Mullae Artist Village (Mullae-Dong), Seoul

A sculpted scarecrow made of metal scrap

photography by: Republic of Korea/ Wikimedia Commons

Following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, many steel factories across Seoul’s Mullae district had to relocate to other parts of the city in search of cheaper rentals. That in turn prompted an influx of local artists who transformed the industrial district into one of the trendiest neighborhoods anywhere in the Korean capital. With artists, designers and steel workers coexist side by side, Mullae Artist Village still retains a great deal of authenticity, making it an incredibly interesting place to explore.

During the 1960’s, when Seoul downtown began its rapid transformation into the sleek, vibrant and ultra-modern place it is today, small scale industries were forced to migrate into the far outskirts of town, where space was abundant and cheaper. Located southwest of Seoul’s urban core, the district of Mullae soon became the new home for numerous foundries which fled the ever-increasing costs of the downtown area.

 

For a moment, it seemed as if Mullae will cement itself as the industrial heartland of the Korean capital for decades to come. However, the incessant urbanization process of Seoul’s suburbs as well as the Asian financial crisis in 1997 made the rentals across the district unaffordable for many of the metal processing businesses. As a result, a large portion of the small-scale factories were pushed further away, leaving a glut of empty workshops behind them.

 

Ironically, at the same time, the dozens of art studios, which were priced out of the fashionable neighborhood of Hongdae, swarmed over the now vacant factories of Mullae as they sought to soften the economic burden caused by the soaring rent costs. With the arrival of artists, the district changed its name to Mullae Artist Village, ultimately evolving into a trendy neighborhood, awash with studios, cafés, modern eateries and surprisingly, also a significant number of steel foundries that decided to stay.

 

Visitors who wander around Mullae’s buzzy streets will discover myriads of interesting places to awe at. Over the last two decades or so, the exterior walls of the former factories became a canvas for local muralists who merged their wildest ideas with the gritty surroundings. Likewise, a series of outdoor sculptures made of scrap metal adorn some of the pavements throughout the neighborhood.

 

To make things even better, Mullae Artist Village is home to a plethora of chic cafés, restaurants and boutique shops. Among the neighborhood’s most notable eateries is Waves, a Hawaiian-style diner whose menu and interior design are fully inspired by the Pacific archipelago. Located slightly southwards is Rust Bakery, a former industrial space which was converted into a modern-style bakery that offers classic pastries with a dash of Korean flavors. Perhaps the most conspicuous dining option across the area is Old Mullae, a lively café and bar, renowned for its scrumptious fish & chips and assortment of ales.

 

Interestingly, if you opt to visit Mullae, each time of the day can yield an entirely different experience. At the morning, the scenery is dominated by the steel workers while most bars and restaurants remain closed. On the early afternoon, a hubbub of metal rasping and coffee sippers takes place as all businesses are open simultaneously. After 9PM, the village turns into a nightlife hotspot, where bars and nightclubs provide a healthy dose of escapism.

Many of the former steel workshops are now peppered with vivid murals

photography by: Republic of Korea/ Wikimedia Commons


A back alley whose walls are covered with street art

photography by: Republic of Korea/ Wikimedia Commons


In many instances, mundane elements such as HVAC ducts become part of a work of art

photography by: Republic of Korea/ Wikimedia Commons


A sculpture fashioned from a hodgepodge of castoff metal parts

photography by: Republic of Korea/ Wikimedia Commons


Almost all of the district's outdoor sculptures resonate with its industrial, rustic character

photography by: Republic of Korea/ Wikimedia Commons