Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project

Seoul, South Korea

Design process


The Japanese colonial administration first began dredging Cheonggyecheon stream in 1918, aiming to cover it over – it was seen as a sanitation and flood risk. World War II and the Korean War halted all conversion and maintenance work. Refugee and returning populations then established squatter communities along the stream’s banks.

The stream was fully covered between 1958 and 1961, and a four-lane overpass was built in 1971. However, the areas next to the overpass housed a dense warren of over 100,000 small businesses. The overpass had a serious impact on their competitiveness. By the end of the 20th century, buildings were disintegrating, the area was polluted, there was little green space and the overpass was aging. Revitalisation measures were needed.

South Korean president Lee Myung Bak included the restoration of the stream in his successful bid for the mayoralty of Seoul in 2001, and it became a priority for his administration.

Project management

The Seoul Metropolitan Government established the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Centre to act as a focus for research, development planning and activity. This was supported by the Seoul Development Institute. The Cheonggyecheon Restoration Citizens’ Committee of professional and citizen groups took responsibility for gauging public opinion. It communicated the project’s goals and organised public information sessions.
Public consultation

Consensus building was very important for the project teams, as there was opposition to the scheme from many quarters.

Businesses saw the project as either an interruption or threat to their livelihoods. The Citizens’ Committee surveyed the markets in detail, carried out interviews with those likely to be affected, and held regular consultation meetings. To minimise inconvenience and stimulate business activity, the Seoul Metropolitan Authority:

  • provided extra parking
  • reduced parking fees
  • improved the loading and unloading systems
  • promoted Cheonggyecheon businesses
  • provided support, subsidies and grants for business restructuring
  • struck special arrangements with vendors likely to be displaced.

Environmental concerns

There were citywide concerns that removing the overpass, which had carried up to 170,000 vehicles daily, would create congestion. Traffic flow was reassessed and modified, a campaign to discourage car use in the city centre was begun, and public transport was improved with extra buses and bus-only lanes.

Ecological considerations in the design process were matched by an emphasis on minimising pollution and disturbance during the dismantling of the overpass. Particular attention was also paid to reducing sewage, drainage and flooding problems.