SEOUL HAS become a city of light. Or, at least, it strives to become one.
Headed by the metropolitan government's UDD (Urban Design Div.), Seoul aims to
preserve its traditions and renew its modernity through its "Night Lighting
Project." In the past, development plans in lieu of aesthetic concerns brought
about the dim nights of Seoul. These days harmonius colors and patterns
constitute essential design elements of the glittering city.
developed cities use lights as their main means of tourism," says Prof. Chung
Kwang-wha (Col. Of Art & Design, Konkuk Univ.), the architect who outlined
the city light plan. Accordingly, he says, "Seoul is currently at the beginning
stage of the lighting process, but once the plan proceeds, Seoul will be one of
the major cities of lights." The light project aims to achieve three main
objectives: embedding Seoul? identity, beauty, and safety into its lighting.
Lighting as identity
Creating Seoul's distinctive identity is not an easy task as not all
the lighting designs are fully harmonized into one cohesive theme. "It is
difficult to define the metropolis as one distinct being. Seoul is a complex
city, which simply is too big for only one theme. The multiple characteristics
of the among various local areas constitute Seoul's identity," says Prof.
Hence, different lighting designs have been set up to
enliven the milieu of regional areas, which aim to convey their individual
identities. For instance, Shinchon symbolizes the place of youth while the
Teheran-ro represents high-tech industries.
Seoul, however, is still a city,
and particularly, the principal one of South Korea. Therefore, the outline of
the light project has been largely shaped by Seoul's identity as a metropolis.
The project has focused on lighting historical monuments and heritage sites,
giving them a modern touch.
Lighting as beauty
Until the invention of the incandescent lamp in late 19th century,
lighting had solely been conceived as God's instrument to manifest His dignity.
The miraculous invention, however, fundamentally altered the concept of
lighting. Light was easily manipulated, and - most importantly -
Lighting became the leading instrument to "beautify a
city" in 1989, when the mayor of Lyon, France, launched the world's first
lighting project. Since then, numerous developed cities saw lights as means of
adornment. More than a decade later, Seoul is seeing things in a similar
The metropolitan government encourages buildings larger
than a certain size (the size is stipulated in the architecture law) to set up
decorative lights. No direct funds are provided for the extra installation fees,
but various initiatives concerning architectural laws are provided as a
tradeoff. "A building is a property bearing property rights. The owner, however,
must remember that the building also bears publicity for it constitutes the look
of the city," comments Prof. Chung.
Lighting as safety
The first lighting used as means of safety was used in the 16th
century France, when King Louis ordered the Parisians to move their home
candles nearer to the windows. The order was intended to light up the nearby
streets, making them much safer places.
Today, this the old yet
basic logic still prevails. "The lighting of the castle in Seongbuk also serves
as safety lights. Citizens not only get better visibility help from the lights,
but also peace of mind," explains Park. The bridges alongside Han River are no
exception. These lights may create beautiful sceneries, but their raison d'etre
"Safety issues concerns not only people, but also the
environment around us," explains Park, "Therefore, lighting was not set up at
the Seokang Bridge because there are migratory birds in nearby Bamseom. The
lights may disturb them."
The city of light
Largely fostered during the World Cup period,
the plan consists of the following steps:
1. The location to set up the
lighting is selected by the government.
2. The UDD draws up a
3. A design competition of structural drawings is
opened, in which many architecture industries participate.
the result, the UDD consults with "The Committee for Scenery Lighting,"
which is a group of professionals, professors, designers, and other
5. The construction begins, and after the
lighting is set up, the finished product is managed by the competent
The city of light
The three objectives - identity, beauty, and safety - set forth by the
project are the essential elements of Seoul's nightscapes. Yet, incongruities
and inconsistencies in the various lighting plans remain as the problems to be
solved in due course.
"The 'Night Lighting Project' has been
implemented prior to getting a consensus on a unified theme of Seoul," Prof.
Chung admits, "and since the winner of the design competition decides each
structure's lighting concept, the design and concept of the structures tend to
Yet, Seoul still has unequaled advantages. It has the Han
River flowing through its heart, Mt. Namsan situated in the center, and, most
importantly, the remnants of the antique Choseon Dynasty disseminated throughout
Nowadays, people think of Hong Kong or New York when it
comes to night skylines. With a long-term redesigning plan, however, it can be
expected that Seoul will soon become a renowned city of lights - these lights
manifesting its identity, beauty, and safety.