Seoul Design Olympiad

With Seoul as the first officially designated city as a World Design Capital 2010, the Seoul Design Olympiad is an international design festival in line with its status organized with the aim of cultural enrichment and promoting the quality of people’s lives through design.

The theme of the Olympiad was Design is Air. Although it’s an energy that breathes life, it’s always with us and is multi-sensory, it does not reveal itself. If design in the 20th century is earth, then the design of the 21st century can be said to be air. The digital technology of the new century goes beyond the boundaries of material and immaterial that unfold a new world of design and communication and convergence. The organizers selected Design as Air as its theme to better discuss and explore the design of life that breathes along with nature’s elements of earth, water, and wind. Just like air that’s expressed as the energy flowing through empty space, design is symbolized as life’s energy flowing throughout our lives.

The Olympiad was held for three weeks in October at the Jamsil Olympic Stadium. Which was a fitting venue as the stadium was used to hold the Seoul Summer Olmypic’s in 1988 and is now holding an “Olympiad” of art and design. This particular exhibition is to date, the largest of its kind ever held in the world. I walked for what seemed like hundreds of miles around the three levels of the stadium. For the first time in my life I realized how perfect a sports stadium is for holding large scale art exhibits. Thousands of streamers hung on the outside of the stadium. Each streamer had hundreds of recyclable bottles and cans strung along a cord. The stadium had effectively been dressed up into a recyclable art piece. Its strong environmentally friendly message was one that could be seen throughout the various design exhibits.

After entering the stadium I looked over the bleachers onto the center of the field. On the left side of the field sat a massive grey coiled structure which looked like a human GI Track. This massive and billowy organic structure was the venue for the Seoul Design Conference. This international conference was attended by international and domestic designers, educators, entrepreneurs, and urban policymakers to gather and discuss the present and future of design. Adjacent to this amoeba like structure were several corporate sponsored pavilions: Hanwha, Innodesign, Autocad, Amore Pacific and SEL Interior Design. These exhibits were a highlight of the show as they wowed with their various products. Each pavilion seemed like it must have cost millions of dollars to organize and set up for the public. I was able to walk through one exhibit which featured a room covered in low lying fog with walls made of flora covered plastic sheets. This particular company designs fragrance bottles for the perfume/cologne industry. Several of the other corporate pavilions wowed with their sneak peaks at up and coming products. One of the companies is in charge of releasing a Barbie Doll MP3 and cell phone brand as well as an interesting assortment of kitchen utensils and gold coloured sneakers. At the end of the stadium a large white building housed the Seoul Design Competition. This international competition’s theme was “Sustainable City Life of the Future” and aims to present future-oriented design solutions that are environmentally-friendly and creative. The number of entries was mind boggling.

Once I had finished wandering the field I walked up to the stadiums main floor where I started my three hour walk around the stadiums extensive, never ending exhibit space. Starting on the first floor there were two large exhibits entitled Design is Air and Seoul Design Now. The first exhibit was my favorite (and the theme for the entire Olympiad). I walked through thousands of art installations, sculpture gardens and contemplative spaces. Each design company/artist had their own defined space where you could pick up information on their products. Several famous designers from Milan, Zurich, Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Sydney had a considerable amount of space to showcase their famous creations.

Seoul Design Now was a very interesting exhibit which showed how Seoul will look in the next twenty or so years. The city is undergoing a urban renewal and architectural renaissance (especially on the Han River). I sort of sulked for a few moments. The Seoul of the future looks like something out of a Science Fiction Film which I wish I had been able to live in these past twelve months. I thought to myself, “I may just have to come back in a few years to see how all of these plans unfold!” What I have learned is…East Asia (Japan, Korea and China) are the leaders of the worlds future in metropolitan futuristic spaces. I was amazed at the plans for the many futuristic bridges and ornamental sky scrapers which would be dotting the capitals various public spaces in the years to come.

On the second floor was the largest exhibit, World Design City of the Future. This exhibit featured the core of the Olympiad competition: fashion, architectural design, quirky home appliances, landscape architecture, mechanical engineering and technological oddities. This was another highlight of the show as each room featured a very different aspect of design. For example, within a ten minute time period I had walked past a collection of ornamental shrubs and orchids, chandeliers made of fragmented mirror and Barbie Dolls, painted urinals, abstract photography, solar and wind powered machines and miles and miles of ingenious  home appliances and pieces of furniture.

My legs and feet started to really ache after quickly rushing through the 2nd floor. Before leaving I pranced through the 2008 World Design Market on the 3rd Floor. The Design Market was a great way to finish up my day. Over eighty artists from all over the world sat at booths on each side of the room. These artists were selected from across the globe for their unique and quirky designs. I chatted with a young woman from India who makes grocery tote bags. The insides of the bags are made of recycled fiber and the colourful exteriors are made of old marketing billboards which once stood in the streets of Mumbai. There were several jewelers who hailed from Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, New Zealand and Israel. My favorite of the artisans was a young girl from Florence Italy who makes small hipster wallets made out of old cassette tapes. The Marketplace provided visitors of the Olympiad an excellent chance to talk to designers from around the world and buy their products on the spot.
After spending five hours in the stadium I walked around the exterior which offered hundreds of other interactive exhibits. I felt like I had walked several marathons in one afternoon. I was so inspired by all of the creativity at the Seoul Design Olympiad! On the subway ride back home I realized I would forever miss Seoul City for its never end international art fairs and design shows and theater performances. Living in the second largest city in the world truly has its advantages. The entire world seems to come to your doorstep to entertain and Show Off.



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