Posted : 2014-03-18 17:30
Updated : 2014-03-18 17:30

Firm grasp of the obvious

After four years of construction and preparation, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza will open to the public on Friday as the venue of Seoul Fashion Week.
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Seoul mayor Park describes new Dongdaemun culture center as ‘ugly'
"Urban planning should be done with the mindset that we are determining the city's fabric for 100 years to come,'' Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said. / Yonhap
By Kim Tong-hyung

While touting Seoul's new trophy architecture, Mayor Park Won-soon couldn't help pointing out that the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) represents everything wrong with urban planning in the capital.

"When you look at the building and how it stands in its surroundings, which includes several high-rise structures such as the Doota building, the word that comes to mind is 'unbalanced.' You look at the building from a certain angle, how the sloped roof influences the skyline, and you have to say that is an ugly sight,'' Park said at a meeting with senior journalists at city hall on Tuesday.

"Most of the job on DDP was already done by the time I became mayor. So was Gwanghwamun Square, described by many architects as the city's worst architectural creation, and the new city hall,'' he added.

"I did not think that redoing them would be the right approach as that would only create new problems. My focus is to find the right content to fill these spaces, allowing them to improve the lives of people with the experiences they provide and also provide an easier place for artists to display their work.''

After four years of construction and preparation, the massive culture center in downtown Dongdaemun will open to the public on Friday as the venue of Seoul Fashion Week.

The otherworldly building, which resembles an enormous metal skull amidst the squalor of one of the city's most badly aging commercial districts, is a creation of superstar architect Zaha Hadid. It aims to be a one-stop destination for leisure and business, housing fashion design centers, show rooms, galleries, conference facilities and a large shopping mall.

Park, who was elected as mayor in October 2011, more than two years after construction began on the DDP, spoke highly of the building's potential to become a hub of cultural activity and a tourist magnet. He also displayed a firm grasp of the obvious when admitting that the DDP looks, well, hideous.

While it is obviously too early to produce a verdict on the DDP, several architects have been critical of Hadid's design, accusing her of disregarding the city's historical context and fabric.

While Seoul's urban landscape went through some major adjustments over the past 20 years, the incoherence and lack of visual cohesion between architecture has been constant. Hadid's critics believe that the DDP is the latest addition to this mess.

Unlike Lee Myung-bak and Oh Se-hoon, the mayors before him, Park has yet to show interest in linking ambitious architectural projects with his mayoral legacy.

However, his metropolitan government is pushing plans to establish a framework of public-private cooperation to ensure that the buildings built by private owners are designed with regard to their surroundings, similar to the system adopted in European cities such as Paris.

"By 2017, we want to have established standards on the type of buildings that can be built in certain areas,'' Park said.

"Urban planning should be done with the mindset that we are determining the city's fabric for 100 years to come.''

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