Shrinking lake, sinkholes threaten 123-storey tower being built in Seoul

Experts review 123-floor structure, which will be world's sixth tallest

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 10:13pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 12:11am


For the developers of the world's sixth tallest building in Seoul, a mysteriously shrinking lake and the appearance of small sinkholes in residential neighbourhoods couldn't have come at a more inopportune time.

Plans for the 555-metre tower first surfaced in 1995 and it took another 15 years to gain approval, after the air force objected to it as a risk to a nearby military airport.

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 that put economic progress before safety.

This month and last, residents in parts of Songpa district surrounding the development reported holes in at least two roads.

One about 500 metres from the building site was half a metre wide and 20cm deep. There were claims that construction was the cause a drop in the depth of the lake the tower overlooks, from five metres to 4.3 metres.

With about 70 of its 123 floors completed, the Lotte World Tower is now under review by experts and has delayed the opening of adjacent low-rise buildings that form part of the complex.

Lee Won-woo, CEO of Lotte Moolsan, the tower's builder, said recently that Lotte had pumped water into the lake to maintain the water level while a separate inspection by Korean and British experts took place.

Another official at Lotte said the holes were far from the construction site and could be caused by other factors.

Songpa district's local government said the tower was not to be blamed for the sinkholes. But the Seoul city government said it would look at the lake's lower level and how that affected the land in the area.

Lotte Group plans to fill the US$3.5 billion complex including the Korean peninsula's tallest tower with a high-class hotel, office accommodation, flats and an observatory.

"After Sewol, the public's sentiment has taken a turn to stress safety over any other values including economic development," said Park Chang-kun, a professor of civil engineering at Kwandong University, who is on a special Seoul city government advisory team on the tower.