One of the many things I have learned while living in Korea is that Koreans are very fashion conscious. Seoul is no different. The city has recently acquired one of the must-have items in fashionable architectural brands; a Zaha Hadid. March 2014 saw the completion and opening of the long awaited Dongdaemun Design Plaza – the DDP forms the centrepiece of Seoul’s fashion hub and popular tourist destination, Dongdaemun. Die DDP was part of Seoul’s bid for World Design Capital in 2010 – a grand project that ended up being very fashionably late.
Zaha Hadid’s work is described as Neo-Futuristic which in turn is defined as “a need to periodize the modern rapport with the technological”. Zaha Hadid has built a distinctive brand recognised by seductive curves, flowing lines and elongated structures. Without making this an architectural review – which could get a little convoluted and lengthy – I will just say that you’re either a fan of her work or you fervently disagree with her mantra. Personally I feel that many of her projects have been grandiose and that her designs have used space a bit too extravagantly. I do not argue that the projects aren’t beautiful, but I have made the assumption that because the shapes and spaces are so unique and unfamiliar, it might be hard for people to relate to these spaces on a human scale.
Personal feeling aside, I decided to head to Seoul to go see the finished building for myself. I have visited the construction site several times to try and catch glimpses of architectural details and possibly the skeleton of this unique structure. Many of the other smaller exhibition spaces surrounding the park have been open to the public. One permanent exhibit is of the artefacts and historical reminiscences found on site – apparently it forms the centre point of the entire design. I found the exhibition very interesting and revealing of Seoul’s past – made even more significant in the context of this futuristic design park.
When visiting the completed DDP it felt for a while as if I was marvelling at an object, an excessively creative culmination of curves and fluid lines. I felt this way until I entered one of the “valley” spaces and looked up. At that moment, I felt like a child again, exploring the rock formations in the hills of our farm. Larger than life boulders towering over me, creating spaces I was unfamiliar with but felt safe in at the same time. I realised that these random computer generated shapes of Zaha’s buildings were no more unfamiliar than the caves and crevices created by erosion in rocks and mountains. Humans can relate these spaces, in fact they have, millions and millions of years ago.
I find it ironic then that these “buildings from the future” relate to spaces we inhabited as cavemen. Just as primitive man felt the need to express events and happening in drawings on the walls of their caves, humans of the future exhibit art and design on the walls of these futuristic caves as well. Most of the spaces in the main building are exhibition halls and galleries. As the icon of design and fashion in Seoul, the DDP in some way embodies how far we have come as a species. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza celebrates the human capacity to design, to invent and to adapt. Experiencing the building and spaces made me reassess my assumptions about humans relating to these grandiose Neo-Futuristic designs. I still think that it revels in excess, but I do think you should go there and see for yourself what is possible and what the human mind has been able to create.