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Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project
Seoul, South Korea

Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project

Seoul, South Korea
  • infrastructure
  • ecological restoration
  • open space
  • place making
  • pedestrian
  • waterfront

The evolution of the Cheonggyecheon River in just twenty-nine months from an outmoded utilitarian highway into a multipurpose performative infrastructural piece of unprecedented size merits recognition as a seminal project in contemporary urban design. The project is a remarkable achievement that recovers the biological and social ecology of the city, and demonstrates the profound ability of design at the urban scale to provoke positive transformation effectively over large territories. The project signifies a broader sea change in Asian attitudes toward city design, from a quantitative model concerned primarily with growth to a more qualitative program that incorporates quality of life and environmental sustainability into economic development strategies. City design cannot be regarded merely as the product of an inspired designer or a skillful politician; projects at the scale of the Cheonggyecheon intervention often do not have a single designer and, in most cases, require exemplary political support and public negotiation. In the case of the Cheonggyecheon River Restoration Project, the successful completion was made possible by the presence and constant support of Mayor and President Lee Myung-bak, the work of the urban design team at the Seoul Development Institute, the coordination of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, a public participation process, and the contributions of specialists and engineers from various firms. Together these diverse players formed a brilliant and effective team, collaborating to establish formal logics and systems of synergy among disciplines and across specialized sectors. We see here the interdisciplinary role of the urban design project, facilitating critical connections between landscape and economics, engineering and planning, politics and architecture. Cheonggyecheon is an urban intervention with far-reaching significance for the city as a whole, as the project scope is far more extensive than the linear park. Environmentally, the restored waterway and plantings have not only changed the ecology along its banks but have affected the climatic conditions in the city center. Economically, the Cheonggyecheon has stimulated business activity in the surrounding area and, for the first time in Seoul's modern history, effectively linked the north and south of Seoul while reducing traffic pressure on the central business district by increasing the transportation capacity of buses and subways. The project stands as clear evidence that coordinated urban design can catalyze economic development, reinforce connection with the natural environment, and improve the quality of the urban condition for residents and visitors alike. Moreover, the project is paradigmatic of sustainable attitudes toward city design and development, integrating systemic public transportation improvements with meticulous ecological restoration to facilitate novel, authentic, and innovative urban experiences.

Project Leads

  • Seoul Metropolitan Government
  • Cheonggyecheon Restoration Headquarter


  • Seoul Metropolitan Government
  • Cheonggyecheon Restoration Headquarter
  • Cheonggyecheon Restoration Citizens Committee
  • The Cheonggyecheon Research Group
  • National Government
  • Construction Agencies


  • Construction
  • Design Development
  • Planning
  • Schematic Design


The stream was initially called Gaecheon, meaning "open stream," after it underwent its first drainage system renovation project during the Joseon Dynasty. The project involved various tasks such as clearing and strengthening the stream banks, as well as constructing bridges. These renovations occurred every 2-3 years, starting from the reign of Taejong, the third king of the Joseon Dynasty. King Yeongjo took particular interest in the refurbishment work, considering it a national project. When Korea was under Japanese rule, Gaecheon was renamed Cheonggyecheon. Despite several attempts by the Japanese forces to cover up the stream, financial difficulties prevented them from doing so successfully. After the Korean War, a large number of people migrated to Seoul and settled along the stream in makeshift houses. Unfortunately, the area became an eyesore due to the accumulation of trash, sand, waste, and deteriorating conditions. In 1958, a concrete cover was placed over the stream, and an elevated highway, measuring 5.6 km (3.5 mi) in length and 16 m (52 ft) in width, was completed in 1976. In July 2003, the mayor of Seoul, Lee Myung-bak initiated a project to remove the elevated highway and restore the stream. This was a significant endeavor as it required the removal of the highway and the revitalization of a stream that had been neglected for years and had nearly dried up. To address the water shortage, 120,000 tons of water were pumped in daily from the Han River, its tributaries, and subway station groundwater. Safety concerns arose due to the deteriorated concrete, but the restoration of Cheonggyecheon was considered crucial to reintroducing nature to the city and promoting eco-friendly urban design. The project also aimed to revive the region's lost history and culture of the past 30 years, as well as stimulate Seoul's economy. The Cheonggyecheon restoration project aimed to preserve the distinct natural environment and historical resources in Seoul's central business district (CBD) while strengthening the surrounding business area with a focus on information technology, international affairs, and digital industries. The plan sought to reintroduce a pedestrian-friendly road network that connects the stream with traditional resources such as Bukchon, Daehangno, Jungdong, Namchon, and Donhwamungil. This network system, known as the Cheonggyecheon Culture Belt (CCB), aimed to establish a cultural and environmental foundation for the city.


Ecological Restoration

Land use type

Open Space


Basin size 50.96 square km, 5.84km long

Gross floor area

50.96 square km

Community Infrastructure

  • physical mobility
  • public park





Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design



Joan BusquetsJury Chair
Eve BlauJuror
Chris ReedJuror
Marion WeissJuror
Michael ManfrediJuror

Best Public Administration Award of Venice Biennale


Venice Biennale 9th International Architecture Exhibition's theme was "Metamorph", presenting the work of over 170 architecture studios and 200 projects and models focusing the changes taking place in contemporary architecture with new types of buildings, materials and construction systems in the way of the evolution of the environment.


Kurt W. ForsterJury Chair

Sustainable Transport Award


The Sustainable Transport Award (STA) is presented annually to a city that has shown leadership and vision in the field of sustainable transportation and urban livability in the preceding year.


Sustainable Transport Award CommitteeJuror
Institute for Transportation and Development PolicyJury Chair


No records.


No records.