Universal Design City, Seoul

The 2016 Universal Design International Seminar has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Jung, Mi-kyung (Seoul Metropolitan City Universal Design Team Leader, Universal Design Team Leader, Seoul Metropolitan Government)

The city of Seoul started an urban design project in 2007. Within the signage maintenance project, public facilities that were chaotically installed on the streets were integrated, and efforts have been made to transform Seoul into a cleaner and more sophisticated city. The Seoul Design Olympiad, held from 2008 to 2010, was a comprehensive design festival that showed the will and vision of Seoul to challenge beyond design. In 2009, the Seoul Design Foundation was established to support projects such as the operation of the DDP, design research, commercialization, and international events. In 2010, Seoul was selected as the ‘World Design Capital’. ‘Seoul Design Week’ has been held yearly since 2015, to revitalize the design industry by holding conferences, expositions, exhibitions, and markets.

Before (left) and after (right) sign maintenance project of urban design project

Seoul must now pay heed to universal design in its ongoing development. It is not easy, for example. for people with poor eyesight to see information signs in a crowded subway, but universal design information boards can be installed for them. However, adding excessive banners and identification elements to the caring seats for pregnant women causes inconvenience by drawing unnecessary attention. The aging population, which is emerging as a social issue, also requires our attention. It is said that by 2060, 40% of the population will be aged 65 years old. By that time, about half of the city's population will be elderly, so cities will need to build an environment that can minimize inconvenience.

Universal design can be a useful solution to the problems that arise as a result of social change. This is because the realization of core values of universal design - ​​such as consideration, convenience, safety, and fairness - can fundamentally confront the cause of the problem. Accordingly, since 2010, the city of Seoul has been solving social problems or developing them through universal desig, from preparing a design system (e.g. establishing guidelines for universal design), to directly applying universal design to public areas such as pedestrian paths, buildings, and parks, and spreading awareness of universal design through seminars and education. In May 2016, the ‘Seoul City Universal Design City Creation Basic Ordinance’ was enacted, and since June 2016, ‘integrated guidelines’ have been developed to comprehensively apply universal design to public spaces and public buildings. The development of the ‘integrated guidelines’ is expected to be completed by the end of 2016, and it is planned to be applied to design of the public domain from 2017.
In 2010, starting with welfare facilities that needed universal design the most, Seoul developed 24 types of design guidelines for facility design and has been applying them. Welfare facilities require a lot of budget and often undergo extension, renovation, or remodeling. To avoid further re-construction due to user inconvenience, we are consulting to find and solve problems directly with users.


Universal design has not only been applied to welfare facilities, but also to public spaces - for example. Tapgol Park, Jongno, where the elderly often gather. In consideration for the elderly who are the main users of the space, maps in subway stations and on the street were made large and easy, and a cane holder was installed next to chairs and tables. The toilet sign was also enlarged to improve recognition. In the bathroom, an S-bar and a guide door were installed to ensure safe use without falling.

Welfare Facility Improvement Cases

Topgol Park Public Space Universal Design Application Case

A further project was carried out after thinking about the future of universal design. It is called ‘Humanism⋅Creative Universal Design Education’. It is an educational program for elementary school 4th and 5th graders who might be said to be more flexible in their thinking than adults, and it allows them to understand universal design through experience and to apply universal design directly. In 2015, the project was started in 25 schools, and since then, it has increased to 40 schools. In 2017, we plan to expand the scope of education in cooperation with the Office of Education.

In addition, employees of Seoul Metropolitan Government and welfare officials are required to receive universal design training, and a number of applications of universal design can be seen throughout the city.Playground equipment has been installed for children in wheelchairs to enjoy, and a park trail was designed without steps or curves so that anyone can use it comfortably. In addition, an entire forest road has been constructed using only gentle slopes so that the walk can be enjoyed by the elderly and those pushing strollers. This is the kind of comfortable and safe enjoyment that Seoul aims for.

Seoul is trying to improve life through universal design, but there are still many inconveniences around us, both big and small. I think it is necessary to work on all of these inconveniences and prepare to respond to social changes step by step. The city of Seoul is in the process of starting and developing universal design, and its efforts are ongoing. We recognize universal design as a process rather than a goal, and by highlighting its value and necessity, we will be able to develop into a better city through more citizen participation.

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