Seoul: With Designs on the Future

The manmade waterway, which slices through the heart of Seoul, is fed with water from the Han and from subway pump stations for a consistent and brisk flow.

Seoul, South Korea

Cheonggye Stream provides strategically placed stones for crossing the water.

At water level, the stream is bracketed by walkways and foliage. There are 22 bridges (12 for pedestrians), but strollers can cross the stream at water level by stepping on strategically placed stones.

In the Cheonggye section that my group visited, the park’s walls were lined with painted tiles that depict an 18th century royal procession. It’s the world’s largest ceramic painting, 630 feet long.

Seoul, South Korea

Some of the hundreds of figures that appear on the 630-foot ceramic painting that decorates a wall at the side of Cheonggye Stream in Seoul. The tiles, depicting 1,700 characters and 800 horses, represent King Jeongjo’s Procession, an eight-day 18th century journey to his father’s tomb.

• Gwanghwamun Square is a park on a very, very wide median in the middle of a street called Sejong Ro. The square was redesigned and inaugurated in 2009.

Seoul, South Korea

View of Gwanghwamun Square with flowers in the foreground and, beyond the blossoms, the statue of King Sejong the Great and (behind a temporary golden paper pagoda) the royal gate, Gwanghwamun.

The street is named for King Sejong the Great, who gave Korea its alphabet in 1443. Koreans now write using a combination of that alphabet and Chinese characters.

Seoul, South Korea

Bas-reliefs that tell the story of Korea’s alphabet.

When we visited, the square was pleasantly lined with big containers of flowers, seen against the backdrop of tall buildings and relentless traffic.

As we walked up the broad boulevard, heading north, we saw first a standing statue of the much-admired General Lee Sun Shin who defeated the Japanese when they invaded in the 1592-1598 time period.

Next came a seated statue of King Sejong and a series of pillars featuring bas-reliefs that recall the creation of the alphabet.

This walk leads to the Gwanghwamun gate, an entry point to a Joseon dynasty palace called Gyeongbokgung. The palace is a tourist attraction, too.

Seoul, South Korea

Statue of General Lee Sun Shin on Gwanghwamun Square. Smaller figures seen behind the general’s statue include the statue of King Sejong and Gwanghwamun, a royal gate.

• The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), on the site of a former sports stadium in the middle of Seoul, takes the concept of crafts to a whole new level. Designed by Zaha Hadid, the DDP is an eye-popping set of three linked units shaped like huge smooth oval stones.

Seoul, South Korea

A glimpse of Seoul’s futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which debuted in March.

The vigorously futuristic facility, not loved by all, attracted a million visitors in its first month in early 2014.

Built by the city, the facility, with meeting and exhibit space galore — plus a Design Playground for Kids, is meant to foster and showcase Korean and international product design. The idea is to make Seoul a go-to design center.

Seoul, South Korea

A staircase in Seoul’s futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which debuted in March.

DDP’s Design Lab is a great place for viewing and even buying innovative products from around the world, as I know from personal experience.

This article and its photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

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