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Trends For Mega Cities Like Seoul

September 3, 2008
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a typical mega city: vast, pulsating, noisy and full of exhaust fumes. Researchers are developing new building concepts and IT solutions that will save energy, cut pollution and make living in the city a more pleasant experience.

Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a typical mega city: vast, pulsating, noisy and full of exhaust fumes.
Credit: iStockphoto/Min-Gyu Seong

Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a typical mega city: vast, pulsating, noisy and full of exhaust fumes. This is the setting in which Fraunhofer researchers are developing new building concepts and IT solutions that will save energy, cut pollution and make living in the city a more pleasant experience.

A Fraunhofer Representative Office will shortly be opened in Seoul to coordinate these projects.

Housing as far as the eye can see – Seoul is one of the world’s mega cities. South Korea’s capital city has undergone exponential growth over the past few decades: Its population has quadrupled in fifty years. Ten million people live within the city boundaries today. If the count is extended to cover the metropolitan region surrounding the city, it comes to over 20 million. The population growth has had a dramatic impact on the environment, bringing about a huge increase in traffic noise and air pollution.

Mayor Oh Se-hoon is no longer willing to stand by and watch this happen. If things go as he would like them to, Seoul will soon be a green city with clean air – a role model for other mega cities that are contending with similar problems. The city is investing in innovative technologies and building projects, and it is supported in its ambition by Fraunhofer, one of Europe’s largest research and development institutions. On September 3, a Fraunhofer Representative Office will be opened in Seoul to coordinate projects between the Fraunhofer Institutes and their Korean partners. One of its core activities will be to develop technological concepts that make life in tomorrow’s mega cities easier, kinder and more pleasent to the environment.

Trend 1: Using renewable energy sources

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Freiburg are now developing an energy-efficient demonstration building on behalf of the city of Seoul. It will be designed to incorporate all the principles of modern energy-saving technology, and will be heated and cooled using sustainable energy sources.

“The building will show the population what kind of potential there is for using renewable energy. We are planning to build seminar rooms, research facilities and private dwellings that will demonstrate the technical possibilities for gaining energy from sustainable sources, but also for saving energy,” explains Professor Volker Wittwer, deputy director of the ISE. “We want to demonstrate that the zero-energy house is feasible, averaged out over the year, and that it is pleasant to live in: It will be equipped with the latest building technologies and integrated in the usual national power supply networks.” Construction work on the new building is to begin next year – in time for the annual convention of the mega city working group in Seoul. “Our goal is to produce an exemplary building that will provide an incentive for industry to invest in low-energy technology,” adds the researcher.

In the “zero-energy house” project, his team is contributing their know-how on the utilization of alternative energy sources such as sunlight, geothermal heat, or wind.

Trend 2: Energy efficiency and comfortableness

The quality of living can be improved even in existing buildings. In the spring of 2008, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP in Holzkirchen signed a cooperation agreement with Samsung Engineering & Construction, one of the largest construction companies in Korea. “We are aiming to increase the comfort and energy efficiency of residential buildings,” reports IBP-reseacher Dr. Andreas Holm.

Over half the population of Korea today live in high-rise apartment blocks that were built in the last few decades. By German standards, these buildings are poorly insulated. The residents require a great deal of energy to heat or cool the rooms. Overheating in summer and the growth of fungus are also a problem.

The causes are now being systematically examined. By the end of this year, the researchers from Holzkirchen will have equipped 24 apartments in Seoul with sensors that monitor temperature and humidity 24 hours a day. With the aid of these readings, the experts can simulate the indoor climate and make recommendations on how to increase energy efficiency and comfort. “Our goal is to cut the loss of energy even further by using better-insulated windows and facades, at the same time creating a pleasant indoor climate for the residents without unnecessarily pushing up the costs. We are keeping the mass market in mind,” sums up institute director Professor Klaus Sedlbauer.

Trend 3: Acoustics

One highly critical research topic in Seoul is soundproofing. The traffic in the streets of the capital city produces an incessant background of noise, and the high-rise blocks are not well soundproofed. New laws are now to give the citizens more peace and quiet. A new regulation on reducing impact noise – which is incidentally far more stringent than the regulations applicable in Germany – has been in force since 2006. The acoustics experts from the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP in Stuttgart are now cooperating with Korean engineers to devise innovative, soundproof building materials. “We have developed a novel composite-based insulation system that meets the Korean requirements and opens up new prospects of high-quality soundproofing in Germany,” reports Dr. Philip Leistner, head of the acoustics department. “But when it comes to buildings, the interests of large Korean enterprises such as LG Chemicals and Samsung actually go a lot further than that. What they want to achieve are holistic, sustainable concepts for residential and working areas in buildings. This is one of the big issues for the future at Fraunhofer as well. And it applies not only to Korea and Germany, but all over the world.”

Trend 4: Citizen-friendly administration

Services for citizens is another area in which the city of Seoul plans to employ state-of-the-art technology in future. The objective is to make dealings with public authorities simpler, more convenient and less complex. “The National Information Agency NIA is developing special IT services for the government which will not only provide information and reproduce application procedures online, but will also directly involve the citizens themselves and accept their inquiries and reports,” explains Nils Barnickel of the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems FOKUS. In collaboration with Korean IT experts he is currently planning a research project in the field of telephone-based e-government services.

The two sides have signed a memorandum of understanding in which they have agreed to develop a range of services for the mega city that will be similar to the planned service hotline in Europe. In future, all European citizens will be able to obtain comprehensive information and assistance in their dealings with public authorities, including the end-to-end handling of application procedures, simply by calling 115. Seoul would like to offer this attractive service to its own 20 million citizens.

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Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. "Trends For Mega Cities Like Seoul." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 September 2008. <>.
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