Recently designated by The New York Times as one of the “52 Places to Go in 2015,” Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) was born from the remains of a long and painful history and is currently solidifying its reputation as the design mecca of Korea.
During the Joseon Dynasty, the Dongdaemun area was vulnerable to foreign attacks due to its low terrain, which is why it was the location of a military training center. However, during Japanese colonial rule of Joseon (1910 to 1945), the Japanese emperor wanted to give his son, Crown Prince Hirohito, a special gift to commemorate his marriage in 1925. So, the area was covered with a thick layer of soil and became the site of Gyeongseong Stadium.
After Korea’s liberation, the name of the stadium was changed to Seoul Stadium. And when Jamsil Stadium was built for the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, the name was changed again to Dongdaemun Stadium.
Dongdaemun Stadium, which was the largest of its kind in the Far East at the time, was the center of modern and contemporary Korean sports. It was the site of not only the Asian Games (track and field, tennis, volleyball, swimming, ping pong, etc.) and Korea’s National Sports Festival but also opening ceremonies for domestic professional soccer and baseball games. As such, Dongdaemun Stadium became a major part of the lives of the citizens of Gyeongseong (today’s Seoul) as well as Korean people across the country.
However, Dongdaemun Stadium was not spared the ravages of time. With the passing years, it became worn out and damaged. As it grew less and less capable of serving as a stadium, people gradually stopped visiting. Eventually, it came to be used as a parking lot and a venue for small-scale flea markets.
It was then that discussions began on ways to revive the Dongdaemun Stadium area. After exhaustive discussions and five years of construction work, Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) was unveiled on March 21, 2014.
According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, the public facility in Seoul that had the most visitors in 2014 was the DDP. In the one year and six months that it has been in operation, the DDP has received 12,650,000 visitors and hosted 194 different events, among which the Dongdaemun Festival, Seoul Fashion Week, and Seoul Design Week are now the DDP’s signature events.
The fact that it offers so much culture and art content is the biggest attraction of the DDP. Because there is always a new exhibition or event in the works and such a variety of content to choose from, many citizens go to the DDP numerous times throughout the year.
Consisting of five buildings and 15 distinct spaces, the DDP is a large cultural complex of a scale rarely found in Korea or anywhere else around the world. It hosts a wide variety of events, including exhibitions, forums, art fairs, and product launch shows. In particular, it has already become the venue for numerous leading domestic and international art fairs and forums, including the ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives), Global Design Management Forum, and APD (Asia Package Design) Seoul 2015.
The DDP has also hosted The Treasures of Kansong, an exhibition of artifacts from the collection of Kansong Art Museum that aims to highlight the precursors of Korean design, as well as exhibitions of world-famous fashion brands (Culture Chanel, Esprit Dior); and exhibitions of the artwork of famous artists (Audrey Hepburn: Beauty Beyond Beauty, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Exhibition: Landscape, and Andy Warhol Live).
In addition, the DDP has hosted, and continues to host, events and product launch shows for world-famous brands, including Omega, Rolls Royce (Rolls Royce Icon Tour), and Hyundai Motors (Hyundai Aslan Launch Show).
Thanks to Seoul Fashion Week (held every spring and fall), the value of Dongdaemun fashion brands has increased in conjunction with the influx of buyers and other people in the fashion industry. Seoul Design Week, which is striving to become one of Asia’s most prominent “design weeks” together with its Tokyo and Beijing counterparts, and Dongdaemun Festival, which was begun in 2014 to revitalize the deteriorated areas of Dongdaemun, have firmly established themselves as local festivals held to support the surrounding areas. Such local events are playing a significant role in attracting tourists to Dongdaemun.
The DDP is not only an art space that hosts exhibitions of world-famous brands, it is also the city’s most popular filming location for TV ads, dramas, and foreign broadcasts.
World-famous celebrities go to the DDP so frequently that it is said one is guaranteed to see at least one celebrity or famous person there at any given time. With world-class luxury brands like Chanel, Dior, Omega, and Rolls Royce choosing to hold their events and exhibitions at the DDP, it is no surprise that world-renowned individuals tend to gather here as well.
The DDP embodies two images: “design” (modern image) and “Dongdaemun” (popularity). This is why many companies choose to host their events in this unique space, as it allows for the simultaneous promotion of their products and company images.
With an annual average of 2.5 million visitors to the Dongdaemun area and the fact that the DDP was designed by world-class architect Zaha Hadid, from a corporate perspective, the publicity effect of any event held here is virtually guaranteed. As such, world-class brands naturally prefer the DDP over other locations.
Due to its unusual layout, it is sometimes difficult for first-time visitors to find their way to an event location at the DDP. However, this unique structure is why the DDP has been used as the filming location for over 150 domestic and foreign TV programs, movies, and commercials (e.g. US Netflix drama Sense8, MBC’s Infinity Challenge, SBS drama My Love from the Star, MBC dramas Fated to Love You and Pretty Woman, and KBS drama The Producers.
Due to the many direct and indirect spillover effects of the DDP, the Dongdaemun area is currently witnessing a sudden spike in the number of tourist hotels and duty free shops operated by conglomerates, and the volume of weekend pedestrian traffic has increased by 24.3 percent since the DDP opened. And these benefits are rapidly spreading to the surrounding commercial districts as well.
Especially, the DDP is visited often by Chinese and Japanese tourists who want to see the exact spot where their favorite hallyu stars stood in the scenes of popular Korean dramas. Also, the LED Rose Garden, which is especially beautiful at night, is a favorite spot not only for filming TV commercials and dramas but also for ordinary citizens to visit with family and loved ones. The DDP is one of Seoul’s most popular night views.
As the DDP, a space for culture and the arts, was built on the site of Korea’s first sports stadium, it is a place of particular interest to members of the culture and art communities as well as tourists. And it is popular among not only young people but also families with small children.
Thanks to the DDP, the Dongdaemun area now appears much more dynamic and vibrant. Just like the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao revived the flagging economy of Spain’s Basque Country, Dongdaemun will also recover its former vitality through the DDP. This is not mere speculation but a near certainty based on the shared opinion of all who have encountered the DDP.