In the last 30 years, competing with Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan has made of South Korea a story of economic success. The capital, Seoul, has paid the price for such development. Known as a “hard” city, it wants to soften its image and to do that its investing in design.
Seoul has evolved enormously as South Korea has gone from developing to developed nation. With an urban spread accomodating 25 million inhabitants, the city is looking for its own style. This quest, known locally as “renaissance,” has been boosted by its status of World Design Capital 2010.
Seoul city councillor Goon Seon Hong explained the new design policy:
“Thanks to design, we want to make Seoul into a pleasant city, a cultural city, with a refined profile that attracts tourists.”
This profile is in many ways symbolic. Seoul has not escaped the rule of anarchy. Of around 1.4 million signs and billboards, 70 percent are illegal. Authorities want to limit their number and size.
Currently a mosaic of photos of Seoul’s inhabitants hides the building site that will become the next town hall. This huge project should be finished by May 2012. Standing 52 metres high, a third of its space will be reserved for a cultural park in which citizens can roam.
Another defining building rising from the ground is the DDP, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a vast complex conceived by Anglo-Iraki architect Zaha Hadid.
DDP’s Planning Manager Gi-Hyun Jeon spoke to euronews. He told us:
“The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a platform for bringing together trends, a market and an information centre dedicated to design. We will gather all the information here and come up with new trends for Asian design and then export it all around the world.”
For the third year running, Seoul is organising its own design fair in the stadium built for the 1988 Olympic Games. The slogan this year is “Design For All” and the fair seeks to impress on visitors the values of design in everyday life.
Among the stands is one entitled “Living culture in Korea-China-Japan.”
Kyung Ran Choi, who is the general director of the Seoul Design Fair 2010 explained the idea behind it:
“The reason why I have a special exhibition for this fair called “Korea-China-Japan living culture exhibition” is to let people understand what are the tradition DNA from Korea, China, Japan. Some are common and some are different through the living pattern and also the living object”.
There are soft shapes, reinterpretations, natural and luxury materials, all of which are meant to show which direction Asian design is taking.
Seoul has invested time, energy and money into its grand “renaissance” project, hoping it will be a large step towards projecting a “soft” image of the city and adding an aesthetic edge to the sky-scrapered skyline.