Dongdaemun Design Park

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Wow, from this angle it looks like a shark. It has also been likened to a spaceship. Anyway, the newly opened and controversial Dongdaemun Design Park is certainly not bland! It has been built in place of the baseball stadium – the country’s first sport’s stadium – that was knocked down several years ago. Only the baseball stadium lights (below) are left as a reminder of the past…

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The architecture certainly makes a statement but the choice of this building has been very controversial from the beginning. In 2007, the Mayor of Seoul at the time, Oh Se Hoon, (in office 2006-2011) commissioned the design which was supposed to be finished in 2011 but it took longer than expected when historical artefacts were found on the site – these are now on display in one of the museums.

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The mayor was criticised for choosing a design that doesn’t fit in at all with the historical background of Dongdaemun. He was also behind another recent controversial choice of architecture in Seoul – the new futuristic City Hall building which has been likened to a big wave. And here it is below. The old City Hall is now a library and the huge glass futuristic building behind it is the current office. There has been a lot of criticism about this as the two building are SO DIFFERENT! On a visual level I might be the only person who actually likes this. I think the contrast of the old and new is so BOLD. However on a practical level, I don’t want to be the window cleaner here and I wonder how good this building works as as a functioning office. Bagsy a desk away from the window in the summer (and winter!)

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The Dongdaemun Park was designed by Iraqi British Pritzker Prize winner architect Zaha Hadid who is also the architect behind the national stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She clearly loves curves – you won’t find a sharp corner anywhere here which I admit I do find  very appealing.

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The whole complex is huge and I’m sure there was a lot we didn’t get to see. I recommend wearing comfortable shoes if you plan to come here. I was exhausted by the end of the afternoon and getting lost trying to find the gallery, museum, shop, or restaurant we were looking for didn’t help either.

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The architecture has been described as resembling a spaceship by the incumbent Mayor of Seoul! I don’t think that was meant as a compliment! But I agree it is very spaceshippy – especially in this picture below. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. As I walked around dwarfed by the magnificence and sheer humongousness of this celebration of aluminium, it really did seem more plausible that a spaceship had landed rather than eye-watering amounts of human money used to construct it. It’s so ambitious.Dongdaemun_design_park

Whilst I lOVE the curves and shapes of the architecture, one of the problems I had with the design was that the materials of aluminium and concrete and the grey colours make it feel cold. In certain parts of the complex the buildings seem to create a wind tunnel so it felt colder and windier walking around there than it was up on the road. The curves also work as roofs keeping the sun out. So I bet this would be a great place to walk around on a hot summer’s day to get out of the scorching heat, but a nightmare in the winter.
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With a nod to the Joseon period, the Korean mythical creature  or ‘unicorn-lion’- haetae 해태 – stands at one side of the park. Now it’s the symbol of Seoul but it was believed to protect the city in the Joseon period. It’s quite scary up close and feels like it might actually come to life even if it is made from recycled plastic bottles.

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Parts of Seoul Fortress built around the city at the start of the Joseon period (1392-1910)  have also been restored and make for an interesting mix of old and new. The fortress was built to protect the new capital of Joseon and the fortress had eight gates around it. Dongdaemun was one of the gates and means ‘East Gate’ DDP04

A famous Korean actor (we couldn’t see who it was I’m afraid :( ) came for a photo shoot and drew quite a bit of attention. A group of interested passersby stopped to peep down over the wall at him and then a dark suited official looking man with an earpiece came to try and move the crowd along! Nobody budged though!

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We went to take a closer look too, but STILL couldn’t see who was down there or what was actually going on. :(

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There is a lot to see for free just walking around looking at the architecture, not to mention the beautiful interiors including this curvy staircase. But we bought a 9000won ticket which also got us into several exhibitions. I wasn’t wowed by the exhibitions we saw which included a couple of F1 racing cars in a sports exhibition, some works by Italian designer Enzo Mari, and some product design from the architect herself, Zaha Hadid.

I got the feeling that there had been a bit of a mad rush to get the construction of the buildings themselves finished by the opening day – walking around there were obvious details that haven’t been completed yet – like toilet signs printed on paper and stuck up with tape, etc. Obviously the main construction took priority and the exhibitions ended up as an afterthought. That’s the impression I got. But I think in the future with more time to get things finished it’s going to be a great place to hang out.

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As well as the galleries and museums and shops there is also a restaurant area. This pub offers 42 different imported draft beers (mainly from the USA and Germany). The menu includes spaghetti, pizza, chips, and chicken wings. I had to mention that. A post wouldn’t be the same without mentioning food or alcohol, would it? 😉

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