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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Buldozing Seoul, again - Dongdaemun Design Plaza, New City Hall

Dongdaemun Stadium is about to become a vast plain from which shall emerge Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park in 2010. To compensate for the "loss", a new baseball field will be arranged in Gocheok-dong, Guro-gu, where entertainment infrastructures are more needed.

It had been a long time since big games were played in Dongdaemun Stadium : the 1988 Olympic Games and Chamsil changed everything. I did watch a few amateur games there, before the place turned into an even more amateur "flea market", and ultimately a parking lot. The atmosphere around the stadium was much more entertaining. In the early nineties, that's where you would find technical sport products. Counterfeit goods too, like in Itaewon... but change has come to Korea : now all major brands have their own genuine shops in both locations. I've always found the old blue-greenish concrete stadiums disgraceful, but what I enjoyed was the colorful souk of buzzing food stands, before heading for the real flea markets and antique shops. Like it or not, this place had a soul of its own.

Then came Doota & co. Younger generations rediscovered Dongdaemun area, and the Cheongyecheon project cleaned much of the mess nearby. The green giant remained as an embarrassing dinosaur miraculously forsaken by evolution.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) may well become the next generation embarrassing green dinosaur. I like the idea of bringing disruption, and there is an interesting organic touch to the main building... but instead of environmental friendliness, it evokes (judging by the models at least) a plastic toy or one of the countless attractions recently built in minor league cities pretending to play in major leagues. To me, the gizmo already looks obsolete. I hope I'm wrong, because DDP is one of the star of Seoul celebrations as World Design Capital 2010.

City Hall could be a better bet for OH Se-hoon. That working site is very advanced, but it seems that the final design is not decided yet. If they pick a good jazzman as the top architect, improvisation could result in something really innovative. Anyway, Seoul deserves a good symbol for its design drive.

Because beyond 2010, DDP must serve as a design center, a cultural center, a mall, and a park in an area that badly needed green spaces. Furthermore, it will reconnect the urban landscape over and underground. The future with the present (Doota tower area), but also with the past : a portion of Seoul Seongwak walls, destroyed by the Japanese occupants to give place to the stadium, will be restored in the middle of the park, and along with it the perspective towards the Naksan section via Heunginjimun.

Heunginjimun is the name of Dongdaemun itself : the old Eastern gate, nowadays drowned under intense traffic, will at last resurrect, and even be awarded a decent park. Passers-by shall reconquer some of the space colonized by automobiles, and tourists admire this elegant old timer from a closer range. The tragic fate of Sungnyemun / Namdaemun* certainly cast a new light on this beautiful yet forsaken cultural asset.

To me, this is the actual new DDP landmark.

Seoul Village 2008

* see "

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