A nighttime view of Banpo Bridge and Moonlight Rainbow Fountain on the Han River / Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Seoul, one of the most dynamic cities in the world, is continuously transforming itself into a more attractive global city, maintaining a striking balance between modernization and past traditions.
Upgrading its beauty to a higher level and making the city more convenient are artful touches of sophisticated urban designs initiated by the city government.
"Seoul is a unique city based on its long history, gifted natural environment and highly advanced information technology and it is now to expand into a foreigner-friendly global city in the world," Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said at a press conference Tuesday.
The New York Times announced "31 Places to Go in 2010" in January and Seoul ranked third. The prestigious paper said that Seoul's hip galleries, fashionable shops and cafes are attracting design enthusiasts from all over the world. The result did not come out of nowhere. It is a result of Seoul’s constant efforts to create a better city through special designs.
City of design
Seoul aims to be a "charming" city and is on its way to reaching the goal. Design is one of the most powerful tools used by the capital of Korea.
Oh recognizes the importance of charm as Korea is a trading county. "Cities sell attraction as well as companies and individuals do," Oh said. "The image and brand of Korea is important and so is the capital city Seoul. We have introduced public design throughout the city to be more appealing."
The Seoul Design Fair (formerly the Seoul Design Olympiad) started in 2008 and the World Design Capital Seoul 2010 brought a shift in citizen's reorganization on design.
"So far the Seoul Design Fair has attracted more than 2 million guests each year. Citizens and visitors were able to see, touch and experience the world's latest design trends and Seoul's design administration," Chung Kyung-won, the city's chief design officer, said. "It paved the way for Seoulites to accept design as a natural part of their life and added fun."
There were changes in the design infrastructure and hardware as well.
Seoul City built Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park, designed by modern architect Zaha Hadid. The new structure, scheduled to be completed by July 2012, is going to be a multipurpose place for designers and fashion lovers. A convention hall and exhibition halls will incubate various design products by new designers as well as promote international cultural exchange and cooperation.
Seoul City also set up guidelines for public design. For example, it created a Seoul font and designated 10 colors to represent Seoul. These symbols were blended into the streets of the capital city such as in the street lights, signs, signposts and street stalls.
These efforts paid off and were recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Seoul was designated as a Creative City for Design in July.
In cooperation with UNESCO, the city will open a design academy next year, inviting design experts from inside and outside Korea and a children’s design camp will teach about Seoul’s urban design to children from developing countries.
"We now finished the rough sketch of Seoul to leap to become a global design mecca. We will invest more in developing design contents and fostering the industry," Chung said.
Touring design Seoul
Seoul City offers a variety of tour courses featuring the “design” aspects of the city at the Design Seoul website at http://design.seoul.go.kr.
The characteristics of courses vary from traditional and modern to eco-tourism and food design themes.
Seoul's traditional space design course introduces three royal palaces including Gyeongbok Palace, Changdeok Palace and Deoksu Palace, as well as Jongmyo, the royal shrine from Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) and Seoul Fortress.
The three palaces portray different features.
For example, Gyeongbok Palace was built with the founding of Joseon and shows space design based on Confucius orders and Feng Shui. The buildings were built in a straight line with the king's main office, Geunjeong-jeon in center.
However, Seoul does not remain locked in such an old-fashioned way. The Contemporary Architecture course includes 10 Corso
Como, the Ann Demeulemeester shop, Leeum and Gwanghwamun Square.
Leeum is an art museum designed by three renowned architects ㅡ Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas ㅡ and 10 Corso Como is a select shop originating from Milan which combines shopping with art, music and lifestyle.
Gwanghwamun Square is now a landmark plaza in downtown Seoul. Located in the middle of a 10-lane road, the square offers art and rest to citizens and visitors alike. There are statues of King Sejong (1397-1450) and Admiral Yi Sun-shin (1545-1598) within the square and underground exhibitions on each historical figure.
Another interesting theme is food design. The environment is portrayed in ingredients and personality in recipes. Based on the idea that "Food is the best medicine," Korean food is natural and healthy.
Visitors to the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine in Gahoe-dong can get a glimpse of Korean traditional court food, while new Korean cuisine offers traditional food represented in a modern, Westernized way. Poom Seoul in Huam-dong, Green Basket in Ichon-dong and Jung Sik Dang in Sinsa-dong are good choices to taste contemporary Korean food.
Cafes like Muimui and W.E present modernized Korean desserts such as hotteok, sugar-filled pancakes, and sweet red bean fondue.