Updated signs simpler, allow clearer views

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Updated signs simpler, allow clearer views

All the information signs at Gyeongbok and Changdeok Palaces, the two grandest Joseon dynasty palaces in Seoul, are being replaced. Once the renovation is complete, there will be fewer signs so as not to impede visitors’ views, and those that remain will be simpler. The content of the signs, leaflets, brochures, audio guides and booklets will also have fewer overlaps. The work is due to be completed next month.
The new signs are the work of the Cultural Properties Administration, a private cultural foundation called Arumjigi and two teams of designers, one from the United States and one from Korea. Arumjigi campaigns for the preservation and better use of cultural assets and works to improve visitors’ views at cultural properties.
Previous signs at the two palaces had significant problems. Initially, they were only in Korean, but English, Chinese and Japanese translations were added prior to such high-profile events as the Asian Games in 1986 and the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988. They also had no consistency in size, shape or design.
“It was disorganized. The signs were designed individually,” said Ha Seon-woong, an employee at the Cultural Properties Administration. “The designs were different from each other, and there were problems with their color and location.”
“The more signs, the more they impede the view,” Mr. Ha said. “Signs are necessary, but their number should be minimized.”
Gyeongbok Palace previously had about 200 signs and Changdeok Palace had more than 100. The large open space past the Gwanghwa gate in Gyeongbok Palace had 25 signs, including two indicating parking, five giving directions, one regarding free entrance, one for the exit and another detailing a changing of the guard ceremony.
At Changdeok Palace, the Buyongji garden area had 12 signs.
To improve the situation, the administration and the Arumjigi foundation decided to divide each palace into different areas and erect a single comprehensive sign in each area. Most of the signs in front of individual buildings are being eliminated. As a result, Gyeongbok palace will be left with just 54 signs and Changdeok palace will have only 49, including around 20 “No entry” signs inside each palace to mark off-limit areas.
The new signs are designed to blend in with their surroundings, using white and gray typography and maps on deep gray aluminum, to match the deep gray roof tiles at the palaces.
Designer and Hongik University Professor Ahn Sang-soo coordinated both design teams. The New York company 2x4 drew up the initial designs and Korea-based Ahn Graphics, which Mr. Ahn founded, adjusted them to fit the local context.
“There aren’t many local design firms that could approach this task in a systematic matter and who are also experienced in installation and environmental design,” said Jang Young-seok, an Arumjigi official. Because of these limitations, Mr. Ahn recommended the 2x4 firm to Arumjigi.
“Palaces are not just our own properties but are now international attractions,” Mr. Ahn said. “In modern times, both Koreans and foreigners look at the signs, so the designs must be more objective.”
The New York-based firm recently received a prestigious National Design Award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City.
“The goal has always been to make something very quiet and dignified because of the importance of these sites. We wanted something that is almost invisible so that people can enjoy the view,” said designer Michael Rock, a partner in 2x4 and a professor of design at Yale University School of Art. He worked on the project with two Korean assistants, Albert Lee and Kim Sung-joon.
“We wanted the signs to be modern so in a way the signs are separate from the palaces, but they are also minimalist and as unobtrusive as possible.”
The coloring of the background and typography were the result of long discussions. Some of the initial designs were more colorful, but the designers felt it was wrong to introduce more color to sites that already held so much color.
The descriptions on the signs were shortened and simplified. Technical and specialized information was removed and will instead be contained in brochures or booklets. Three-dimensional maps were added to show the geographical outlines of each area.
The new signs were also placed further away from buildings so that they would not block the view.
“We wanted to take away things from the buildings. The signs are much farther away now,” Mr. Rock said. “Every sign before a buildings was a kind of scar, and when people took photographs, there were always signs in front of the buildings.”
Mr. Rock said that of all the Joseon dynasty palaces in Seoul, Changdeok palace is his favorite. “The organic design is very beautiful, and the scale it has is really stunning,” he said.
It cost the Cultural Properties Administration 170 million won ($177,000) to produce the signs for each palace, while Arumjigi arranged the design work and paid the costs of the two design firms, a figure it did not disclose.
Work to replace existing signs at Changgyeong and Deoksu Palaces and the Jongmyo ancestral shrine will begin next year, and new leaflets, brochures, booklets and audio guides will be issued as well.


by Limb Jae-un

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