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South Korea – The Best of Engineering and Architecture

A small portion of downtown Seoul viewed from the south side of the Han River.
A small portion of downtown Seoul viewed from the south side of the Han River.

When you hear “South Korea”, what do you think of? The stand-off with North Korea over the DMZ? Or, perhaps,

One of the eleven bullet trains serving the country. Cruising speed is 190 MPH!
One of the eleven bullet trains serving the country. Cruising speed is 190 MPH!

“an insignificant Asian country in a far corner of the world?”

I think those would have been my honest thoughts if you asked me two weeks ago.

After a one week whirl wind tour of the country I have a decidedly different perspective.

While one week is hardly enough time to develop any real sense of a country, my impression was that it’s a very progressive and prosperous society.

It is a country with thousands of skyscrapers and new architectural wonders around every corner. There is an advanced infrastructure of 190 mile per hour bullet trains, subways, mega-freeways and massive shipping terminals. All of which run with perfect precision. Technology is not something they debate over, but integrate into everyday life.

Matt Torre and I were invited on a tour by LG, the manufacturer of Variable Refrigerant Flow air conditioning units (VRF). VRF systems (also referred to as VRV) have become very popular over the last few years and we are employing them in many different types of buildings. The systems are compact, extremely energy efficient and reliable.

LG is the same company that manufactures TV’s, refrigerators, cell phones and a plethora of other systems and equipment. Our trip included factory tours and side trips to see installed systems in various applications. However, most of the trip was spent touring the country and learning about Korea in general.

Busan, on the south eastern shore. Skyscrapers are architectural wonders.
Busan, on the south eastern shore. Skyscrapers are architectural wonders.

When it comes to mechanical system engineering Koreans take a very practical view. Air conditioning condensers are frequently mounted on the exterior of new buildings. Fan coils units are mounted in the ceilings of the fanciest hotels and residences. These design solutions save energy and reduce installation and maintenance costs. Aesthetic concerns apparently take second place to functional concerns in many installations.

 Engineering in Korea is less about complying with some state mandated building code and more about using technology and design in a functional, energy efficient and cost effective manner. Engineering takes a high priority in Korea and is evidenced by a progressive, efficient and creative approach to building and infrastructure design.

Perhaps the most important thing we could learn from South Korea is how to respect one another. The cultural etiquette of formal greeting and bowing means taking just a moment to show respect for each person you meet. It’s a good feeling.

“Annyeonghaseyo, Korea”. Matt and I will never forget this amazing trip and these amazing people.

 Some additional images from out trip. Click on any image for slideshow.

About the Author
Gary Welch is a principal of 15000 Inc. with over 40 years experience in the field of HVAC, plumbing and fire protection design. He can be reached at gary@15000inc.com.