An Ancient Capital Embraces Modernity

Seoul’s Design Boom :Seoul, South Korea

     Until recently, Seoul’s cityscape has been dominated by the unremarkable gray buildings erected after the Korean War in the 1950s; today, residents sometimes have trouble orienting themselves, due to round-the clock construction. It’s thanks to a vibrant economy—fueled by the likes of electronics leaders Samsung and LG Electronics—and sweeping plans to transform Seoul into an international design destination. And its time may have already come: The International Council of Industrial Design named the city “World Design Capital” in 2010.

Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul

     Visitors will find ambitious design and urban renewal plans throughout the city— in the harmonized street graphics, bus shelters, and public benches, and in massive new construction projects, some associated with celebrity architects like Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, and Jean Nouvel. You’ll have to wait until 2014 to see the new opera house, being built on an island in the cleaned-up Han River, but for now you can wander through the new design district, or Dogndaemun History and Culture Park, created by architect Zaha Hadid. While away some time in the cafés along the banks of the Han, or investigate the art scene flourishing in the pleasant Samcheong-dong neighborhood. You’ll not be alone, as local competitions like the Design Olympiad are nurturing a grassroots interest in culture, style, and design.

Cheongdam-dong District
     Continue gazing at all that’s new and stunning in the Cheongdam-dong district near Dosan Park, where Belgian fashion designer Ann Demeulemeester’s dramatic flagship store represents the new design spirit with its curved lines and vegetation-covered outer walls. The same goes for the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, featuring art by Korean and international artists and designed in part by Koolhaas and Nouvel. Adding an almost Vegas feel to it all is the Moonlit Rainbow Fountain on the Banpo Bridge; it’s the world’s longest bridge fountain, shooting 190 tons of water a minute from 10,000 nozzles and illuminated with colored lights.

     Glimpse Seoul’s high-tech future at the Digital Media City complex—a wired “city” of electronics manufacturers, researchers and developers, universities, apartments, and exhibition spaces that have been under construction for the past decade. When the new sleek 133-story skyscraper is completed in 2015, it will be the second-tallest building in the world.
DIgital Media City, Seoul
W Hotel Seoul
     Explore the new direction of nouvelle Korean food at stylish Jung Sik Dang, where creative dishes like kimchi consommé or green salad with grasshopper are on the menu. You can check into a cutting-edge new room at the IP Boutique Hotel, which has a playful design approach through its colorful Lego-like exterior and bold contemporary furnishings. The luxury W Hotel, meanwhile, perched on a hillside outside the city center, has sleek lines and soothing views of the Han River.

Leeum Samsung Museum of Art: Tel 82/2-2014-6900; 
Digital Media City: 
Jung Sik Dang: Tel 82/2-517-4654; Cost: dinner $98. 
IPIP Boutique Hotel: Tel 82/2-3702-8000; Cost: from $180. 
W Hotel: Tel 82/2-465-2222; Cost: from $230.

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