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November 3, 2009

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Vibrant Seoul takes city design pride to heart

SEOUL is a vibrant city full of fashion, gourmet styles and modern trends so it is no wonder that it was chosen to be the World Design Capital 2010.

It has made continuous progress in all aspects of design, whether it be in architecture, clothing, urban design, technology, cuisine or lifestyle.

And it aims to set a good example to other countries by building a city with design as its core spirit, a city with old and new, with history and high tech.

Last month from October 9 to 29, it held the Seoul Design Olympiad 2009, a major international celebration as part of its efforts to promote the design industry to the public in the lead up to the 2010 event.

Seoul has been officially designated for that year as the World Design Capital by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design.

'I Design'

The October event included conferences on design, themed exhibitions in Seoul's Jamsil Olympic Stadium and on featured streets in the city's downtown area as well as design competitions. It not only attracted a lot of big names in the industry such as Toshiyuki Kita from Japan and Peter Cook from Britain, but also provided a big festival for a mainstream audience of young and old, including families with children.

The most important part of the event was an emphasis on everybody's design concepts of the city. The theme "I Design" referred to and included the individual "I," the "Internet" and "Innovation," presenting Seoul as a city that provides comfortable living and is a creative place in which every citizen is a designer.

"Design makes our city more beautiful. Through our efforts, we want to spread the concept of design to ordinary people, weaving design into our daily life from which everybody can benefit," says Jae-Jin Shim, CEO of Seoul Design Foundation.

"We want to expand citizens' understanding of design by breaking away from the convention that it is only for design experts and artists. Also to help educate people about the power of design in ways that easily relate to their daily lives," he says.

And these are not just words from the foundation's leader.

After officially winning the title of World Design Capital in 2007, Seoul has put a lot of work into living up to the award in aspects of cultural enrichment, promoting quality of life and supporting major projects.

The Seoul government allocated some 118.1 trillion won (US$675 billion) to build four major design industry areas.

It has also influenced other outcomes with a design focus. The garbage mountain projects have put some "dirty and remote areas" on the list of Seoul's most expensive and attractive residential areas; the city gallery project has beautified the city by placing statues along Seoul's main streets and the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park project, a comprehensive design facility, will be a new city landmark.

An example of the design influence can be seen around the city's subway stations and green spaces where the symbol of Seoul called Haechi seems to be everywhere. A cute Kylin-like creature, the Haechi has a round face, bright eyes, big nose, eyetooth and a signature smile.

The mythical animal, with a history of 600 years, represents justice and security, hopes and dreams, has been chosen recently as an icon representing Seoul.

From every Haechi work in the city, you can sense Seoul people's ideas of design - there's a grass Haechi, a stone Haechi, a Haechi wearing traditional Korean costume, a colorful Haechi ? so you can really experience Seoul's concept of "I Design."

In the aftermath of the global economic downturn, Seoul is seeking a new development strategy from its "design capital" status, a South Korea through "culturenomics" and "designomics."

Under the core spirit of designing a better life and better city, Seoul now boasts its man-made Cheonggyecheon restoration project, a nearly 6-kilometer-long, modern public recreation space in downtown which returns nature to the city to enable an eco-friendly urban design.

The site includes a man-made stream which has become popular among Seoul residents and tourists as a new landmark which at the same time plays an important role in influencing the city's temperature.

Also, artistic works have been placed prominently to create an open "city gallery" around the streets, giving ordinary citizens opportunities to enjoy art in their everyday life.

All of these initiatives have gradually turned Seoul into a "soft city" that centers on culture and art instead of a "hard city" that focused on construction, industry, function and efficiency. Design is not about only constructing new things, but also preserving the old while generating new, an aspect of which Seoul is demonstrating great skills.

A walk along its streets gives an impression of a clean and neat city with a feeling of how history and tradition have been respected in the midst of a thriving and very modern metropolis and how heritage is lived throughout the city.

You can enjoy the renowned, lively changing-of-the-guard ceremony in Deoksugung Palace in downtown Seoul; you can visit the Bukchon Hanok Village, which was once an aristocrats' haven long ago.

There, luxury tile-roofed traditional hanoks, or houses, have been preserved since the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). They are lined along the road winding up the mountain, revealing much about Korean people's everyday life in an earlier era. And now, they are occupied by ordinary families, have become specialty stores, galleries and museums.

Old and new, ancient and modern, heritage and history show the 600-year-old beauty of the city.

And also along Garosoo Street, considered a little Europe in South Korea, you can experience the modern aspects of the city. European-style cafes, bars and restaurants fill the street and trendy shops with hot fashion items can easily occupy your whole day to linger around.

The city of Seoul has done a great job in promoting to the mass market ideas and visions usually confined to the halls of art and design schools.

It can serve as a model for how other municipalities around the world can help educate people about the power of design in ways that easily relate to their daily lives.

When you visit Seoul, you will find that "City as Oeuvre" and "Design to Improve Life" are not just slogans.


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