Seoul, as any listener who has visited will recognize, can be a pretty overwhelming place. This is well recognized by Ross King, Professorial Fellow...

Seoul, as any listener who has visited will recognize, can be a pretty overwhelming place. This is well recognized by Ross King, Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne, who notes that cities like this “are experienced as disaggregated places, always already fragmented, bits, moments, feelings, memories” (p. 131). But in his richly illustrated and luxuriously produced book Seoul: Memory, Reinvention and the Korean Wave (University of Hawaii Press, 2018), Professor King does an expert job of ‘reading’ (p. 15) this megalopolis with deftness and elegance, interpreting the multiplicity of faces which it presents to visitor and local alike.

Drawing not only on observations of architecture and urban form, his own areas of expertise, King also offers insights from historiography, literature, film, religion, television and popular culture as they relate to the city. Bringing these into dialogue, he builds up a sophisticated picture of the myriad influences and symbolisms at play in Seoul’s urban landscape, and shows how they are layered, juxtaposed and entangled. Reading Seoul, we thus come to apprehend the city in its Korean, its Asian, and its global contexts. Equally importantly, we also learn how to see it as a crucible of overlapping and contending histories, and of successive developmental modernist projects, most recently those tied the ‘Korean Wave’. Anyone interested in Asian modernization at large, urban planning, and more generally in how national and urban transformations fit into wider social and cultural contexts will find a great deal to engage with here.

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