What do we expect from Dongdaemun Design Plaza by Zaha Hadid

I’ve been doing some research on Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) by Zaha Hadid since my first semester of taking art management class. The assigned project was to organize a virtual art exhibition at any chosen site. Our team chose DDP due to its potential value as an exhibition space that gathers population and I personally visited the site over ten times only for collecting information, taking pictures, and exploring different spaces. As I navigate through the informative websites and news section, it was quite easy to find out a common public reaction towards the building; it looks like a spaceship.

I say, a spaceship that inspires us.

Am I the only one to be surprised and fascinated by how it actually has landed in the most gathering place in Seoul out of nowhere? I am confident enough to say this because my visits to DDP were simply worth it.

Start with a short paragraph of British- Iraqi Zaha Hadid herself. As an architect, she constantly has had a profound impact on contemporary architecture. Regardless of controversies of her work, Hadid was fearless and inspirational. Her work brings immediate confusion at your first sight, you are captivated by the scale and its extraordinary design. Yet, it then draws a desire to fathom how it works. You look for answers. Start exploring the spaces. Enjoy a moment of unveiling.

As a trailblazer in the field of architecture

As the first female architect to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, she began her own practice in London since 1979. Hadid was not afraid of taking risks of design. In the beginning of her career, she waited for six years to observe an actualization of her design. She was called as a paper architect back then due to tough compromise with her unconventional design, which then resulted in a halt of going beyond a design drawing. Frustrated by a constant rejection even after her design was selected, she then fully utilized computer to seek a potential engineering solution to a complexity in forms and design. Unsurprisingly, Hadid was inspired by mathematics that evoked a network of its logic and architecture with the advanced engineering tool to navigate the algorithms that eventually influenced developing her design by computer simulations. Needlessly to say, it has created some ‘exciting phenomenon.’

I have always appreciated those who dare to experiment with materials and proportions. – Zaha Hadid

A constant research and test of new materials and construction techniques by a separate department in her firm have expanded a scope of new invention. Hadid did not define architecture as a seasonal cycle project; rather, she saw that it operates within a social and technological development. Therefore, a transition from the past should be able to display through different approaches and new discoveries. In her ceremony acceptance speech for Pritzker Architecture Prize (See her full acceptance speech), she embraced a role of abstraction as it “opened the possibility of unfettered invention.” She admired an isometric and perspective projection to explore spatial capability and its diverse discoveries without losing continuity and a system of fragmentation and layering.

I don’t think that architecture is only about shelter, is only about a very simple enclosure. It should be able to excite you, to calm you, to make you think. – Zaha Hadid

A controversy

The fact that DDP has been criticized for its unfamiliarity and scale compared to the surroundings is not a surprise. A response from Hadid was that she purposely applied curves to harmonize with the topography of the site because using straight lines from a form of cube would have rather created more enormous feature in result of the lost of balance with the land. She continued, in order to accommodate a given functionality and the number of the people, it was not possible to scale it down. If these requirements were different, it would have been a different project. DDP was a technical challenge and it artificially created a new terrain by the presence of a building with the roof covered with grass. Some complimented the architecture as it has created an innovated network of both location and context. Hadid suggested that as many cities of the world are experiencing changes,

it is significant to reflect in the design of how to give life and respond to such transforming characteristics towards urbanism, instead of having too much focus on building a new building just to change a look of a city.

When you visit the site, it is easy to discover that the architecture itself became a topography. Dongdaemun Design Plaza contains a quite complexity in exterior design as nothing is repeated in the form, yet at the same time it also represents a simplification due to its treatment of materials such as applying the same color of aluminium panels on the exterior walls. Moreover, because DDP involves an arrangement of multipurpose spaces, which then conveys to be a potential complexity, the architect decided to go for a visually composed architecture.

I personally believe in experiencing unacquainted spaces in architecture without regularity, because it constantly gives you questions of understanding the intention of an architect. The 3-dimensional BIM (Building Information Modeling) by Samsung, mega-truss, and space frame methods were introduced to embody a atypical building that only consists of curves. This technique converts a 2-dimensional drawing to 3-dimensional and establishes a database with all building information to apply for design, construction, and maintenance management. The exterior wall composition of 45,133 aluminum panels of different curvatures and sizes were accomplished by the most advanced Korean technology.

There are 360 degrees. So why stick to one? – Zaha Hadid

Too much cost to build and now too expensive to use?

We can say that Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a collaborative project. I want to bring the most controversial aspect of the building that many have talked about – now that DDP is built and yes it is a totally unfamiliar architecture that we have not seen in South Korea for a long time, but how about the usage of its space? Are they providing satisfying contents as it is built at a cost of $451 million by our taxes to benefiting the public since its completion in 2013? Let’s check it out.

As a visitor, I have been pretty satisfied with the contents that DDP has offered – art exhibitions, fashion shows, concerts, festivals, conferences, you name it. It has also become the most popular filming location for various media purposes. However, regardless of its contents, if you are about to use some spaces for a certain objective, now here comes an issue of space rental costs. We cannot say, because DDP is built for the common good in the first place, it only has to operate public related programs. However, I believe it is still important to negotiate the right costs for both public benefit and private benefit. Now a question of ensuring the accessibility of citizens is raised. When you bring money to the table of negotiation on utilizing a certain space built for the public uses, the accessibility becomes relevant. It is not something that can be solved within a week or two. It will take time and should take time to revisit its primary objective and search for negotiable cost for users too.

So what do we really expect from the building

I am not going to go over all the detailed answers to conventional questions like how many spaces does Dongdaemun Design Plaza have, what are the sizes, how many entrances, and so on, because honestly I am not interested in the numbers regarding this specific space and so do you. You just don’t talk conventionally when you talk about DDP.

Now I want to make a personal statement on DDP controversies that I disagree with. First, its lack of green space. Let’s not judge the architecture by just looking at several images online that don’t show any green. The site itself is a definition of a rapid industrial movement and it has become the one of the most crowded place both during the day and at night. A strategy of dealing with a lot of floating population of citizens and tourists and we make it a Central Park. I don’t think so. The keyword to this specific site is the youth. Second, its lost of history and memory at site. To be specific, ‘Dongdaemum History & Culture Park’ has become an unsuitable place for muse over past memories. Instead, we needed a new place to live up to understand current social value to have a progressive and future-oriented attitude that would eventually help us to pioneer our lives.

People say I design architectural icons. If I design a building and it becomes an icon, that’s OK. – Zaha Hadid

Regardless of its controversial design and current issues that still need to be solved, at the end of the day Dongdaemun Design Plaza has become worthy of notice and a constant visit.

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