[Letters] Seoul is a world-design model

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[Letters] Seoul is a world-design model

Major cities throughout the world are increasingly focusing their energy on design as an engine for future growth, not just because it contributes to the aesthetics of a city or to its tourism industry, but because it acts as a decisive element in the enhancement of the city’s competitiveness and improvement of quality of life.

Under the direction of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid), the World Design Capital (WDC) program highlights the development of cities around the world through the use of design.

Three years ago, Icsid selected Seoul as the WDC for 2010 - the first city to be awarded the title by competition, following Torino , Italy in 2008.

The title was awarded not because Seoul is the best city, but because it showed such impressive design leadership and a desire to achieve social, economical and cultural development via design.

When it was first selected as the WDC 2010, Seoul had several major areas in need of improvement from an urban design perspective. Despite the fact that it had a rich 600-year old history - characterized by the beautiful Han River and Mount Namsan - it was unable to harmonize with the achievements of modernization that were built throughout the 20th century. At that time, the city’s urban design did not consider human emotions and left a strong impression of a bland, gray city.

For the past three years, Seoul has placed much effort in finding a new urban identity by selecting a symbol, color and font for Seoul. In addition, it developed its urban redesign to focus on the beauty of its natural environment through projects such as the Han River Renaissance and Mount Namsan Renaissance. Likewise, through each and every long-term design project based on the unique features of the region, Seoul began to find the unique face that it lost during its course of westernization.

In order to develop design into a sustainable driving force, a city must induce the participation of the public, which is a factor just as important as establishing and applying local identity. The Seoul Design Fair that has been held for the past three years at Olympic Stadium is a community-participating festival, and it was another opportunity to demonstrate the potential of design to Korea.

Seoul has grown out of its past “growth-first” principle that ignored quality of life, and has opened itself up to new horizons to unveil a new, more-considerate city through design. These changes greatly exceeded what we first expected when we selected Seoul as WDC.

Seoul has proven that the force of unique urban design is not a one-time development endeavor or merely an exercise in external decoration, but a movement for change within a city to strive for a better-to-live-in and emotional space. Even as the year of the WDC comes to an end, these efforts shall continue in Seoul.


Dr. Mark Breitenberg,

president of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) and provost at California College of the Arts.
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