Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul – “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” (Eleanor Roosevelt) is often an overlooked statement. Most of life is generic and we are mere pieces in a monochrome abyss. The cyclic nature of life is essential to the survival of our species, but occasionally we need a little change to divert our attention to other things. Most of our thoughts are associated with the surroundings we dwell in our lives. Like most living creatures, man has a vivid response to the stimulus of the senses. And this fact is what drove people to interact more with their environment. And this has highly evolved and grown.

The world has become grey as opposed to the green, and spaces of interaction constrained to the place of work. Most cities of today lack accessible open areas. This issue has led architects, designers, and urban planners, to understand the importance of such spaces. As said by Enrique Penalosa, “public space is for living, doing business, kissing and playing. Its value can’t be measured with economics or mathematics; it must be felt with the soul.” We come across public spaces every day, but often we don’t feel comfortable using it (due to the commercialization of public spaces – overcrowding of shops). By now we have established that there is a lack of space and the available spaces un-utilized. So, which way should we go about it?

The major opposing force is the vast growing generic world, with monotonous buildings, resulting in a concrete jungle. The best way to counter the problem is to associate public spaces with modern buildings. The integration of different structures into one which is both functional and aesthetic helps bridge the gap between built form and people. Architecture has witnessed several paradigm shifts in ideologies, and with the development of technology. New concepts like parametric design have brought us closer to the perceived future, allowing us to build bold and magnificent structures, creating stark variety in the monotonous urban fabric. These act as a gateway between yesterday and tomorrow. “It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.” – John Guare (Landscape of the Body).

Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul by Zaha Hadid: The Metonymic Landscape - Sheet1
Urban Context of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul © Pinterest

The gateway is used as a metaphor to signify any form of transition. But at times we find structures that define what they stand for. ‘Dongdaemun’ in Korean means ‘great east gate’, and the Dongdaemun Design Plaza designed by Zaha Hadid, stands for its name and creates a ‘metonymic landscape’ (as quoted by Zaha Hadid Architects). It exhibits the element of flow and folds and adds the element of variety in the otherwise wearisome surroundings.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul by Zaha Hadid: The Metonymic Landscape - Sheet2
Floor Plan of DDP ©ArchDaily

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), spread over 22 acres, is a mixed-use building located in Jung-Gu (Seoul) which is a hub of fashion, media, and new technology. The DDP can be broadly divided into three-part viz the plaza, a landscaped park, and the main building. The roof of the building is a walkable landscape park and below which there are spaces including large exhibition spaces (including the pathways), art and design halls, conference hall (and seminar rooms), a design museum, a media center, an integrated design lab, designers lounges, and several 24-hour retail stores and cafes at different levels, interconnected with each other with elegant circulation. It is among the first buildings in South Korea that have used Building Information Modelling (BIM) for its construction. The construction of the structure made use of various aspects like programming, engineering, spatial organization, and parametric design integrated to define the behavioral structure and the interactions happening around them.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul by Zaha Hadid: The Metonymic Landscape - Sheet3
Inside DDP ©Virgile Simon Bertand/ ZHA

Zaha Hadid’s style of architecture speaks out to people giving a sense of belonging and instigates the imagination of people. The DDP has free form reinforced concrete annexes and consists of 45,000 unique double curved panels (each of which has different degrees of curvature). These panels were mass-produced using parametric modeling to have more control over the quality and cost of the produce. These panels create perforation and pixelation patterns over the entire facade, which also acts as a reflective surface for the LED lights and the signboards in the buildings surrounding the structure. It also uses built-in lighting to create patterns and adjust to urban settings accordingly.

Reinforced Concrete Annexes with Curved Panels ©Virgile Simon Bertand/ ZHA
Patterns using reflected and built in lights on front facade ©Virgile Simon Bertand/ ZHA

The site for the Dongdaemun Design Plaza was initially a stadium, which was the central element of the area. This structure combines folds with its landscaped green spaces, which represent the fast-changing city of Seoul with its efforts to become a green city. It becomes a location for the exchange of ideas and new technologies and helps people of all ages come together and cherish the culture and nightlife of the area. It hosts a large variety of events and exhibitions, which adds to the cultural exuberance. The building has successfully integrated the traditional culture and values (artifacts) of the city with its rapid modernization. This structure becomes a symbol of what the future holds for us and brings life to the imagination of space. The DDP has become an icon of the area and is famous for its 24-hour stores and cafes and vivacious ambiance. It is a gateway to a vivid thought strain and helps people connect to space and tread onto a different world altogether.

Night Lighting at DDP ©Virgile Simon Bertand/ ZHA
A regular evening at the Plaza ©OnedayKorea TravelBlog

Currently pursuing bachelor's in urban planning, with a keen interest in art and design. His works have a sense of fantasy and practicality and he is obsessed with the word ‘Why.’ He enjoys learning complicated concepts and finds their application in life.