I’ve been curious to visit the new Seoul City Hall building since I first saw it. Its striking wave-like glass design makes you wonder what kind of modernities you might find inside. Here’s a picture from a previous post in case you’ve forgotten:
Little did I know, you actually can go on a self-guided tour of new (and old) City Hall — they make it easy by providing small booklets that guide you step-by-step through the various things to see. I was just looking for a place to grab a drink and do some work, so that was a pleasant surprise.
A bit of background before I take you on part of the tour. The new City Hall opened not that long ago in 2012. It has 13 floors above ground and five floors underground, and is designed to be eco-friendly, of course.The former City Hall, which sits in front of it, was turned into the Seoul Metropolitan Library.
The tour starts as soon as you walk in from Seoul Plaza, on the main floor. It’s hard to miss the world’s largest vertical garden and the giant balloon art installation hanging from the ceiling. According to the tour booklet, ivy, scindapsus and 12 other plant species grow free in the 1,516-square-meter indoor vertical garden. It really is a beautiful lobby with the sunlight pouring in.
From there, you take a quick ride up an elevator designated for tourists/visitors (there’s no way you’re getting near official-business elevators, lol) up to the 8th and 9th floors. There’s a small art gallery on the 8th floor, which is currently exhibiting “Transfiguring of the Space.” The Sky Plaza on the 9th floor offers a Happy + Shop cafe, which lets Koreans with physical challenges become baristas, and plenty of seating for those who want to relax, enjoy some good views, read or get some work done.
Take the elevator back down to the lobby, and you’ll find a spiral staircase heading down. Dum dee dum…. The first basement floor of the new City Hall is what’s dubbed “Citizens Hall.” It’s designed to be a place “of the citizens, for the citizens, and by the citizens,” featuring multiple open spaces to be used as concert venues, work meetings, lectures, pretty much any kind of gathering, or just for lounging — in fact, I think everyone I saw down there was just lounging and/or sleeping, haha. There’s also a fair trade cafe and shop, a couple other shops with souvenirs and hand-made crafts, an art exhibition space, a bookshop, a wedding hall, and the Gungisi Relics Exhibition Hall, where you can see the relics of old weaponry used during the Joseon Dynasty and walk through the excavation site where they were found during the construction of new City Hall. The site was once a military weapons depot.
From Citizens Hall, you can take an elevator up into the Seoul Metropolitan Library (former City Hall). Built in 1929, it was first used as City Hall during the Japanese colonial period and then rededicated as Seoul City Hall in 1946. It is the first library the Seoul Metropolitan Government has ever run by itself. If you take the elevator up to the 5th floor, you can work your way down (taking the stairs) floor by floor through the library.
Here’s a quick rundown. The 5th floor features another relics exhibition hall (showing old windows and structural relics), a bakery & cafe, and access to the Sky Yard Haneul Tteul, an outdoor, rooftop garden with great views of the area. (It’s only open March to November, unfortunately.) The 4th floor houses the global collections — books, magazines and newspapers donated by foreign embassies and cultural institutions. I didn’t know embassies did that, but it’s cool.
On the 3rd floor, you can check out the Seoul Archival Services, as well as the former policy planning & situation room, the reception room where the former mayor received guests from abroad, and the former mayor’s office. Lots of information and old documents laid out tracking Seoul’s history and progress. I enjoyed seeing photos and reading and learning about events such as the Seongsu Bridge collapse in 1994 and the catastrophic Sampoong Department Store incident in Gangnam in 1995. They also currently have an installation in memory of the victims of the Sewolho Ferry Disaster exhibiting on that floor.
The 1st and 2nd floors of the library house the general collections with more than 70,000 books. As well as a very functional bookcase/staircase that doubles as reading space.
I wish I knew how to read hangul so I could enjoy more of the books there! But I might go back to spend some quality time in the global collections room. I really was pleasantly surprised to find so many open spaces and great spots to read, work or relax throughout both new and old City Hall. Enjoy more pics below.