are smooth and easy-going and the change that occurs is the mutability of urban life, which is the essence of the city.
“We believe that if only focused on its absolute condition, architecture can truly (and honestly) evoke, by negative deduction, the unforeseeable complexity of the life that will occur in it” (DOGMA/OFFICE, 2006).
Secondly, taking into account that current large-scale urbanization projects are in private hands, especially in Asia over the last few years, that in their search for profits fail to confer value to public space as a collective space that shapes city life. “Democracy is not absolute freedom but rather a set of precise rules that guarantee equality by allowing individual liberties” (DOGMA/OFFICE, Idem). With these principles in mind, what they propose is a city made up of compounds instead of streets.
A series of urban walls, formed by cruciform buildings 158,4 m per each side and 36 m tall, placed in a 180 m by 180 m grid with a 21,5 m separation between them, define a sequence of interconnected compounds within the city, whose square ground plan has a 3,6 km perimeter. Its facades are accessorial and represent a white cut on a backdrop that, at the same time, is its content.
These urban walls do not complete the city but only form 30% of the required square-meter construction and are the basic architectural infrastructure that serve to generate spaces. The resulting compounds not only accommodate the collective urban life but also the consecutive development of new and varied buildings. “Urban walls and their resulting compounds are not the conclusive form of the city but rather their definite beginning”. (DOGMA/OFFICE, Idem).
The purpose of the option taken by this habitable framework as a principle for the city is to accept the fixed as well as flexible character of the city; the determining factor of the framework and what is unpredictable of its content is resolved in only one way.
The city, completely pedestrian, is connected to the rest of the country through highways that reach their periphery, where large parking lots are located, connected to the underground public transport system that feeds the city internally. These four main points will define where the city’s construction will begin, from the periphery towards its center, keeping clear the urban limit and the city image.
The same authors acknowledge the willfulness of the adopted wall-compound principle but once established, they take on the compromise to follow up on the logic of this principle.
The result is a city with a clear image that takes distance from the mere iconography and defines the minimum but categorical design needed for its subsequent development.
The first phase of the competition concluded at the end of 2005. The awards were distributed as described above and in spite of the strong recommendations on behalf of some of the jury members, the master plan defined later on, as was predicted, shows no evidence of having taken into account the DOGMA/OFFICE proposal; on the contrary, it resembles much more the logic development of another winning proposal.
In the second stage in which the winners of the first phase were specially invited to develop one of the residential areas defined in the Master Plan, DOGMA/OFFICE participated by not repeating the same scheme on a smaller scale, but rather by drawing up a new principle.
Paradoxically on this occasion, they did not receive any mention at all, but the second place was assigned to the project prepared by Italian architects Privileggio and Secchi, for a proposal that superficially seems to be the logical development of A grammar for the city. This point finally resulted in somewhat of an honor and reminds us of one of the pitiful chapters in the history of architectural competitions, when, in 1983, the jury of the competition for the Opera of the Bastille in Paris appointed first prize to a project that suggested a viva voce to be a Richard Meier, which would ensure greater public attention towards the project. As a result, the proposal of a Uruguayan architect, anonymous at the time, appears in his place as a Meier of doubtful architectural quality.

CONCLUSION / What is tremendously appealing and unsettling of A grammar for the city, and which the distance of both the much criticized modernist examples of 1900-1950 and subsequent manifestos, such as the Continuous monument of SUPERSTUDIO, which undoubtedly it refers to, is the capacity exhibited to absorb the mutability typical of contemporary metropolis by using architectural language that seemed obsolete for its forthrightness.
It is the inconclusive character and consequence of the resolution of an adopted logic until its perfect match, which at the same time suggests answers for the normal requirements of a city, making this proposal highly irrefutable.
The project decides to recover the problem of the city as part of the architectural scope.
It is architecture itself that defines the city. Architecture and urbanism come together.
“Wondering about the shape of the city is the only way to answer the question, why architecture?” (DOGMA/OFFICE, Idem).


1. Kersten Geers, conference as part of the exhibition on Le Corbusier: the art of architecture, Netherlands Architecture Institute NAI, June 4th, 2007.
2. Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara, both graduated from the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam. In addition to obtaining first place in the project for the new administrative City in Korea in 2005, was also awarded first prize Iakov Chernikov for young architects in October 2006. Pier Vittorio Aureli has been involved in academic work at the Architectural Association, Berlage Institute, Columbia University and TU Delft. In 2005, he presented his doctoral thesis at Berlage/TU Delft The possibility of an absolute architecture which is being prepared for publication. In March 2007, he helped organize the exhibition Brussels, a manifesto: towards the capital of Europe and in May that same year he was one of the curators of the Third Architecture Biennale of Rotterdam. Currently, both form part of the teaching staff at the Berlage Institute.
3. OFFICE KGDVS (Kersten Geers, David van Severen) founded in 2002 is currently headquartered in Brussels. It has obtained first place in several architecture competitions, including the Arquine competition for the border cross between Mexico and the USA, the Wiels Center for Contemporary Art in Brussels and the competition for the new administrative City in Korea. Both complement their architectural practice with teaching at Ghent University and TU Delft. In May 2007, they were invited to participate in the Third Architecture Biennale of Rotterdam with a proposal for Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Africa.



DOGMA/OFFICE. “Obstruction: A grammar for the city”. AA Files N°54. Architectural Association, Londres, verano 2006.         [ Links ]
Martin, Reinhold. “Critical of What? Toward a Utopian Realism”. Harvard Design Magazine N°22. Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, 2005.
        [ Links ]

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