Korean Kitsch and an Abundance of Unsightly Signs

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Korean Kitsch and an Abundance of Unsightly Signs

The opening of Kangnam Shinsegae Department Store this fall marked the completion of the Century City shopping complex. The complex breaks the monotony of the neighborhood's sign-saturated buildings. Shinsegae, Century City and the G.W. Marriott provide welcome relief from the garish signboards that scream out from almost every available space.

There seems to be an almost total disregard among some Koreans to integrate a sense of design into their means of commercial communication. For example, the tenants in buildings adjacent to Century City could have designed their signs in such a way as to attract customers, not repulse them.

The recently installed streetlights at the Samkakji intersection in Yongsan provide another example of an almost total disregard for creative design. These kitschy, copper-plated streetlights are meant to replicate some 18th century European Rococo design, except that the usual vines and wreaths have been replaced with Samulnori - Korean traditional dancers - and elements of the Korean flag. One can imagine that at the meeting where the design was approved, much was made of the Korean design elements and the interest they would hold for foreigners. Yet the streetlights stand in stark contrast to the design and architectural aesthetic of the area.

Korean culture does not seem to worry about the well-balanced, integrated whole - which is odd, considering the emphasis placed on harmony in traditional Korean culture. This lack of vision is perhaps due to the rapid pace of economic growth and modernization in Korea.

There are rigid lines that cannot be crossed in most aspects of our society. One can never have kimchi with spaghetti - it has to be pickles. Interior designers cannot be graphic designers as well. Advertising creative directors cannot cross the line and do a copywriters job. All men drink and smoke. All foreigners are automatically deemed American. The examples are endless.

In good design, context is the most important factor. A necktie that matches a shirt and suit is so much more appealing than one selected randomly off the rack. Colors, textures and patterns have to be considered in relation to each other.

There was a time when people said my black frame on my glasses were becoming. Now I get more compliments when I wear gray frames. And the reason why occurred to me - it is because my hair was turning gray and therefore matched the frames.
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