The New in an Old Seoul

By: Kye Lee

I recently spent a week in South Korea for the first time in many years. Almost immediately I noticed that things had changed a lot since my last visit in 3 years ago. I stayed in the district of Seoul where I spent most of my childhood days. The city has been implementing plans to gentrify the neighbourhood, and welcomed me with an almost bare ground.

During my stay, I had a chance to visit Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) and its surrounding area. I chose to visit a tower right next to the DDP to see the plaza from above. At first glance, I was speechless for a long moment. The plaza’s amorphous form stood out amongst the historical cityscape. Though I did not have the chance to go inside, it arose a curiosity in me upon my return to Canada.


DDP, an iconic landmark of the city, serves as a key space to hold major events and shows in Korea. The $450 million neo-futuristic building seemingly transcends time and space of the surroundings, situated where once stood a historic stadium in the city. From the planning stage and up to the present time, the building has been controversial as Koreans were fearful of the government ruining a rich historical site – that the mushroom-like architecture would alienate the landscape. Nevertheless, the city’s ambition toward a star architect, Zaha Hadid, proceeded the design.

The country’s landscape changes in the blink of an eye. What’s once perceived as ideal looking back in just a couple years ago is quickly outdated and marginalized. The building is a breathtakingly impressive legacy of the architect, yet it reminds me of the memories of my childhood with the building that no longer exists.

I don’t think this means that we should walk away from progressive architecture. DDP serves as a great vessel to hold many international events in the country as the aesthetics of the building boost the standards of the events. I hope that DDP won’t have the same unfortunate fate as the historic stadium, but rather and truly, become a landmark of the city.

Upon my next visit back to Seoul, I wish to experience DDP from a different perspective, to walk inside along the fluid-like pathway where there’s a blurred line between what constitutes ceiling and wall. And, to see the illumination of the plaza at night – fused to Seoul’s night sky as South Korea’s potential future shines in an area that hasn’t forgotten Seoul’s past.

Header Image Source: Virgile Simon Bertrand via Arch Daily