My guidebook promised that Dongdaemun Plaza was one of the best examples of modern ‘futuristic’ architecture in Seoul. Of course, I had been disappointed by many such promises from guidebooks before.
I can’t say that Dongdaemun Plaza blew my mind away, but at least the way the large structures of concrete overlay each other like an oversized labyrinth made an impression on me.
Dongdaemun Plaza has many exhibits and centers dedicated to design, and during my brief visit, I couldn’t wrap my head around everything there. They have workshops, bookstores, and exhibits, all dedicated to design.
There was one exhibit dedicated to the winners of a Dutch design award, and it was interesting what kinds of projects were at the forefront of Dutch design.
More relevant to South Korea was an exhibit dedicated towards planning the future of Seoul itself. Seoul’s current mayor is a former human rights lawyer, and his platform was to move away from ‘economic growth’ as in, more construction projects, more factories, etc., and instead to re-orient city policy around the welfare of its citizens. He won by a landslide in his re-election campaign. This exhibit was dedicated to how the city was planning to implement his policy. For example, there are old shantytown slums in Seoul, where the residents have irregular or no access to electricity an indoor plumbing, or even windows. There was a description of what was being done to improve the quality of life of the shantytown residents, most of whom are elderly. I didn’t look at everything in the exhibit – it was large and detailed – but it was interesting to get a look at that side of Seoul.
During the construction of Dongdaemun Plaza, many historical artifacts, mostly from the Joseon era, were unearthed, and some are now on display in the Dongdaemun Plaza History Museum, which offers a brief history of Joseon-era Seoul and what these archaeological finds can tell us about the city.
Nearby is Dongdaemun Market, including the Pyounghwa Clothing Market. The Pyounghwa Clothing Market was established by refugees from North Korea who fled to South Korea during the war, and it’s still a popular place for both locals and tourists to buy clothing at good prices. South Korean fashion is all the rage in East Asia these days, so I bought a little dress myself to serve as a memento.
I think Dongdaemun Plaza is interesting, and I could have spent more time there, but it’s not essential.