Monday, 30 July 2012

Green Roofs in Seoul

Yesterday morning I got to Seoul. As we had a rather interesting lunch at Shinsegae, we looked out into a view like this where I noticed that most of the visible roofs were painted green…


Green roof (view from Shinsegae) (신세계)

From every high point that we went to, we also seemed to see more and more green roofs.


Small house with green roof.

When I went back, I also googled for green roofs and found this picture on flickr:

Painted green roofs in Gangnam

Painted Green roofs in Gangnam
By Kaizer Rangwala ( Seoul, October 10 2011)

Googling for it didn't turn up many relevant hits because "green roof" is also a term for a roof that has plants on top of it to help make it more energy efficient. But this green roof is not green with plants, the roofs here simply appear to have been neatly painted with green waterproof paint.

Speaking of roofs, Heewoo also brought me to see the area around which the President of South Korea resides. It was flanked by a beautiful mountain behind it.


Cheongwadae (청와대)


Better picture of the Cheongwadae with more accurate colour.
By toughkidcst (Byoung Wook - Toughkid Kim 김병욱) on May 13, 2007.

Known as the Cheongwadae, which is literally "the platform with azure-tiled roof", this building isn't known as the blue house because it is blue, but because it has a blue colored roof. Googling for blue roof turns up many more hits, and from the internet it says that the blue roofs were popular because they once denoted royalty, so today many people favor painting or tiling their roofs in the same blue colour. Another thing is the New Community Movement" in which poorer agricultural villages were provided with cement to make new roofs. Blue was encouraged as it was one of the "traditional korean colours of obang-seak".

Finally, I went back to Google Satellite and this is what the roofs look like.

Screen shot 2012-07-30 at AM 10

Location: ‪30 Mullaedong 1(il)-ga, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, South Korea‬

To be honest, the only really green one is the one that I can see from my window. The rest (many of which I cannot see from my window actually look blue to me. I don't really know why.

But after thinking about it, my new conjecture is that the blue-green distinction is another one of those things that Koreans don't distinguish between (blue-green are the same colour, there is perhaps no distinction between the blues and the brighter blue-greens shades that we might describe as "green").

Screen shot 2012-07-31 at AM 09

Chinese character for blue/green.

Like the letters k and g, or the letters l and r. For example, we went to a place called 신세계 which by right ought to be Sin-Se-Gae yet it is pronounced as Shin-se-gae. Or how the word "kimchi" sometimes sounds more like "gimchi" to me. Could the blue/green be simply a matter of how they define colours, and that this is more a phenomena of things being blue-green on top? Can any korean people or Seoul dwelling people shed some more light on this?


  1. Did you ever find an answer? I was looking at satellite imagery of Seoul and noticed the green roofs and went googling.

    1. Well........... there could be a rather quotidian and boring answer to this: I was told by a curator that green waterproof paint was the cheapest colour of waterproof paint available in Seoul (white, brown, and black would apparently be more expensive), hence its popularity in construction work. The person who told me this had his entire office floor also been painted in that same ridiculous green.

    2. See also:

  2. That's good because you know what, Debbie? According to Paul Brunton, green is a restful, soothing, cheerful, and health-giving color. Though, it would be better if they'd switch to the "real" green roof. :)

    Roslyn Petermann

    1. Yes! Its funny because when I tried to google for "green roof" the first thing that comes up is green roofs from being covered in plants, not green paint!

  3. “…green waterproof paint was the cheapest colour of waterproof paint available in Seoul…” This might be one of the reasons why green roof is popular in Korea. But it’s good that, despite being a cheap paint, it is still a waterproof paint, which I think would be enough to protect your roof from leakage. Anyway, you got an interesting topic here.

    >Brendan Gertner

  4. This has a very intriguing hanging question! So after seven months, do you learned some more answers? Whatever the reason is, a roof that can give protection against the heat of the sun and the rage of storm is what matters for most people. If the main reason is really about the cheaper price, then we can’t blame them. I will also prefer cheaper paints for my roof but I will still consider quality.

    -- Lino Kosters

  5. The most likely reason is a mix of all comments, what starts out as a cheap paint turns into the "norm". In a copy cat society of Korea, it is no longer a question of why green, but instead "that's the way we've always done it". Just like a light switch, in the US down is off, there is no reason, it's just always been done that way.