Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Korean Skyscraper Overview

October 2011

This content was originally featured in the CTBUH Journal 2011 Issue IV and is also available as a PDF download (download the South Korea Country Report or the Tall Buildings in Numbers article).

As of the year 2000, there were only 9 buildings 150 meters or taller in all of South Korea. Just twelve years later, there are now 124 buildings 150+ meters in height completed, with another 13 scheduled to complete by the end of this year.

Figure 1. Analysis of population and tall buildings in South Korea. View Larger
Notes: (1) Data accurate as of September 2011; (2) Data souce: CTBUH Tall Building Database; (3) Population data: U.N. (2010), Republic of Korea (2010)

That amounts to an incredible 1500% increase in just over a decade. This dramatic increase has accelerated even further in the most recent years, with roughly 50% of the total 150m+ buildings completed in the past three years alone and seven of the country’s future ten tallest buildings currently under construction.

These impressive statistics have brought South Korea to the forefront of the tall building industry, with only four countries globally containing more completed 150m+ buildings: China (782), USA (653), Japan (154), and the UAE (131). Currently, South Korea has more 150m+ buildings under construction than the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Japan combined.

Currently, South Korea has only one completed supertall building (Northeast Asia Trade Tower) and one that has been topped out (Doosan Haeundae We’ve the Zenith Tower A), however more than four are presently under construction and 26 have been proposed, either as a project or a vision.

Figure 2. Timeline of South Korean Skyscraper Completion
Dots represent building type, completion year and height; bars represent number of buildings completed annually; the line represents the average height of the tallest ten buildings each year  View Larger

Despite being the capital city of South Korea and one of the most populous cities in the world, Seoul lacks a landmark project which represents its remarkable progress as a global city. But this is now changing as new supertall projects, such as the 556-meter (1,824-foot) tall Lotte Jamsil Super Tower currently under construction, not only embody Seoul’s status as a leading city, but also raise the national prestige of South Korea.

Most of the suitable areas in Seoul for supertall buildings, such as the Central Business Districts (CBD), are considered to be too crowded to allow for the transportation of construction materials. As a result, many supertall projects were proposed and approved in areas away from the CBD, even though these might not be the most desirable areas to justify high leases. The Seoul Light DMC Tower, 151-Incheon Tower and Dream Hub Archipelago Main Tower are good examples of this.

Because of the recent global financial crisis, but also because of some public animosity, the development of some of these projects has progressed slowly in recent years. But regardless of the financial situation of the country, some privately-funded projects, such as the Lotte Jamsil Super Tower, Busan Lotte World Tower, and Hyundai Global Business Center, have began construction or will be doing so soon.

Figure 3. Lotte Jamsil Super Tower
Figure 4. Seoul Light DMC Tower
Figure 5. 151 Incheon Tower
Figure 6. Dream Hub Archipelago
Figure 7. Busan Lotte World Tower

Within the Korean context, a number of considerations ought to be addressed during the development process of supertall buildings. When it comes to function, many of the residential buildings usually employ a straightforward design. A standard shape is preferred by most residents so it makes it easier to sell when they decide to move on. But when it comes to office buildings, creative design is an important component in the subtle competition between corporations. To distinguish between them, the trend has been that tall office towers should have a unique and rather irregular appearance. Large corporations, such as Lotte and Hyundai, seek extraordinary designs which often produce an iconic shape.

For such large-scale projects, consultation between various expert groups is critical. If we pool our knowledge and resources, detailed cost consultation becomes available, which allows builders to provide different design options to clients, rather than just giving a total budget. In order to make this possible, the role of CTBUH is extremely important. It provides the network where engineers and architects can share their thoughts and knowledge on recent supertall projects, enabling them to come up with new ideas for further development.

Figure 8. Tallest Ten: 2011  View Larger
Tallest: 305 meters Average: 258 meters
Figure 9. Tallest Ten: 2016   View Larger
Tallest: 556 meters Average: 347 meters