Highlights from a design trip to Seoul
Few cities in the world can claim to be as entrenched in design as Seoul. Since winning the coveted 'World Design Capital 2010' title, the metropolis has earned its design credo through relentless displays of dedication. Design is clearly a way of life (and a mandate) for the city, with Mayor Oh Se-Hoon, and the Seoul Municipal Government, leading the charge. No stone has been left unturned as the city's landmarks, including inner city canals, river banks and the numerous bridges that connect Seoul's northern cultural stronghold with its southern commercial centre, are made over. Despite its 2013 completion date, even Zaha Hadid's vision for the Dongdaemun Design Plaza is starting to take shape.
This mantra of 'Design for All' is also the motto of this year's Seoul Design Fair (17 September to 7 October) - a 21-day exhibition that can be freely accessed by all. Held at its usual home in Jamsil Olympic Stadium, the annual design festival (now in its 3rd year) is not only aimed at designers and industry experts, but also hopes to develop an eye and taste for design amongst the city's inhabitants. The fairground, which features pavilions designed by Alessandro Mendini, Daniel Libeskind and Korea's own Kim Seok-Chul, is divided into areas that include exhibitions of local and international design, and the results of the nationwide Bicycle Design Competition, which was open to both designers and the general public.
Despite the overarching focus on design and architectural modernisation, Seoul has managed to retain a lot of its heritage and charm. During our six-day visit, we spotted numerous instances where national tradition and the city's future exist in a harmony that's distinctly its own.