Understand Avenue, a new eye-catching shipping container complex, is attracting locals and tourists alike to Seongdong in eastern Seoul. Reminiscent of Konkuk University’s Common Ground, South Korea’s first and the world’s largest shipping container shopping mall Understand Avenue is made of 116 recycled containers and has more than just shops and restaurants. The complex serves as a creative public cultural space that aims to support teenagers, mothers, artists, local vendors and social entrepreneurs.
Located between Seoul Forest station and Seoul Forest, the complex was completed last April with the help of $8.7 million in donations from Lotte Duty Free, ARCON and the Seongdong-gu Office.
Chef pinafores are for sale at a Social Stand shop. (Kai Potter/The Korea Herald)
The Walkshop showcases products from local and small brands. (Kai Potter/ The Korea Herald)
“As well as the local community, it caters to outsiders, and brings them to Seongdong District, and informs them of what it’s like here. It also upgrades the community by contributing to its culture,” one local shop worker said.
The complex houses many restaurants, shops and rooftop spaces. There is also an outside stage for cultural performances, and members of the local community organize special events and workshops every month. Yet the main attractions of the space are the seven different “stands” that serve various communities.
For example, the Mom Stand provides on-site training and job opportunities for single mothers and other women experiencing career interruptions. It is a food and beverage service space that encourages the use of environmentally friendly ingredients and healthy food.
The Youth Stand also provides employment support for young people and the Power Stand is a hub space for young entrepreneurship and social enterprise. The Social Stand is a fair trade eco-friendly creative social enterprise that promotes meaningful consumption and provides space for artists to create and sell their own products.
According to an artist at the social stand, “This district didn’t have a lot of cultural events or establishments before, and people just came for Seoul Forest. Now people stop at the complex and spend more time in the area. Understand Avenue is important to me as I have my own space to practice my craft and interact with other artists and people in the area.”
Jang Seon-wook, a representative of Lotte Duty Free, said, “The Understand Avenue project was included in a (University of) Oxford case study, and was evaluated as a successful example of domestic public-private partnership projects attracting international attention.”
Understand Avenue is a new, comprehensive community space that is reviving the Seongdong district. Although the complex is bringing tourists to the area and acting as an economic booster, education and experience for the local community are at the core of Understand Avenue’s mission.
“When I first heard of Understand Avenue I was excited to see what kind of restaurants and shops would be there, and I didn’t know what to expect of the community program, but I have seen a positive impact on the local community, and I think it has the potential to develop further and impact more people in the future,” a local resident commented.
By Kai Potter