Going green generally happens one building at a time. The planners of South Korea’s Songdo International Business District, however, have a larger scale in mind. The ambitious project, sited less than 40 miles (64 km) from Seoul on the coast of Incheon, will stand as an example of a new trend toward fully sustainable urban developments.


When completed, one of the most important buildings in Songdo IBD will be the Gale International/U-Life Northeast Asia Headquarters Building designed by the New York office of St. Louis-based HOK. The building is expected to earn a LEED Platinum rating from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council, the first such designation in South Korea.



Songdo IBD is being developed on 1,500 acres (607 hectares) of reclaimed land in a partnership between New York-based Gale International and Pohang, South Korea-based POSCO E&C. It will comprise 45 million square feet (4180637 m2) of office space, 35 million square feet (4.2 million m2) of residential space and 10 million square feet (929000 m2) of retail space.

In addition to recreational, governmental, academic and medical facilities, Songdo IBD will feature a Jack Nicklaus Golf Club and 100-acre (41-hectare) central park. The district will be linked directly to Incheon International Airport by a 7.4-mile (12-km) highway bridge. When completed in 2014, it is estimated that 65,000 people will reside in Songdo IBD and more than 300,000 will work there.


Working in accordance with a master plan created by New York-based Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, HOK is the design architect for more than 4.5 million square feet (418050 m2) in Songdo IBD spread across 10 residential towers, the Convention Center Hotel along the district’s central park and the Gale International/U-Life building. The residential towers are intended to serve as a gateway to the city’s northern residential neighborhood while providing mixed-use and live/work arrangements, as well as direct views of the park. On the park’s south side, the 25-story hotel is expected to become LEED Certified.

Recently, USGBC named Songdo IBD a “green urbanism” pilot project under its new LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system. LEED-ND is designed to foster holistic thinking about how to create neighborhoods and communities that protect the environment and public health, emphasizing density, proximity to transit, mixed-housing types and pedestrianfriendly design. As a master-planned community, Songdo IBD provides a rare opportunity to demonstrate green building on a grand scale; most, if not all, buildings in the district are expected to pursue at least a LEED Certified rating.

As part of this effort, the 57,000-square-foot (5295 m2) Gale International/U-Life building will feature an array of sustainable technologies, including photovoltaic panels, a graywater recovery system, rooftop wind turbine and solarelectric car charging stations. Furthermore, the building will have the fully integrated capacity to monitor system and equipment performance on an ongoing basis.

“It will be the command-and-control center and marketing headquarters for all of Songdo,” says Kenneth Drucker, AIA, LEED AP, senior principal and design director with HOK. “It becomes a showcase for the sustainability enterprise.”


Because the building will play such an important role in promoting Songdo IBD and its sustainable infrastructure, it will feature an extensive public exhibit area that will highlight and interpret the building’s green aspects. Here, visitors will be able to view regularly updated monitors that will measure and track energy and water use, equipment performance, the building’s carbon footprint, and even the extent to which roof- and ground-level vegetation is supporting insect and bird populations.


In addition to the physical components— extensive control points and meters will collect data about energy use and generation, wind power, solar electricity and other aspects of the building—the building will employ state-of-the-art software to process the data and reshape it for public view in the exhibit area. New York-based Ralph Applebaum Associates has been retained to help craft this story and design understandable, user-friendly displays.

“Ralph Applebaum Associates is very good at designing displays that are tangible, real and compelling,” says John Seitz, AIA, LEED AP, director of sustainable design at HOK’s New York office. “A building engineer is going to understand equipment set points, but Songdo IBD residents are probably going to be more interested in the percent of renewable energy used or conserved. Our displays have to reflect that.”



Efficient energy use and generation are critical components to the Gale International/U-Life building. PV panels will be incorporated into curtainwall louvers and canopies. A narrow floor plate and atrium have been crafted to maximize sunlight to nearly all the workstations throughout the day. “It’s a five-sided, clear-glass building and we designed it based on solar orientation,” Drucker explains. “It also employs daylight harvesting and has an oculus at the top of the building for sociological reasons and to celebrate the sun’s movement throughout the day.”

With three types of energy produced on-site between the solar panels, wind turbine and 400-kilowatt fuel cell, the building is going to be generating more power than it will need. “While there was a strong desire to maximize renewable energy production and minimize energy use, this will not be a zero-energy building,” Seitz says, adding that a zero-energy building can mean different things to different parties. Although the building will be generating an energy surplus, it will be importing natural gas to generate the majority of this energy, and fuel cells burn natural gas, creating electricity, hot water and carbon dioxide.

To be a true zero-energy building, Seitz says, there must be no net inflow of energy. “Generating our energy on-site, however, significantly reduces primary energy usage, and the savings in eliminating generating and transmission losses reduces our carbon footprint by more than 50 percent.”

Rain gardens, native landscaping and natural ventilation also are part of the design. The car-charging stations are a direct response to South Korea’s ongoing fascination with the automobile. “South Korea is still a car-oriented culture so we’re trying to promote mass transit,” Drucker says. “But given the region’s large roads, we’re trying to demonstrate sustainable driving options, as well.”

The Gale International/U-Life complex is slated to open in summer 2009. “This headquarters building is a little jewel sitting in the landscape compared to the larger projects,” Drucker says. “The fact that it’s Gale International’s headquarters is very special to us. We’re designing a building that’s expressive of Gale International’s commitment to sustainable technology, so it’s going to be very modern and very cutting edge.”



[OWNERS] POSCO E&C, Pohang, South Korea, www.poscoenc.com/english, and Gale International, New York, www.galeintl.com

[DESIGN ARCHITECT] HOK, New York, www.hok.com
[ASSOCIATE ARCHITECT] Baum Architects, Seoul, South Korea, www.baum.co.kr


[DISTRICT MASTER PLANNER] Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, New York, www.kpf.com

[BUILDING OPERATION DISPLAYS] Ralph Applebaum Associates, New York, www.raany.com