Unit 1

Walking, Observing, Designing the Chronotypes of Seoul

Catherine Ahn + Fabrizio Furiassi

Conceptual Map of Seoul, Hanyangdo, 1760, showing experiential survey methods prior to the introduction of geolocation survey techniques. Seoul Museum of History.
Psychogeography, Walking as a Critical Practice. Left: Stalker “Laboratorio di Arte Urbana.” / Right:Guy Debord, “Naked City.”

Seoul is both dizzyingly fast and contemplatively slow. As a 24-hour city running on night shopping, jjimjilbang, pochas, noraebang, PCbang, and night taxis to stay afloat once the sun sets, and one that has industrialized and urbanized at lightning speed after the Korean War, bbali bbali (quickly quickly) has been on Seoulites minds and lips for decades. This “uber-fast” temporality of Seoul impacts its built environment too, with building interiors and signage changing as soon as they’ve been constructed, and new towers forming both upward and downward simultaneously.

And yet moments of slowness exist and, according to CNN’s 2022 documentary show Nomad, slowness and time in nature are increasingly sought after among young Seoulites. The various mung (emptying your mind while staring at something) trends are only one example of why such slowness might be in dire need. Fragments of the Chosun era, like palaces and city walls, provide momentary relief, arresting busy Seoulites and transporting them into a slower way of life from centuries ago. Han River and the four mountains surrounding the old city also play an important role, offering scenic paths for meditative walks, and a variety of geographic conditions for built and natural environments to interact.

This dual condition of extremely fast- and slow-paces in Seoul makes it a rich territory to investigate the relationship between Seoulites’ culture and conception of time and speed, what we call the city’s chronotype, and its built environments. Cultural ideas and expectations around time (its “temporal algorithm”) repeat themselves countlessly over each day and become immensely influential in how the built environment manifests over time. Though often felt, this dimension of time and speed is difficult to articulate architecturally. Borrowing the urban activist group Stalker’s method of “transurbance” (critical and immersive exploration of the city through walking), we seek to uncover Seoul’s aesthetic-experiential-temporal dimensions and discover its interstitial and marginalized spaces among its vibrant and unruly urban fabric. Through video documentation and analytical drawing techniques, we will visualize the way time—and human life within it—imprints itself into space, and turn these revelations into productive tools for design.

Tools & Method
The unit aims to provide students with qualitative tools for exploratory analysis, representation, and design to identify and document architectural and urban phenomena as well as interpret and narrativize them into project-based interventions. The unit will consist of 1-2 days of intensive seminar and tutorials (reading and discussion), 3-4 days of field research and interpretation (video documentation, photography, and editing), and 3-4 days for the preparation of the final product and presentation (texts, drawings, and presentation).

Before launching into research and design work, the class will be exposed to a variety of documentary projects and theoretical frameworks. These materials will be discussed collectively and will serve as references for the students in the definition of their design work. Discussions about the students’ objectives and works-in-progress will be conducted in a supportive workshop environment that will hone each student’s research agenda and approach to “K-Beats.”

As for field research, students will be asked to use iPhone/Android videography and photography to document a selected “slow” or “fast” site(s), such as the Dongdaemum night shopping district or Changdeokgung Biwon. Students will be given short tutorials on video editing (Adobe Premier, Final Cut, or iMovie), investigative research, drawing techniques, storytelling, and presentation/ public speaking.

Expected Outcome
Projects will explore critical thinking through a combination of direct observations and design proposals. Students’ observations will hinge on the recording of videos and montages, providing visual information that is hard to put into words. Videos will be instrumental in the development of arguments that will serve as open narratives for the final design projects. Projects will be focused on architectural and urban proposals through the production and sequencing of architectural drawings, diagrams, and 3d images to be gathered and delivered in the form of architectural/graphic novels and videos. The course provides a foundation for students willing to engage with higher levels of critical study, as well as research-based design and multimedia practices.

Investigation of Seoul’s Chronotypes through an Immersive Exploration of the Fast-paced 24-hour City and the Slower Old Urban Fabric


Catherine Ahn

Distributed Architecture
/ Andrew Franz Architect

Fabrizio Furiassi

Distributed Architecture
/ Parsons School of Design
/ University of Basel