It’s one of those places that are hard to notice until you’ve seen that it’s there. And once you’ve seen it, it’s all you can look at whenever you walk by. Culture Station Seoul 284 sits right next to the tracks next to the huge mall and Train hub that is Seoul Station located at the epicenter of subway Line 1 and Line 4. I read about it while on a flight back from Germany a year back. The article was snuggled in between an article about home stays in Buddhist temples and trips to secluded waterfalls and something about roof tiles.
Originally built in the 1920’s, it served as the Seoul train station before the advent of subways, personal transportation and even before Korea gained its independence. Designed by Japanese architect Tsukamoto Yasushi, it was lauded even during its time for design and Byzantine architectural aspects. What makes it such an interesting place to visit is that it was designated as a Historic Site (hence, 284) in 1981. The design and cultural importance makes it an obvious choice but it is one of the few holdovers from Japanese colonialism that still exists in Korea.
The station, being built in the 1920’s, was built with waiting rooms, a barbershop, wiring room, booking office, third class waiting room and multiple VIP lounges. Walking through the station is like walking through the Asian equivalent of the Titanic.
The station has only been open since 2011 when reconstruction was completed after the old station was finally closed down. The renovations cleared out spaces on the first floor to serve as exhibition space for artists, sculptors, and (on the day that I visited) architects. The wings were each taken and modified for the artists that they were showcasing in a manner befitting most museums and exhibitions.
My visit coincided with the exhibition of Korean architects which had taken over the first floor along with a few installation pieces. While the installation pieces were interesting, the architecture work was absolutely amazing. Most were wood carvings and models of buildings along with actual photos of the real deals. Some of the really interesting pieces were concepts that were never realized including designs for entire regions and cities that existed only in the minds of the architects.
The second floor was similar but the hallways and some of the rooms have been remodeled to show the style that the station had originally been modeled to be. One of the rooms on the second floor in particular has been left nearly deconstructed with barren walls and samples of the original architecture. The second floor had surprises of its own. Most interesting was a pair of graphite drawings made on the walls of a hallway immediate to the stairways giving access to the second floor.
It’s a somewhat startling effect to be looking at modern works of art while standing in a building that is so entrenched in the past. I’d heard about the station more than a few times but I’d never been able to find it until one day when I happened to wander about the area. It may have taken days to find the place, but it took hours to finally get myself out. The transitions from room to room can be a bit jarring from the present to the past and then back again but the overall experience was more than enough to warrant another visit.
I’d suggest this place to anyone who has an interest in history. The architecture itself sets this place off from most of the places you’ll find in Korea and the history is interesting in its own way. The exhibitions are always changing (with the exception of those specific to the site itself) and it doesn’t cost much for entry. So if you ever find yourself with a free weekend or maybe an hour to kill before you catch that next train, take a few minutes to wander around here. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.