Where once stood an ambient alley of inexpensive eateries offering makkolli (rice brew) and savory pancakes is now yet another steel and glass highrise. Photo: Tom Coyner

American photographer Tom Coyner has resided in Seoul for over two decades. During that time, he has witnessed, and his camera has captured, its ongoing evolution. 

Seoul, with its broad Han River and its magnificent mountain backdrop, boasts one of the most geographically attractive locations of any national capital. However, it has suffered multiple physical ravages in its recent history.

Street fighting during the Korean War destroyed various parts of the city. Even more destructive was the breakneck economic development that lasted from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s.

That saw the city’s face change radically, with the demolition of the “Old Seoul” of narrow alleys and cozy, tiled-roofed homes, replaced by massive and utilitarian buildings, from blocky office buildings to battalions of faceless, identical high-rise apartments.  

The result was a depressingly unsightly, architecturally uninspiring city.

But from approximately the new millennium, a newly prosperous and increasingly sophisticated generation of Koreans has demanded better buildings.

As a result, many districts of the city have been transformed yet again. While this ongoing change has resulted in the destruction of almost, but not quite all, of the old and ambient back alleys, it has also led to an aesthetic renaissance of sorts as architects prioritize design as well as usage.

As is the case in megacities elsewhere across Asia, a key feature of modern commercial building are their vast glass facades. On clear days, such buildings serve as giant mirrors, their frontages sparkling with reflections of their neighbors.

This gallery, largely shot in and around Seoul’s epicenter, Gwanghwamun, captures the phenomenon.

A piece of cityscape, mirrored in a vast glass facade. Photo. Tom Coyner
Windows reflected in windows, ad infinitum. Photo: Tom Coyner
The futuristic tripod that is Seoul’s Millennium Tower, reflected in a facing building. Photo; Tom Coyner
A car emerges from the mirror-like facade of a typical, new-generation Seoul commercial building. Photo: Tom Coyner
Office workers exit their office building and enter a constantly evolving neighborhood reflected in their windows. Photo: Tom Coyner
A new building’s glass facade mirrors the neighborhood, east of Gwanghwamun intersection. Photo: Tom Coyner
An appropriate work of art outside the Yonhap News HQ. Photo: Tom Coyner
The HQ of corporate superpower SK reflects buildings across the boulevard. Photo: Tom Coyner
Buildings mimic each other across a downtown courtyard. Photo: Tom Coyner
Massive modern office buildings compete for space and sunlight. Photo: Tom Coyner
Angles reflected in the downtown district of Jongno. Photo: Tom Coyner
Many of Seoul’s buildings are mixed-use, including retail or food and beverage spaces on the ground floor – a break from the duller single-use buildings of the recent past. Photo: Tom Coyner
The downtown Koreana hotel provides a mirror-like architectural canvas. Photo: Tom Coyner
Buildings cross reflect near Gwanghwamun intersection, the very heart of Seoul. Photo: Tom Coyner
Another glass and steel tower reflects another glass and steel tower as it nears completion. Photo: Tom Coyner

To see a wider collection of similar images by Tom Coyner, please click here