The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a multiple complex to house a center for the design and fashion industry and a history and culture park.
As the Dongdaemun Stadium had become shabby and obsolete and the surrounding downtown area was deteriorating into a slum, the Seoul Metropolitan Government decided to demolish the stadium and establish the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a multiple complex to house a center for the design and fashion industry and a history and culture park for citizens and visitors.
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza now stands out as a major landmark of Seoul. Besides the aesthetic value with the distinctively neofuturistic design, it is also seen as the most successful urban development project ever in Seoul as it has not just transformed the obsolete downtown region into South Korea’s vibrant fashion hub and popular tourist destination, but also successfully coordinated the intricately tangled conflicts between interested parties involved in the process.
Design, a key to future city competiveness
Design can function as an urban space-enhancing tool as it refreshes the landscape and enhances conveniences of city life. The Seoul Metropolitan Government noted that it lagged behind in terms of design capacity and devised measures to support the industry.
Dongdaemun, a prime location for fashion and design industry
In the Dongdaemun area a fashion and clothing cluster has spontaneously grown since the 1960s. Handling the industry’s entire process from design, to production and distribution, the region has played a pivotal role in nurturing fashion into becoming one of the nation’s key industries. With 52,000 employees and sales of KRW 10 trillion in 2006 alone, it now stands out as a leading fashion and culture center that houses more than 28 percent of Korean industrial design companies and designers.
Triggering the revival of dreary downtown commercial district
The Dongdaemun stadium, located at the center of the Dongdaemun commercial district, was losing its original function as a sport facility but also damaging the region’s image as a fashion district due to the reckless sprawl of street vendors selling low-priced fashion and athletic goods. Even with the risk of deteriorating into a slum, the task to rejuvenate the lackluster district grew more pressing.
The objectives of this project were to invigorate the district by turning it into a multi-complex where commerce and culture blend and prosper together, as well as establishing infrastructure to support the design industry and raise its potential.
- Map out a plan to create a public park
Along with the Dongdaemun area recreation plan released in July 2006, discussions on the building of a public park in the region began picking up steam. A plan was mapped out to build the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park that would replace Dongdaemun’s old baseball and soccer stadiums and their adjoining flea markets and street vendors as well as the Underground Cultural Plaza and exhibition and performance halls. The project would cost KRW 24.3 billion with extra expenses set aside; KRW 40 million for cultural property investigation and KRW 180 million for a feasibility study and basic research.
- Dongdaemun Design Plaza design and construction
In December 2006, the Seoul Metropolitan Government arranged a contest where the citizens submitted ideas for the promotion of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza project. The ideas collected through the open contest were applied to drawing up the project guidelines. At the same time, in a contest to invite candidate designs for the plaza in April 2007, the entry submitted by architect Zaha Hadid was finally selected in August of the same year.
- Dongdaemun History and Culture Park
The Dongdaemun History and Culture Park, located at the rear of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, is a public theme park offering refreshing green space and cultural experiences. It was intended to be an ordinary for-profit park, but the usage changed to a historical and cultural theme park as relics of the Joseon Dynasty such as part of the Seoul Fortress Wall and Hadogam (a military camp site) were excavated from the site during the construction.
- Utilizing underground space and providing greater convenience for pedestrians
One notable aspect of the project is to make the most of the underground to enhance connectivity between the regional market districts that are bisected at ground level. With the subway network of lines No. 2, 4 and 5 physically linking the plaza with nearby shopping districts as well as the park and exhibition halls, the regional commercial districts attract more visitors, while the pedestrians benefit from safer and more convenient environment.
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza project cost a total of KRW 492.4 billion, which marked savings of KRW 10.6 billion in construction and KRW 24 billion in preparation for operation. from the original plan.
- Boosting the design industry
The Seoul Metropolitan Governement held the largest-ever Seoul Fashion Week in commemoration of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza opening in 2014. The event offered a valuable opportunity for rising designers not just to obtain public exposure and publicity, but also to sharpen their competitiveness. Aiming to help identify more of future business potential at home and abroad, the city government will continue to organize more fashion-related events such as fashion shows. This initiative is expected to invigorate the region’s business activities and sales.
Invite more tourists with spectacle and enjoyable attractions
Since the opening of the plaza, the region’s floating population has risen by 10 percent along with the increasing number of foreign visitors. The authority projects more than half of foreign tourists to Korea will visit the Dongdaemun area, and this rejuvenating inflow will boost production and employment, respectively worth KRW 881.7 billion and 5,129 jobs. Neighboring commercial districts are expected to be positively affected, too with growing production of KRW 210 billion.
Criticism over the loss of historicity and regionality
Although the construction is recognized for the high quality, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza is under fire that it buried the historic significance and unique regionality, too. The critics say that a small memorial hall, containing part of old memories associated with the site, fails to breathe new life to the relics and episodes still scattered around. The old castle walls have yet to be restored, but skepticism is rising over the inadequate measures taken amidst relocation of the structures inside.
Financial independence and operation
Right after the opening in March, 2014, the government adjusted the operation plan drawn in 2010, aimed at achieving total financial independence. While hiking the target revenue from KRW 19.2 billion to KRW 32.1 billion, it cut on the estimated expenditure from KRW 39.8 billion to KRW 32.1 billion. Additionally, the Seoul Design Foundation, taking charge of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza operation, has put bigger focus on managing operation rather than on construction. It also strives to create new sources of profit such as brand business, place - marketing and advertising beyond the existing ones such as leasing the space. Still, such a profit-seeking operation inevitably clashes with the pursuit of public benefits, highlighting that achieving a proper balance between public interests and profitability is still a big challenge for the Dongdaemun Design Plaza to tackle.
- Conflict with the sporting community
Leaders from the state-run sports and athletic groups and civic activists released a statement opposing the plan to demolish the stadium. It proposed remodeling the facility instead of tearing it down, in order to preserve the historical and cultural values of the stadium. In response, Seoul Metropolitan Government launched a task force team to devise different strategies respectively for the civic groups and the sporting community. As for the sporting civic groups found to have strong fighting will, it tried unofficial contacts while trying to persuade the others with less aggressive approaches through face-to-face individual contact.
- Opposition from the street vendors
Since its renovation in 1996, the stadium had many vendors selling sports-related goods. On the brink of their livelihood being taken away, they gathered to claim the right to occupy the area in exchange for their effort to promote the market district and demand compensation. The government found the occupancy claim illegal and took a strong stance to file an eviction suit. Faced with counter claims from the occupying vendors to drag out the negotiation further, however, the local government had no choice but to change their strategy.
As a solution to this problem, the Seoul Metropolitan Government assigned a different role to each division in charge: negotiation, negotiation support, relocation support and legal support, and conducted an in-depth investigation. It formulated negotiation strategies based on the analysis, and persuaded them while pushing for legally-compelling measures such as eviction and seizure. Finally, their strenuous efforts paid off to iron out the long-running conflict in February 2008. The experience made the city realize the importance of public property management and social conflict coordination. Particularly, the City came to realize that more negotiation experts and the standard manual should be fostered, too.
- Strife with the Cultural Action and the Cultural Heritage Administration
Many civic organizations including the Cultural Action opposed citing the historic value of the facility. The Cultural Properties Committee also expressed a similar view as it was always at the center of the nation’s turbulent historical scenes such as the Japanese colonial area, the Liberation and subsequent national division. However, the preservation claim had another dilemma as it conflicted with the old fortress wall restoration project, too.
Following repeated discussion, the Seoul Metropolitam Government finalized the dispute with a mediated arrangement: demolish the stadium and conserve the remains of the Joseon Dynasty with the old castle walls in Seoul. On the City’s consistent persuasion, the administration took a step back and proposed to retain some symbolic parts of the stadium, and the municipal government accepted the idea.
Paradigm shift for urban regeneration
Any city could face this question: if old infrastructures in the existing urban settlements remain outdated and abandoned, how could we transform them while conserving the environment? Ceaselessly seeking the answers and solutions on the way, the Seoul Metropolitan Government finally came up with the idea of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza: regenerate the out-fashioned urban infrastructure, provide green, cultural and recreational spaces for citizens and invigorate the sluggish market districts.
A model for settling urban regeneration issues
Through the Dongdaemun Design Plaza project, the Seoul Metropolitan Government pushed its own boundaries going beyond the bureaucratically pessimistic stance. It avoided relying on legal enforcement − rather acknowledging the contribution of interested parties and trying to reflect their voices in the implementation of the project.