Making light work for us
By Kwaak Je-yup
Few other places on Earth can boast a night as well-lit as Seoul’s.
Florescent lights in 24/7 convenience stores, clubs and even barbecue restaurants never seem to switch off. Little children roam around their neighborhood past midnight, and crowds gather at riverside green spaces thanks to some very steely streetlights. Even at home or in offices, there is not a corner left unlit. From Myeong-dong’s or Gangnam’s neon signs to red-hewed crosses on church roofs, the lights are one of the capital’s most memorable sights among tourists.
“The thing that struck me most about Seoul at night was the sheer volume of color ― neon signs in every color of the spectrum. You have lights in every possible shape and size and form, whether they're red crosses or pulsating noraebang signs,” said Brian No, who works at the U.S. Senate and spent a year in Seoul last year, “and it's sort of amazing to think that these lights basically don't go off until the sun comes out, and how that sort of seems to represent Seoul's nightlife and energy: the density, the organized chaos, etc.”
But how organized is this chaos? Some, like Yourah Baek, a marketing specialist and Daejeon native living in Seoul for the last 12 years, found the lights “incoherent,” without a perceivable plan. While she said she found the city’s nightscape “not all bad when I cross some bridges over the Han River,” she was still unable to point to a specific structure she found beautiful.
On one hand, people assume that brighter is always better, pushing people to compete for a bigger glow, like the crosses and the powered signs that No referred to. On the other hand, the government, as shown during the past few summers, increasingly stresses energy conservation and encourages people to switch off as much as possible.
Squeezed in between these two objectives, how can Seoul effectively leverage one of its biggest assets not only as a tourist attraction but as a beneficial influence on Korea’s citizens?
The Korea Times interviewed one of Korea’s foremost architectural lighting designers to find out.