Window Shopping as an Architect – Understanding Shop and Street in Urban Context

The perk after attending architecture school is you can’t miss every aspect on the building. You never see the building as it used to be. You might grow critics and repeat everything that your professor said. “Oh, this building built upon modernism foundation. See how boring it is.” “This post-modernism is overrated. Can’t stand it. It’s too much.” “You know, as an architect, this is intolerable. The window has to provide good air circulation in the building!”

Yeah, during my undergraduate year, I felt like I have understood architecture to its fullest. But yet, after doing internship and see how actually design process really works in the professional world, I changed my perception. Now I see architecture not as a stand alone aspect, it is part of a built environment. Moreover, it is part of the whole ecosystems. Which means, compromise and imperfection does happen.


Architecture as a respond

If we talk about shops, there are so much kind of shops – or we say it as typologies. These typologies usually appear as a respond to its surrounding, and one or two typologies might become dominant as the result. In South East Asia for instance, shophouses were the major typology of shops, particularly during colonial periods. We could understand from a brief history how Chinese people started their life by establishing trade in foreign country. Due to limited financial and land resources, they build their home and shops in one place – thus become a shophouse. Considering how easy it could be to manage shops if you live right at your shops, then shophouse sounds logical. Well of course this can’t explain the whole story, you have to look for comprehensive literature to understand the phenomenon in deep.

But anyway, we got the point: architecture typology responds to its surroundings and circumstances. Next step I’m going to discuss my observation in Seoul, where I’m living now, to see how shops in here respond to their environment. Let me warn you, this is not an academic paper. This is just a blog – a diary to be exact – to summarize a glance of my field research in this city.

The Shops in Seoul

Urban structure in Seoul is considered by Andrew Stokols as “offers high connectivity” and “offering alternative routes as well as pedestrian ways”, thus make it walkable and pedestrian friendly. As of my experience, walking around in Seoul provides much convenient – with some conditions on Summer and when it’s the peak of Winter. Spacious pedestrian way and quality of cityscape might help to encourage people walking around and using public transportation.

Good street design means good business. In this recent years, people have shifted from automobiles oriented into people oriented city. This is even one of key principles described in “Urban Street Design Guide” book: Great Streets are Great for Businesses. It’s not exaggerating. In vibrant street, there will be more passerby, people recognize your business, and some people might make it viral “Let’s try that new shop. It seems cozy!”

Streets in Seoul are vibrant. Therefore, many businesses start growing just around the corner. Especially in campus area and nearby, there are many cafes and shops compete with each other. But then, how we could accommodate them in these limited spaces?

Stack it up


This is actually a bit interesting. This is might be appear on other cities and countries, but let me discuss my observation in Seoul. Limited space means you have to make it efficient. Growing up vertical and lot sharing are the answer to this issues.

In this picture you could see how the building is divided into three levels (or floors, which I frequently use). In each floor, it is usually occupied by different shop. Generally, the space is divided into two: 1) vertical access 2) the space where activities happen. Practically, most often people build the basement level, but I simply sketch it as it built from the ground.

Floor divisionIt’s not stop right there. Every elements have to be utilized to ensure that shops that are not on the ground level are recognized. Are you talking about signage? Yeah, exactly. Stairs are often used to inform people about the shops or even function as advertisement board.

0220150312_183647As shop in the ground floor enjoy maximum exposure to the street, the entrance of course facing the street. But on the other floors, the shop face the landing of stairs. We could also see that vertical circulation only happen on one part of the building. Therefore, it doesn’t disturb main activities happen in the building.

03Shop and street

They are correlated, and supporting each other. As people demand livable cities, street has shifted into people oriented rather than automobile oriented. It has grown up lives on street, making it as transit space, and even building up businesses (you might want to try to google place making). How architecture is formed eventually related to its more macro built environment. Understanding how conditions apply and form the urban context as whole could help us in getting insight about the place where about 53% of us live: urban area.


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