South Korea: Planned building 'resembles 9/11 attacks'

By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Seoul

media captionThe design is criticised for its similarity to the World Trade Center's final moments after the 9/11 attacks

It is what developers are calling a "pixelated cloud" - a profusion of box-like extensions jutting out from the middle of two tower blocks, and fusing them together.

But the design, for a new apartment complex in South Korea, has sparked a furious response from critics who say it resembles the collapse of New York's World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks.

The design, by a Dutch architectural company, is part of a flagship project to develop a major new site in central Seoul.

The PR chief at the Yongsan Development Company, Seo Hee-seok, said the accusation was a shock.

"When I heard that, I was totally surprised, and bewildered," he told me.

"It felt like something out of a novel. And because this is just one of many buildings in the new development, I even wondered whether it was a conspiracy."

'Cultural differences'

The symbolism and spiritual impact of buildings is important in South Korea.

Feng shui experts are often consulted on the best possible position of a new construction, and just a few years ago, the vast front gate to Seoul's main Gyeongbok palace was moved and rotated, to erase changes made by Korea's former Japanese colonial rulers.

image captionThere is little opposition to the plan on the streets of Seoul

Mr Seo says this latest dispute is not a matter of insensitivity but of different cultural perceptions.

"If I'd been living in New York at that time, and been part of that experience," he says, "I might agree it looked like it. But to me, at the moment, it doesn't resemble the World Trade Centre attacks at all."

On the streets of Seoul, though, some people do make the connection.

"Even if it does remind people of 9/11, there's no law saying it can't be built," one man told me. "It might even remind people of the tragedy that happened back then."

"I know there's been some criticism of this," another commuter said, "because it looks like the 9/11 attacks, but in my view it's a piece of architecture and I don't think there's a problem with it - I think it's a fantastic design."

The development company say they were offered two versions of the design. The chaotic pixelated style was chosen because it was seen as "trendy".

A second version, with a smooth, undulating bridge snaking round the two buildings was dismissed as "too old-fashioned".

The design will not be finalised until next year, with construction due to begin in 2013.

But as of now, the company says there has been no decision to alter their plans to appease the critics.

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