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Seoul City Hall’s metamorphosis pleases book lovers

In front of Seoul City Hall is Seoul Plaza, a popular gathering spot and venue for numerous events and festivals.In front of Seoul City Hall is Seoul Plaza, a popular gathering spot and venue for numerous events and festivals.

After more than four years of renovations, the old Seoul City Hall building is set to reopen as Seoul Metropolitan Library.

Opening on October 26, the new library will provide a comfortable reading space for citizens and promote active reading culture. With almost 9,500 square meters of floor space over seven floors, the library expects to house a total of 200,000 books by December of this year, as well as audiovisual materials, digital collections, and Braille books. Visitors can find foreign-language books too, as well as computer terminals catering to foreign bibliophiles.

Registered as Cultural Heritage No. 52, the City Hall building opened in 1926 under Japanese colonial rule, initially used as the headquarters of the governor-general of Korea. After liberation, it became the headquarters of the municipal government. Over 60 years later, it was closed down in 2008 and the government temporarily moved into a new location.

Original plans called for the historic building to be razed and replaced with a new design, but popular support for preservation put a halt to demolition. The Cultural Properties Committee, under the Cultural Heritage Administration, registered the building as a historic relic. Eventually, a compromise was reached, preserving the front building facing Seoul Plaza, and allowing construction of a modern building behind the old one.

The design for the new Seoul City Hall was selected by competition. The winning submission was by Yoo Kerl of iArc. The 13-story glass structure is popularly considered to be shaped like a giant wave, although the designer’s original intent was to express the image of the eaves of a traditional Korean Hanok house.

The old Seoul City Hall building is dwarfed by the new one.The old Seoul City Hall building is dwarfed by the new one.

An opening ceremony for the new City Hall building was held on Saturday, October 13 to welcome the local government into its new headquarters. The event, attended by Mayor Park Won-soon and foreign diplomats representing 49 countries, offered traditional Korean housewarming rituals with song and dance, as well as tours of the new building.

Now, the old building is set to open its doors, welcoming the public. To coincide with the opening, the 2012 Seoul Book Festival will be held from Friday, October 26 to Sunday, October 28 in the newly reopened building and Seoul Plaza out front. The festival, now on its fifth year, will offer chances for visitors to meet with authors, discussions, live musical performances and puppet shows, and a storybook reading by Mayor Park on the final day of the festival.

The historic building has seen a lot of history in the making, from the student protests of April 1960, to the massive gatherings of Korea’s official football supporters the Red Devils during the World Cup 2002, and even more recently a free concert by Psy who celebrated the success of his song “Gangnam Style” by taking off his shirt for fans. Pictures inside the new building show scenes like these that took place there.

New features designed into the old City Hall building include a book café, a luscious rooftop garden, and a walkway to the new City Hall building behind. Also, a museum above the library preserves some of the original structures of the building for visitors to see, including an old wooden pile used to support the ground beneath City Hall.

Once the library goes into operation, it will be possible for visitors to sign up for membership to check out books. The library will offer a comprehensive search system that allows users to look up books in over 320 libraries across Seoul, as well as check their status. The library will also offer a smart phone app allowing users to search for not only books but also the locations of libraries.

Seoul Metropolitan Library in the old City Hall building houses 200,000 books on seven floors.Seoul Metropolitan Library in the old City Hall building houses 200,000 books on seven floors.

The Seoul Metropolitan Library will be open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It is closed on Mondays and public holidays.

For more information about the library, please visit the homepage of Seoul Metropolitan Library (Korean, English). To learn more about the Seoul Book Festival, click here (Korean only).

By Jon Dunbar Editor

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