For the developers of the world’s sixth tallest building near Seoul, a mysteriously shrinking lake and the appearance of small sinkholes in residential neighborhoods couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time.
Plans for the super-high tower first surfaced in 1995 and it took another 15 years to get a green light after the Air Force objected to it as a risk to a nearby military airport used for VIP flights.
Now it faces new doubts as South Korea reels from the Sewol ferry sinking in April that killed hundreds of teenagers. The disaster provoked a scathing reassessment of an ethos of economic progress first, safety last that was largely unquestioned over several decades as the country rapidly industrialized.
In June and July, residents in Songpa neighborhoods surrounding the development reported the appearance of holes on at least two roads, which quickly spread on social media. One about 500 meters from the construction site measured half a meter wide and 20 centimeters deep. There were claims that construction was the cause of falling water levels in the lake the toweroverlooks, from a depth of 5 meters to 4.3 meters.
With about 70 of its 123 floors completed, the Lotte World Tower is now undergoing a review by experts and has put on hold the opening of adjacent low-rise buildings that form part of its complex.
“There were expectations that it could be a landmark and attract tourists to the Songpa district and create jobs,” said Lim Hoo-sang, member of a civic group in Songpa. “But after the Sewol accident, people think safety is a sensitive issue.”
Lee Won-woo, CEO of Lotte Moolsan, the tower’s builder, told reporters earlier this month that Lotte has pumped water into the lake to maintain the water level while a separate inspection by Korean and British experts is underway.
Another official at Lotte said the holes are far from the construction site and could be caused by other factors. Songpa district’s local government said the tower is not to be blamed for the sinkholes. But the Seoul city government said it will look at the lake’s lower level and how that affects the land in the area.
Earlier this month, the city took the unusual step of forming an advisory team of lawyers, engineers, architects, environmentalists and university professors to submit their opinions about the construction site. Last week, Seoul denied Lotte approval to open a low-rise shopping mall that is part of the development and said the company needs to resolve traffic problems and improve safety at the construction site as well as disaster prevention plans.
Lotte Group, a conglomerate with businesses spanning retail, hotels, food and chemicals, plans to fill the $3.5 billion complex including the continued…