The ChonGae Canal was once a naturally formed stream that flowed through the heart of Seoul, South Korea. It served a key role in the city’s pre-industrial development, providing residents with clean drinking water, crop irrigation, and a means of transportation.
Photo 1 of 8
As Seoul’s population swelled toward 10 million, the stream became a dumping ground for industrial waste and raw sewage. In the 1920’s and 30’s, the degraded and contaminated stream was entombed in a massive network of culverts and concrete pipes in an attempt to mask sanitation and flooding problems. In the mid 1960’s, an elevated highway was built over top of the ChonGae, further obscuring its presence and dividing the city.
Photo 2 of 8
In 2003, the city launched a campaign to uncover and restore seven miles of the polluted ChonGae waterway (shown in yellow), aligning the canal with the city’s new vision of sustainability. The project involved removing nearly four miles of elevated highways. The ChonGae Canal Point Source Park (shown in orange), marks the starting point of the stream restoration in city’s central business district.
Photo 3 of 8
A new park, “Sunken Stone Garden,” was built at the water’s edge in the heart of downtown, creating a vibrant public space that reunites adjacent neighborhoods and reconnects the people of Seoul to this historic waterway.
Photo 4 of 8
The innovative design addresses water quality concerns by filtering stormwater runoff through state-of-the-art retention and purification systems before it enters the waterway. Sewage is diverted into a separate purification and storage facility. Now, the water is so clean that people are encouraged to reach out and touch it.
Photo 5 of 8
During the monsoon season, the ChonGae used to overflow its banks and cause massive flood damage to buildings and infrastructure. The new design, which includes high levee walls along the sides of the canal, can accommodate a 100-year storm.
Photo 6 of 8
Beyond its functional purpose, the new design educates visitors about seasonal and daily changes in water volume. This diagram shows how placing stones at incremental elevations can allow visitors to track the water level. The artful and ever-changing appearance of this landscape makes this an engaging public space.
Photo 7 of 8
The ChonGae Canal attracts visitors at all times of the day. The site hosts numerous events through the year including New Year’s festivals, political rallies, fashion shows, and rock concerts. By attracting people from all over the city, the park has helped revitalize neighborhoods and spur business development on both sides of the river.
Photo 8 of 8