Panel Discussion

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

Panel Discussion

Panel: Thomas Heatherwick(Founder of Heatherwick Studio), Shigeru Ban(CEO of Shigeru Ban Architectural Design Office), Meejin Yoon(Dean of Architecture and Art Design Cornell University, Partner of Howeler + Yoon Architecture), Choi In-gyu(Director-General, Design Policy Bureau, Seoul Metropolitan Government), Choi So-hyun(Head of NAVER Design & Marketing), Song In-hyuk(CEO of Unique Good Company), Lee Dal-woo(CEO of Studio Maeum)

Moderator : Yoon Hye-gyung(Research Professor, Yonsei University)

Yoon Hye-gyung: Today, through your presentations, we heard about how important human centric cities are, how attractive human centric buildings and such environment are and how they can reach out with emotional aspects. Seoul Metropolitan Government also made efforts to create a beautiful human centric city by adopting such a design fifteen years ago. In the contemporary cities after the industrial revolution, we emphasize physical environment, infrastructure, structures and so forth, and the cities developed focusing on those factors. However, with the recent enhancement of well-being and human rights, we are in a new paradigm where the city is transforming to be people centric and human centric. 

At this time point, I would like to mention DDP, which is one of the landmarks in Seoul among many projects that were carried out by Seoul Metropolitan Government. DDP is not only attractive on the outside, but it is becoming the central point of culture. At first, we may not understand the significance of an attractive city, but we recognize how critical it is as time passes, and I believe we now perceive the consequent values. 

In the panel discussion, we will be hearing about the role of design, design solution and design strategy for Seoul to grow into a global city through the ‘Accompanying the vulnerable group’  ‘Attractive metropolitan city’ that the policy of Seoul Metropolitan Government is aiming for, which is a bit different from the themes of the presentations, and I hope that the insights that we hear today will provide an opportunity to propose a new direction in realizing Seoul Design 2.0. Let us now begin the panel discussion. 

First, I would like to ask the three speakers. What was your first impression of Seoul from the perspective of design? 

Thomas Heatherwick: Seoul is a passionate city where various things are blended and jumbled together, and I believe it is a place with contradiction, paradox and a huge amount of potential. 

Shigeru Ban: I think it will be difficult to define simply in a sentence. I will compare Seoul and Tokyo. There are more interesting buildings in Seoul than in Tokyo. I think this is thanks to the commitments of the Korean companies and leaders. It can act as a risk, and while Japan does not want to take on such a risk, I believe there are many leaders in Korea who are trying to create a new identity. 

Yoon Meejin: I get the feeling that Seoul is always trying to seek out the next thing and attempting to change. 

Yoon Hye-gyung: I believe these will all act as an implication for Seoul Metropolitan Government to reach out with a new appeal. Now, I will go into the questions in earnest. I hope you will answer the questions in terms of the competitiveness as design cities. First, my question goes to the founder, Thomas Heatherwick. I would like to ask you to think of the question as a follow up to your session. Leading cities are implementing policies to strengthen the competitiveness of their identity and image through the concept of design city. If so, what do you think is the competitiveness of Seoul as a design city? 

Thomas Heatherwick: The global interest and attention are currently focused on Korea and Seoul is the capital city of Korea. I think, in some sense, historically, Korea was shrouded by China and Japan. There are things that come to the mind when you think of ‘Japanese culture’ and China also has a very strong narrative. I believe that the entire world is currently interested in the narrative of Seoul. The narrative that has not yet been conveyed to the world seems to be headed towards the future instead of being mired in the past. Therefore, a lot of people are curious. It is not just about music or contents like drama, but a newspaper article that I recently read even talked about K-perfume. That is why I think the whole world is curious about Korea. This is where opportunities lie. We have greater expectations because Korea is a place that is not restrained by something. Globally, we talk about various types of crises, such as those relating to environment, equality, debt and healthcare. We need something fun to overcome these crises, and I believe Korea, and Seoul in particular, has the power of joy that will contribute to overcoming crises. 

Yoon Hye-gyung: I think your answer just provided a huge insight. We normally think of crisis to be negative, but you actually mentioned how it could be transformed through what is joyful and fun, as a part of the competitiveness of the city. I believe this will also be helpful in ‘Fun design’ that was mentioned in Design 2.0 of Seoul Metropolitan Government. 

Next, I would like to ask a question to Shigeru Ban. What do you value in relation to the quality of life of citizens among the strategies of a design city? 

Shigeru Ban: I think this will not be an issue that is limited to Seoul. We need to first identify the difference between uniqueness and what is unusual. There are buildings that are unusual but boring. This is because those buildings are artificial. However, unique buildings are not boring in any way. 

Yoon Hye-gyung: Would you be able to elaborate? There is a difference between what is unique and what is unusual, but how can this be impacting and connected to the quality of life? 

Shigeru Ban: Most people try to make something that is just unusual. However, we will not feel affectionate towards those buildings, and ultimately, those buildings may be demolished 20 years later. 

Yoon Hye-gyung: I understand. Next question goes to Dean Yoon Meejin. Considering that you are living overseas, what do you think is the differentiated strategy on design city for ‘Seoul-like’ of the global leading city, Seoul, from the outside in perspective? 

Yoon Meejin: I think this may be an issue that is more closely linked to people living in Seoul but if I may offer my view, Seoul clearly has its unique character. It is so even from the historic perspective. It was previously mentioned that things become popular abroad when we have ‘K’ in front. In that sense, Seoul is fresh and mature at the same time. I teach students in US, and there are many talented students from Korea. I think fostering talents and maturity will become strong forces. I believe strategy and vision for design of Seoul will emerge from these forces. 

Yoon Hye-gyung: Next question is for Choi So-hyun. From the perspective of the planner comprehensively in charge of design at a company, what do you think is the economic impact that is generated in a city with design competitiveness and lifestyle? 

Choi So-hyun: Lifestyle, design competitiveness and generation of economic values are all difficult to achieve. I do not think design competitiveness is generated just because there are a few buildings of an architect or works of excellent designers. As for lifestyle, I think we can evaluate whether or not the identity of people living in the city can be identified. If so, we have to consider both the tangible and intangible things in terms of design competitiveness. In other words, we need to establish a foundation that can coney the identity of the city in all areas including hardware, software and humanware. When we say design competitiveness, we can consider the industrial perspective or the cultural and lifestyle perspectives. I believe a city with a clear identity and citizenship will have citizens that produce outcomes and I believe those cities and towns would be splendid. Above all, I think design values can be obtained when the liveliness and vitality of the city can be felt. Economic value may immediately generate ROI or values may change depending on the timepoints, whether it is about the near future or distant future. Since the city would have existed for a certain amount of time, if it is producing something with a clear identity, then, that could also lead to design competitiveness.  

Yoon Hye-gyung: Thank you for such an easy explanation. I think the perspective on the vitality that you mentioned is linked to the creativity Shigeru Ban mentioned. 

I would now like to ask a question to Director-general Choi In-gyu of the Design Policy Bureau. You are striving to enhance the quality of life for citizens and the city’s competitiveness in Seoul. What are some challenges that you are facing in pursuing design policies? 

Choi In-gyu: I think work related to design policy is challenging because our life in itself is not easy. It is not easy for people to be working and living in the city. From the perspective of urban design, it is not easy to identify the design and connect the design to policies. There are too many cases where the thoughts of some experts are not aligned to the thoughts of the citizens. There are also many cases where the thoughts are not aligned to that of decision makers. However, I believe experts are people who can look out into the future and persuade decision makers with insights about the future. During the process, harmony is embodied in the appearance of the city.  

Yoon Hye-gyung: Then, can we think of harmony with people as the direction for human centric design? 

Choi In-gyu: We are striving to gather the thoughts of our citizens in various ways, but since we cannot hear the voices of all citizens, sometimes we question ourselves, ‘Is this truly the direction that our citizens want us to take?’ At times, we sometimes wonder whether the citizens would be pleased if we head towards a certain direction. Ultimately, it is important for us to make a decision on the direction that we take on the most complex parts that we deeply think about and also on the types of benefits and challenges we might face when we take certain actions. 

Yoon Hye-gyung: Hearing your words made me think that design policies should not only be led by Seoul Metropolitan Government but would require the engagement of citizens, and I really hope to see a balanced harmony between the city and our citizens. 

Next, we will hear the opinions of the speakers on the role of design under the theme of ‘Accompanying the vulnerable group, attractive metropolitan city’. I would like to ask a question to both Lee Dal-woo and Song In-hyuk. The basis of Seoul Metropolitan Government’s policy is accompanying the vulnerable group and creating an attractive metropolitan city. Which projects should focus on implementing design policies from the perspective of accompanying others? 

Lee Dal-woo: There are many but I think the so-called universal design would be significant. Let me use the street as an example. The street has a structure where people inevitably meet one another. When I was young, there was a big tree in each neighborhood. There would be elderly men and women and there would be mothers waiting for their children under the trees. People of different age groups would be utilizing this space at different timepoints. Ultimately, there has to be places to be provided by cities, but it is not feasible. Therefore, I thought it would be best to have a certain space that is 3.3㎡ in size, like a public infrastructure. Previously, Thomas Heatherwick mentioned that ‘public infrastructure is like a coral reef’, and I think we need space that is open even to the vulnerable groups so that they can breathe comfortably in that space and be protected as if they are being monitored by CCTVs. 

Song In-hyuk: Have you been in a scavenger hunt? It is an easy game that does not need further explanation to anyone, regardless of age. How would you feel if we say that there is a world’s largest scavenger hunt going on in November that is trying to break the Guinness World Records? Do you not think that it will be fun? It might seem odd, but this is what we are preparing. I think it is so from the perspective of accompanying others. Campaign that is meant for everyone is not really meant for anyone but it relates to design for certain people like the vulnerable group. It is an experience for certain people. However, if we can inform others that the experiences that we are familiar with and enjoyed since our childhood can be made possible in new ways of play by leveraging technology, campaign or numerous resources, we may be able to move people even without having to attach the meaning of accompanying others to it. Campaign shouldn’t be a campaign meant only for a certain group of people. 

For instance, you hear that ping noise when elevator stops. That device was originally meant for the visually impaired, but it helps even those without disability. Now, you feel weird when you don’t hear that sound. It was meant for someone but now everyone can enjoy the benefit, and that is when people feel like they were chosen. Among our contents, there are contents that are operated by those who have hearing impairment. The experience of people without disability being able to speak with people who are hearing impaired with sign languages give a very exhilarating feeling.  People who are hearing impaired can also think, ‘I can have fun while directly communicating with others, and my characteristic is not a weakness but can also be a fun point to be enjoyed together’. Everyone ends up becoming happy. I think if we can develop such participative factors that can be enjoyed by everyone while ensuring that everyone is at the center and also develop various campaigns that the city can utilize, this will lead to many opportunities without having to emphasize ‘accompanying’ at the front. 

Yoon Hye-gyung: Thank you. If we were to contemplate the role of the designers from the perspective of accompanying others as you mentioned, there could by some physical solutions, and there could also be social and psychological roles that designers can play. The society is becoming more and more human centric and now, instead of accompanying people only in the physical environment, we need to expand this to the psychological part as well. I believe such changes could lead to the creation of more mature accompanying designs. I want to add one more point. Accompanying someone would mean going together, and I believe we need to enhance the perception of being together here. We cannot accompany others without a clear awareness. So, we need to be aware about the meaning of accompanying others, and we need to set a stance where we become citizens with that awareness first.  

I would like to ask my next question to Shigeru Ban. Can you briefly introduce a project that would be helpful to the Seoul Metropolitan Government in pursuing ‘Accompanying the vulnerable group’, which is the vision of the Seoul Metropolitan Government? 

Shigeru Ban: I am building a hospital in Ukraine. It is not a project for the vulnerable group. However, since there is a war going on, hospitals are required. So, I am carrying out fundraising activities while constructing hospitals. I told you that I am going to Marrakesh in Morocco next week. There are many natural disasters in the world right now. There was the giant flood in Libya and there was a natural disaster recently in Hawaii as well. There are opportunities for not only architects but students to provide help. 

Yoon Hye-gyung: As you heard, accompanying the vulnerable group is not something special but is something that can be achieved in all parts of our lives. If so, I have a question to Yoon Meejin. You carried out many public projects based on the future-oriented experiential values until now. What would be some cases of public projects that you would like to apply for the citizens of Seoul? 

Yoon Meejin: I think we can think of projects that reflect the locations and spaces of Seoul. I think it would be difficult for me to answer impulsively. However, one thing that I can tell you is that citizens need to be a part of the design process for us to design an inclusive city. When you look at the field of architecture, citizen participation are deemed to be especially difficult. There is a tendency to think that we need to persuade the public about projects. However, I actually learned a lot from the citizens in my recent experiences. I could design a more human centric city based on those learnings. I believe we will be able to design a unique but human centric city when we are engaged in projects with modesty and a humble mindset as designers. 

Yoon Hye-gyung: Thank you. You talked about the attitude to be taken by designers and architects in implementing projects and also about engagement of the citizens. I think it will be very helpful. 

I would like to ask the next question to Choi So-hyun. What do you think is the attractiveness of a city and could you elaborate on the role of design and relevant use cases? 

Choi So-hyun: I don’t think attractiveness is only those visible to the eyes. The part I am attracted to is that I respond to a being that moves in line with the same context, like thoughts, words, texts or images that are connected. It is the same for cities. In case of Stockholm or Copenhagen (Of course, I love Seoul but since I am in a love and hate relationship with it because I lived in Seoul my whole life, I will talk about other cities), the roles of public and private spaces are so clear and I feel that the roles are properly played out. I thought about the public spaces and the high-quality works that emerge from these cities, and I feel that discussions, agreement and Florence work well together as Yoon Meejin just mentioned. In terms of the roles of designers, ultimately, there is nothing that a designer can achieve alone. I think attractiveness can change depending on how deliverables that can bring out an agreement and consensus are created. 

Yoon Hye-gyung: Thank you. I want to ask Thomas Heatherwick again. Could you provide some cases that can be applied to the future city, Seoul, and also elaborate on the role of design for an attractive city design? 

Thomas Heatherwick : My father once said, “Be careful of what you say especially when you are at an international conference”. In a conference like these, many people talk, listen to one another and hear the stories of people from different companies. I would go home and talk about things I heard but he would say that nothing gets achieved. However, my understanding is that Seoul Metropolitan Government has people who are proactively trying to achieve ambitious transformation. So, if I may dare propose, we continuously talked about the public nature, human rights and human rights in public spaces. 

I think we need buildings that support our mental health. We had a peculiar phenomenon for the past 100 years. Culture was completely excluded from buildings for the past 100 years. Long ago, we could see cultures and values in buildings. Sometimes, we even engraved the names of the architect in buildings. If I may add, I believe Seoul is the first city that included the commitment to ‘humanize the city’ in the design guideline. Many cities have strategies. That is the same for strategies on buildings. There are many guidelines about where to place the building on the street, and about the impact of the ground floors and so forth. But not many guidelines talk about the emotions and sentiments that should be felt from various perspectives such as the building viewed by a pedestrian and the building viewed from the first and the second floor and so forth. However, as I mentioned in my presentation, buildings can give us a lot but can also take a lot away from us. 

Therefore, we need a specific guideline on what can be provided to people who are passing by the exterior of the buildings from various floors that surround the building. Culture was completely excluded from buildings, and suddenly, there was an emergence of a trend to install artworks in a plaza that is separate from buildings. Hence, I think designers, citizens and communities need to establish a guideline that stipulates that the first floor of the building needs to bring about some sort of a sentiment, so that there is a type of a narrative. I think we need to implement design so that we can talk about the human nature. I think this is important for the mental health of the society and also for the public nature. This doesn’t have to be completely unprecedented. Establishing a guideline to ensure that all new buildings provide something even to the pedestrians who do not use the inside of the buildings is ultimately related to sharing stories. So, I believe buildings need to provide sentiments to the people through materials and design and through basic sentimental exchange. 

So, there is a need to talk about various things. Of course, during the process, it is not only glamorous buildings conveying stories and giving something to people. I believe even small and trivial structures can trigger emotions from people and provide stories. In some sense, we need a cultural revolution. It is a revolution of embracing buildings with culture once again. Therefore, instead of installing artworks in order to guarantee buildings without imagination or culture, we need to dress buildings with culture. I don’t know if my father will be satisfied with me talking this much. 

Yoon Hye-gyung: If I may summarize, the role of design is to scale out public nature and providing support for human nature as well as emphasizing human rights. Culture will be vitalized when mental health is enhanced, and creativity is born out of a place where culture is alive. I think this is what you think to be the role of design. In particular, as for factors to be applied to the future city, Seoul, we should dress the first and second floors of buildings that we think to be owned by individuals with culture and it is important that people who are not users of the buildings should be able to also enjoy those buildings. I was impressed with how you said you hope Seoul will become a future city where beauty can be enjoyed and I am sure that your father will approve. 

I would like to ask the next question to Song In-hyuk. You created and are currently implementing and pursuing Design Seoul 2.0, the masterplan that reflects the policy philosophy of the mayor in design. Could you disclose of the ambitious work to be presented to the citizens? 

Song In-hyuk: I mentioned fifteen design keywords and design principles in my presentation. I think instead of going through these one by one, our mission is to allow our citizens to encounter fun design in line with these principles in various parts of the city. Above all, Seoul consists of beautiful natural landscape such as mountains and rivers. Since there are various things happening on the road, I hope everything will consist of safe and fun experiences. Just a few days ago, new subway line map design was announced. You will see that it is quite convenient. In particular, since we enhanced completeness in terms of design, I believe such things are all means for our citizen to encounter fun design in daily lives.  

Yoon Hye-gyung: I also took a look at the subway line map. The color coordination is such that it would be comfortable for even people with visual impairment. I thought that it was an intuitive design that could be seen at a glance. Lastly, I would like to ask questions that were received in advance to all panelists. First question is for Thomas Heatherwick. This question was asked by a professor. If we were to divide the stages of design into emotional and instinctive stage, functional behavior stage and cognitive experience stage, how can these three stages be applied in a project? 

Thomas Heatherwick: I think the questioner already explained his or her own design process while asking the question. Heatherwick Studio conducts as much research as possible at the beginning. By doing so, we try to identify the question that we should be proposing without having a prejudice. The most important question is, ‘What is the most critical question that I have to answer?’ For instance, when Heatherwick Studio was designing the torch stand for 2012 London Olympics, the requests were that the torch should be at the highest point of the stadium and that there shouldn’t be a moving part. We contemplated this and realized that there was something wrong with the request because the person leading the ceremony wanted to be with the public in holding the ceremony. 

We thought that the torch should be with the citizens, and the request that there shouldn’t be a moving part was judged to be emerging from a concern. According to research, there was a case where the torch stand stopped for about two minutes while moving at the Sydney Olympics. Thus, the message was not about limiting the movement but to ensure that there shouldn’t be any errors in the relay. We identified what the actual request was and what the underlying meaning was. Against this backdrop, the most important part is the attitude to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. 

However, when we see successful design studios, they succeeded because they put themselves in the shoes of other people with their own imagination rather than proposing some remarkable ideas with their imagination. They used their imagination to think about, ‘How would it be for other people?’ and ‘What emotions would others feel?’ So, I think I can say that such a process is significant. Now, regarding how to engage the community and how to involve the community when constructing buildings and venues, it is important to instill a sense of ownership in people. It was mentioned before, however, we cannot force the community do somethings. If we were to communicate with the community, instead of myself talking all the time, we have to listen to the voices of the community. 

There are also cases where we cannot hear the voices of the other side, because we do not have sufficient time to complete the project. In such circumstances, we have to let our imagination run wild to think more deeply about what other people might do in such projects and the types of emotions they might go through. Ultimately, we need to use our intelligence while considering the emotions of the users, and also fully leverage our own emotions. There was a controversial issue in the architecture industry in UK. It was said that there were discussions and votes carried out about whether or not the opinions of the general public or citizens were important in London Club. However, the result was that the opinions or the feedback of the general citizens were not that important. This was quite shocking. When we see such things, we can realize that there is a considerable number of issues in the construction or the architecture industry. It made me think that people don’t fully realize the intelligence of the general citizens and the general public. People do not want buildings that just imitate other buildings. Even general citizens know sufficiently about buildings, and we need to open our ears more to what they desire.

Yoon Hye-gyung: That was a very touching comment. I think the way for us to create an attractive city and to accompany the vulnerable groups would be done by exploring the positions of others and continuing to explore while studying and conducting research.

Today we invited globally renowned speakers to talk about a human-centered city, and the role of design in creating such a city. In addition, we heard valuable opinions from the speakers about the basis of the design policy of Seoul Metropolitan Government, ‘Accompanying the vulnerable group’ and creating an ‘attractive metropolitan city’. We have now stepped into the transition point of our era. We are in the fourth industrial revolution. I believe we are at a time where we must change. Therefore, I think I have reached a conclusion that we should be discarding the bad habits of the past and aiming towards achieving maturity, rather than growing only, and we also need to on values rather than only weighing growth with numerical values.

Seoul Metropolitan Government is making efforts to once again to take a leap into becoming a global city by prioritizing methods to enhance the quality of life while thinking in the shoes of others. This is being carried out through Seoul Design 2.0. I hope Seoul will be able to successfully jump forward, and I hope through such efforts of Design 2.0 that can be active, attractive and embodying the soul of the citizens (I created this). Moreover, many speakers also mention that Seoul is very beautiful, and especially these days, I also feel that Seoul is very beautiful. I am confident that there will be a day when the mountain paths, the waterways and the wind paths of Seoul will become completely aligned with the hearts of our citizens. Against this backdrop, we will conclude the forum with hopes that Seoul will become a better city to live in, a city, where people can work while feeling that charm, and a city that people will gather in and lead a happy life. 

Lastly, would this be only the works of experts or design, experts alone? It cannot be achieved without the participation and support of the citizens. So, we would like to ask you to participate proactively. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to online and offline participants, who joined us until the end at a very late time, and we will conclude todays’ forum here. 

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