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Natural habitat: LG Science Park, Seoul

Generous, mature parkland at Seoul’s huge new science park not only offers employees pleasure and serenity, it’s integral to making the place work

Making up four city blocks of the Magok district, LG Science Park’s 18 buildings are connected by a 27,000m² linear park.
Making up four city blocks of the Magok district, LG Science Park’s 18 buildings are connected by a 27,000m² linear park. Credit: Alberto Dominguez

Sitting midway between Seoul’s buzzing ‘Gangnam-style’ central entertainment and shopping area and the city’s old Gimpo Airport 10 miles to its west, it’s a wonder that the Magok area of the urban Gangseo-gu district remained rice growing paddy-land for as long as it did. Bordering to the Han river on its northern edge, the 360ha former wetland site is now being fully absorbed into the urban fabric of this economic hothouse and city of 11 million. With the land drained, an urban park forms the centrepiece of this massive new mixed-use development. At its southern edge, occupying four city blocks, LG’s new Science Park acts as a gateway to one of the largest corporate labs in the world, it opens officially this month. 

And everything about this development speaks big. Occupying a site of nearly 180,000m², the $47billion net worth, family owned ‘Chaebol’ has relocated from its city centre twin towered building to a bespoke new 1.1 million m², 18-building mid-rise campus designed by HOK’s London office following an invited design competition in 2012. The LEED Platinum-projected complex concentrates all LG’s eight affiliates (LG Electronics, LG Display, LG Innotek, LG Chem, LG Hausys, LG Uplus, LG CNS, LG Household & Health Care) on one site, and brings together the firm’s corporate and research and development functions. By the time it fully completes in 2020, the campus will accommodate more than 25,000 employees. 

And at the heart of the HQ, connecting all the buildings, the company’s own, publicly accessible, 27,000m² linear park runs east west along the 750m by 270m site. A key part of the sustainability and SUDs strategy, it sits over a gargantuan underground refectory that serves daily meals to 10,000 employees over two sittings. Connecting north and south sides of the complex, the three-level basement complex also houses a service floor with gyms and a bank, as well as parking for over 4,000 cars. A transverse park running north to south crosses the linear park and links the south Magok area to the new urban park. Together the routes aim to meet planning demands both to ensure permeability across the site and to allocate 20% of the overall site to landscaping.

One of the two bridges connecting the complex over the linear park, running east west across the city blocks
One of the two bridges connecting the complex over the linear park, running east west across the city blocks Credit: Alberto Dominguez

The major move was in the design of the roof forming the structural support of the linear park, explains HOK senior vice president Chris Yoon. As it spans 62m, the whole strategy involved opening 10m wide voids along the length of the park to carve out great landscaped sunken areas which draw light into the basement level refectory. Escalators from the lobbies of all offices, Integrated Support Centre (ISC) and Shared Lab Centre (SLC) feed down to this void area and from here into the refectory zone. 

‘The structural deck forms both the restaurant roof and the base for the landscaping,’ explains Yoon. ‘It’s designed as a concrete-framed structure with 1m deep beams in both directions and a two-way spanning slab between them. And good use is made of the interstitial voids within the grid of structure. They act  alternately as deep soil-filled tree pits or as attenuation for the surface run-off generated by the 18 buildings on the complex – of particular importance during Korea’s rainy season in June. Tanks are broad and shallow. Storm run-off from the hard landscaping areas flows directly into these, which can then be discharged over time into the municipal sewer. Other basement tanks deal with the roof run-off. But the complex is a thirsty thing, says Yoon. ‘It uses about seven million litres of water a day, about half of which goes in to the cooling tower demand. Rainwater is used for cleaning, grey water irrigation and toilets and black water is treated on-site and used for the cooling tower makeup,’ he explains. In total around 1,300 tonnes of water is stored in the attenuation between the hard landscaping surface and the restaurant roof slab.

Credit: Alberto Dominguez

The soil pits also allow the landscape to look so developed – the 80-year old chairman of LG insisted on being able to enjoy the landscape design in his lifetime

The soil pits not only act as additional attenuation but allow the landscape to look so developed – a strategy driven by the 80-year old chairman of LG, who insisted on being able to enjoy the landscape design in his lifetime, and was prepared to pay a premium to ensure it. This accounts for the 40ft mature Korean pines set in deep tree pits that form part of what Yoon calls the ‘meandering way.’ In fact, traditional Korean gardens very much inspired the design, with stone water channels running through as ‘natural’ rivulets. ‘The linear park is planted with zelkova, prunus and gingko trees,’ says Yoon. ‘Shrubs are mostly rhododendron with other flowering species in larger groupings. In the sunken gardens adjacent to the restaurants, moss species and ornamental trees are introduced.’ The apotheosis of this approach is best evidenced in the beautiful, manicured moss garden, replete with bonsai trees, facing out from the chairman’s private dining area –a literal reading of putting your money where your mouth is. 

  • Korean pines, mature and up to 40ft tall, sit in deep plantrs to form a 'meandering way' through the urban site
    Korean pines, mature and up to 40ft tall, sit in deep plantrs to form a 'meandering way' through the urban site Credit: Alberto Dominguez
  • More traditional garden approaches are used in basement level areas, especially alongside the chairman’s private dining area.
    More traditional garden approaches are used in basement level areas, especially alongside the chairman’s private dining area. Credit: Alberto Dominguez
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It was a difficult balancing act to marry the complex’s servicing demands with sustainability

HOK admits it’s been a difficult balancing act to marry the complex’s servicing demands with sustainability, but it has made attempts to do so. A number of innovations were employed to achieve this. Variable Refrigerant Flow units (VRF) allow heat to be intelligently moved around from office perimeter to centre, and the complex includes a central ice-making plant that works with off-peak electricity at night and uses the ice to cool the building at peak times; although the latter is more about the bottom line than climate change. As a result, the Shared Lab Centre with its ‘clean rooms’ and high air handling demand results in just a 21% reduction in energy use intensity compared with the more impressive 50% for the office spaces of the Integrated Support Centre. 

The massive dining area beneath the linear park seats 5,600 people in one sitting and has numerous outdoor seating areas running alongside the linear park at lower level.
The massive dining area beneath the linear park seats 5,600 people in one sitting and has numerous outdoor seating areas running alongside the linear park at lower level. Credit: Alberto Dominguez

Although the roofs of the complex are covered in LG’s own photovoltaic panels, on-site renewables account for only 3.5% of the complex’s overall energy demand. This low yield may have accounted for the fact that it was decided to add a landscaped roof garden to each of the two bridge buildings connecting the north and south blocks. This certainly benefits workers looking down on them from the offices or labs.

The density of the stone clad concrete blocks, their low-key and indeed repetitive nature may feel anomalous to ideas of more iconic architecture that we’re used to; but that, some might argue, is no bad thing. Yoon mentions that the block to the east of the main LG campus even copied the science park design to ensure both construction efficiencies and homogeneity; and culturally here, as in other parts of Asia, emulation constitutes a compliment. Yoon is unphased; just as he seems to have been by a year of interrupted sleep patterns, having to deal with the working hours spanning eight time zones and a project that is less a building than a whole new piece of city-making. Still; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.


 

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