Emergence of a “Republic of Apartments” : Mass Housing as the South Korean Middle Class Production Factory?

Oslo, 22 March 2015
Building the Everyday Utopia Conference :
Mass Housing in North and South Korea

Valérie Gelézeau 
Associate professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales
Affiliated fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies
(Leiden, The Netherlands)

a présenté une conférence intitulée
Emergence of a “Republic of Apartments”:
Mass Housing as the South Korean Middle Class Production Factory?”


Largely unknown to city-dwellers before the 1960s, large apartment complexes (ap’at’ŭ tanji) are powerfully shaping the landscapes of contemporary South Korean cities. Some are now being memorialized by artists, planners or citizen themselves. How did apparently western-style housing blocks migrate to Korea on such a large scale? To what extend do they reflect the power relations between the global and the local in South Korean cities? What is currently at stake regarding the future of apartments in the contemporary post-industrial Korean society? Combining the perspective of cultural geography and Korean studies, and using ethnographic materials gathered on sites studied since the mid-1990s (in downtown Seoul) or new ones in the making (Songdo), the conference will address those issues regarding the significance of South Korea as a “Republic of Apartments” (ap’at’ŭ konghwaguk), where apartment complexes have been the main architectural mediation of the Korean society to its urban modernity. The conference will particularly focus on the social dimension of the mass housing production dynamics of the 1990s.

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