Seoul - a Soul of Asia and a World Design Capital

29.11.2010 In: Travel destinations

Travelers who visited Seoul a decade ago might probably remember South Korea’s capital as a rather bleak place. But Seoul has changed beyond recognition in the last five years. “Rising standard of living in the population has suddenly redefine priorities in Seoul. In the past, Seoul used to build quick and cheap to accommodate a growing population. With more and more affluent people, Seoul has now decided to reinvent itself and fix architecture failures from the past,” explained Maureen O’Crowley, Senior Director, MICE marketing Tours at Seoul Convention Bureau, during a presentation on Seoul.

Seoul’s location has always been exceptional: the massive 10-million people city is adorned by a chain of mountains, giving the city its distinctive shape and impressive vistas. “From its early start, mountains acted like natural fortresses to protect the city,” indicated Maureen O’Crowley. Except that until recently Seoul’s stunning mountainous landscapes were spoiled by an unaesthetic mass of grey concrete formed by modern buildings.

Poor architecture will, however, soon be history: funky new buildings mixing glass, wood, and metal facades are now transforming South Korea’s capital beyond recognition. “Seoul fascinates me as this city has experienced two economic booms: the first one following the Korean War and the second one recently when it has revitalized into an innovative, environment-friendly, global city able to adopt ideas from all over the world. Seoul is an example of creativity, especially in times of world economic crisis,” admitted Jon Hutchinson, CEO of Business Events Sydney, at the opening dinner of Korea MICE Expo 2010.

Efforts by the municipality to create an environment-friendly Seoul are indeed paying off: the Korean capital is turning greener and more beautiful day after day. Ambitious plans will turn, in a few years, the previous US military base in the city center into a new park. Cheonggyecheon River symbolizes at best how far Seoul can be radically transformed. During decades, Cheonggyecheon River had disappeared covered by an elevated highway. But in 2005, the city decided to give a new breath of life to the river. Lights were installed, water was cleaned, fountains and a new walkway of over 5.5 km created. The result is an area which has turned into one of the favorites to walk for both visitors and locals. “It is now one of our most popular attractions,” admitted Mrs. O’Crowley.

New cultural institutions, such as the stunning National Museum – built on land previously owned by US military - or the district of Bukchon - where Korean traditional houses have been rebuilt and are now used by art galleries, designers, and craftsmen - also offer new alternatives to travelers. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza will add another attraction from 2011. Its stunning architecture with a roof serving as a park is likely to become a major magnet for culture lovers, as the center will contain a multipurpose exhibition and convention hall, a library, and a museum dedicated to design.

“Our efforts were crowned this year by the UNESCO, which awarded us the status of ‘World Design Capital 2010.’ We will soon transmit this distinction to another town, but we will continue to work to maintain our image of Asia’s leading city for design and one of the trendiest,” added Maureen O’Crowley. “We are, for example, working on the production of a new guide about modern architecture and design, which will soon be released. To be recognized as a center of design in Asia definitely helps us to gain in popularity especially among European and North American travelers,” said Samuel Koo, President and CEO of Seoul Tourism. Seoul’s new tagline has been changed to “Soul of Asia.” And this is more than justified.