PhotoPhoto Essay
Redesigning SeoulThe City of Light
Yoo Sung-jee Reporter  |
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승인 2006.03.01  00:00:00
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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.

  "Most 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. Chung.

  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 - beautiful.

  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 light.

  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 is safety.

  "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

The Process
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 construction budget.
3. A design competition of structural drawings is opened, in which many architecture industries participate.
4. For the result, the UDD consults with "The Committee for Scenery Lighting," which is a group of professionals, professors, designers, and other architecture experts.
5. The construction begins, and after the lighting is set up, the finished product is managed by the competent offices.

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 vary."

  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 the city.

  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.

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