Design 2.0 Design Policy and Future Strategies

The Seoul Design International Forum 2023 has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

Session 2. The City of Tomorrow: Future city of sentiments established through a new vision of design

Design 2.0 Design Policy and Future Strategies

- CHOI IN-GYU, Director-General, Design Policy Bureau, Seoul Metropolitan Government

I am honored to be speaking with Thomas Heatherwick and Shigeru Ban and I think the interesting designs of Lee Dal-woo was a good stimulus. I will. I will now think again about the actions to be taken by a big city like Seoul Metropolitan Government. My presentation will be about the fun city with vitality, Seoul. I will be presenting in the order of 5 Vision Principles that were carried out. 

Vision of Design Seoul 2.0

First is the context. Mayor Oh Se-hoon talked about creating culture and economy, cultural city, and a unique brand in 2006 and 2007. That was reflected in the New Year’s Address, and usually, the New Year’s Address also acts as an important target of the year. In 2007, our task was to figure out how to turn rigid Seoul that centered on function and efficiency into a soft city and also to identify the soft city with human centric culture and art that Seoul would be turned into. The first target was to turn Seoul into ‘a human centric city’. Some of the public design and urban design keywords established in 2007 are still valid but some are no longer valid. Now, I see that some keywords were very well defined at the time, and I feel proud. 

I am telling you this for the following reason. Urban design and public design move in a very big cycle, and thus, there are very plain keywords or very comprehensive keywords. Of course, we need to look into globally leading cities and design trends and also conduct research on various activities that are carried out by UN’s Act Now or Habitat. We also study the cases of other cities in relation to the competitiveness of cities. However, we do not end at just benchmarking things that other cities excel in, and we contemplate further about what we can be a leader in. These are some items in UN Act Now. There are recommendations to save energy at home and to ride bicycles and public transportations. There are also recommendations to eat a lot of vegetables and to consider the fact that a large amount of carbon would be emitted by going on planes. 

Such contents seem distant at first, but I realized how important such values were when I worked on urban design and public design. In addition, Habitat presented 17 sustainable goals. Of course, Korea has issues that go beyond poverty or hunger, but if we were to look at such issues backwards one by one, we start thinking about how to reflect solutions about various people in the city. Currently, corporations are executing businesses related to social responsibility and ESG, and leading cities are carrying out projects such as ODA in emerging nations. There are many things to be included when we look at various criteria. Then, we start pondering about the strategic direction that should be taken by Seoul. We also have to consider indicators related to international competitiveness. Considering all of these, I once again become concerned about the strategy to be pursued by Seoul instead of having all of the good wordings gathered together. Mayor once again mentioned Design Seoul in his inauguration speech in 2021 and 2022. We pursued Design Seoul 1.0 between 2007~2010, and he meant that he will resume this. Of course, Design Seoul 1.0 that was carried out 13 years ago was important, but now, it would be more important to contemplate on how we would pursue Design Seoul 2.0 in this era. 

Strategy for Design Seoul 2.0

I would like to talk about the vision of Design Seoul 2.0. We talk about ‘City of creative design’ and ‘City that global citizens can enjoy’, but I would like to focus on the story to be unfolded in Seoul while diligently complying with international standards. A strategy was set in accordance and the strategy can be divided into spatial strategy and temporal strategy. The most important part in spatial strategy and temporal strategy is that it has to be simple and easily reflected by anyone. This led to our ‘fun walking’, ‘approaching easily’, and ‘staying touched’ in public design. The works of Thomas Heatherwick and Shigeru Ban that I met today made me feel that way. There were elements that could be approached easily. These were set as spatial strategy. The following were important in temporal strategy. Seoul is a historic city with many layers of history, including the Goryeo Dynasty, the Joseon Dynasty or Korean Empire, the Japanese occupation, and the Republic of Korea. I think the places that well reflect such history are Gwanghwamun or palaces in Seoul. Then, what would be the contemporariness of Seoul in the 21st century that we live in? Considering that K-Pop and K-Dramas are very popular, what would truly represent Seoul? Because of such questions, we need to be more modern and future-proof. There is the historic nature on top of this. That would be the new appearance of Seoul.  

Sympathy, inclusiveness, contribution, recovery, sustainability

Next are the five principles. We studied many research materials and overseas materials, and I believe five principles are what is genuinely needed for Seoul. Five principles are sympathy, inclusiveness, contribution, recovery and sustainability. Sympathy means that urban design or public design cannot be implemented if we cannot gain the consensus of the citizens. Sympathy is important in that we all share the collective memory of living in Seoul. I believe it is really important to implement various types of joy that can be enjoyed in Seoul and the identity or the landscape of Seoul. Each of the five principles consist of three subprinciples. We generated fifteen keywords. For instance, why don’t we apply keywords such as cooperation, exchange, design and diplomacy to the design of parks? The keywords could be the basis for thinking, ‘Would the city turn into a good city by creating parks?’, and ‘Would it be ok for just us to live a cool life?’


Next is the actual contents. Spatial design that can embody joy and pride for what is Seoul-like consists of Seoulscape and Seoul Identity. We analyzed the nature and the history of Seoul and also the waterfronts of Seoul. In particular, many say that there are many boring buildings in Seoul, and we are trying to establish plans to resolve this. Another consideration that we are making is about how to create a city that is beautiful at night in addition to a city that is beautiful in the daytime through the entrance landscape, nighttime landscape and the outdoor landscape. Above all, Seoul has a strong fundamental for design. We are continuously making efforts to upgrade the cornerstone. We are planning to establish the identity for the night time landscape and identity through Seoul Light. We are also preparing to upgrade the Seoul Color and Seoul Fonts that formed the cornerstone 13 years ago. 

Fun city life with sympathy 

Mayor once said, ‘True welfare is helping our citizens take a rest in Han River and providing them joy rather than giving out money to citizens that are facing hardships’. This message is linked to the ‘fun city’ that we are aiming for. We are trying to establish things that can be fun in an artistic manner, in a healthy manner and in our daily lives for the above. 

The bench called Soul Drop that Seoul Metropolitan Government designed last year would be an example. This bench made from concrete is very comfortable to sit on, and it is a good place to enjoy the view of Han River. I think it is important to have a single bench like this provide joy in the daily lives of our citizens. In addition, we are also planning to provide joy through various media as is the case of New York. In particular, recently, we are taking great are into the night time landscape of Seoul. ‘Seoul Light’ is a representative example. Firstly, this event plays the role of creating a venue. Secondly, it fosters the media industry, and thirdly, it acts as a festival that is enjoyed by the citizens. This year, a show will be held in Gwanghwamun, and since we consider joy provided by such media shows in the Gwanghwamun Plaza to be an industry, we can say this is fostering the media industry and creating a new area. Seoul Light DDP is a space that reveals the modernity and the future characteristic, and I believe this will be a venue where many artists can express their creativity through the media façade. I think such new attempts create new design and cultural art spaces. 


Inclusive design to be together with everyone

Inclusive design consists of three parts, which are generational inclusiveness, cultural convergence and universal design. Until now, design of Seoul was deployed while centering on generational design. However, currently, we are trying to implement inclusive design. We are trying to create space that children and adults, grandparents and grandchildren can enjoy together. We are trying to create a trans-generational space where senior citizens and children can sit down and talk while facing one another. It is based on the thought that people cannot be compartmentalized in a manner products are compartmentalized and that people need to live together. In addition, Seoul Metropolitan Government designed something called 100-year Yard for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. This was well received by the senior citizens. It is a small space but it acts as a community to help citizens exercise and build physical strength. Recently, the age group became lower to those in their 50s. I think such spaces could become trans-generational spaces. I also believe that we need another space where the daily lives of Seoul become a part of art. 

I will also explain about the policies that upgraded the urban gallery project. We are making attempts to create artworks centering on five regional experimental hubs that are iconic in terms of urban art through the urban gallery project in 2007. We are hoping to establish seven art attractions in Seoul. I don’t know where the seven attractions will be but I think it would be important for those venues to not simply end at placing artworks because it would be meaningful only when citizens visit and feel happy. Therefore, we are working on creating artworks citizens like rather than assigning artworks. ‘Ecological Matrix’ that was recently constructed in Seoul Forest was designed by an architect (Cho Nam-ho, Soltozibin Architects). We can see the possibility of people from various areas such as media artists, architects and designers, and not just sculptors, participating in the projects when we see recent artworks. I hope artworks that add surprise and vitality with elements like light at night can form a different city landscape. 

Seoul is a city that has more mountains than other cities. So, we are trying to make it so that the mountains can be enjoyed by everyone. It will be transformed through design that elevates the accessibility to many hiking populations including foreign tourists through attractive installations and information design that are linked to smartphones. 

Another one is the design that considers the pet population. We are in an era where the pet population has already exceeded 15 million. As such, we are trying to comprehensively improve the public space and public facilities for pets. Since this is an area with trickly legal requirements, we are working to revise even the systemic parts. Seoul is aiming to be one of the top 5 global cities. For that to be possible, Seoul has to become a model city, and also a city that carries out exchanges, cooperation and diplomatic activities. In that sense, Seoul Metropolitan Government is trying to adopt a design perspective in all its administrative processes. That would include branding and space services. Reading plaza could be a good case. It is becoming a space that is beloved by the citizens of Seoul through space consulting and brand design. Collaboration projects with corporations are also being prepared in that direction. We are also translating public design guidelines into English for emerging nations. We hope to become a city that provides help for the advancement of public design in emerging nations. 


Recovery design for everyone

Nest is a recovery design related to the citizen’s health, safety and recovery of everyday lives. We realized the importance of our everyday lives through Covid-19. In 2021, the Covid-19 infection prevention pictogram design of Seoul Metropolitan Government was well received. Seoul Metropolitan Government was the one that developed it, but it was used by many institutions. It even received a global design award, iF. Regarding the safety design, Seoul Metropolitan Government is undergoing safety upgrade of construction sites, and this has already been applied to more than 80 construction sites that Seoul is in charge of. We are making attempts to expand this to private construction sites as well. 

Now, I will talk about climate change. Seoul is a city that rains a lot in the summer. It is forecasted that there would be heavier rain due to climate change. We are reflecting ‘Tokyo disaster prevention’ or ‘safety color’ to the design for flood safety. Of course, it won’t happen overnight and we are at a starting phase. Thus, cooperation of our citizens is critical. 

Next is the story with a similar context to design that aimed to resolve obesity in New York and UK called ‘Active Design’. Seoul is trying to implement active design to promote physical and mental health. We named it ‘Active Stadium’, and we want to provide attractive experiences to the users. For instance, children with visual impairment desire to run freely. So, we are letting children run while holding ropes installed in a stadium. We hope to create such spaces to allow those with disability or groups vulnerable in terms of motor activities to run freely. Many citizens require spaces to heal their hearts after Covid-19. In truth, the number of consultations grew by more than 3 times, and we are going to create Maum garden and use it actively. I think this applies both to youths and adults these days. We are planning to supply more plant spaces to alleviate overindulgence of smartphones. 


Sustainable design that goes together

Next is about sustainable ecosystem, sustainable economy and sustainable learning among sustainable design. We are preparing Seoul-specific recycling projects like the overseas cases of making benches through the recycling project. Paper building constructed by Shigeru Ban was also a huge inspiration. We want to implement this by gathering domestic technology and carrying out international cooperation. 

Also, we are fostering the industry through the Ordinance on Public Design Promotion. Actual design industry ecosystem cannot be established simply with good architects or designs. We need solidarity with many companies and technological background. 

We also plan to continuously scale out smart facilities of Seoul. You will be able to see them starting next year. Furthermore, we are experimenting with smart subway canopy designs and so forth in Seoul. I believe that the city could become more convenient through such deliverables. Seoul Metropolitan Government desires to create a design city that vitalizes safety and healthy economy that everyone can enjoy together while feeling the joy and pride in what is most Seoul-like. 

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