The Korea Issue
Introducing issue 22, Design Anthology’s annual edition dedicated to exploring a single country’s design scene. This year, we’ve focused on Korea’s vibrant and eclectic creative community.
Most of you will be familiar with South Korea’s major exports — skincare products, street fashion, powerful tech and automotive corporations, and K-pop — but you may be less au fait with the country’s burgeoning creative community, and the nuances that differentiate Korean design and architecture from that which originates beyond its borders. Often the underdog to former colonial ruler Japan, or overlooked in favour of its more populous and powerful neighbour China, the country has survived war, poverty and political upheaval. Despite, or because of, these challenges, the South Koreans are a proud people — and my feeling is they have plenty to be proud of.
This issue opens with an essay by repatriated resident Inès Cho, who explains the origins and history of Korean aesthetics, providing a lens through which we can understand and appreciate the country’s creative production. In the field of design, Korea’s strength lies in the relationship between heritage, tradition and deep respect for materiality and craftsmanship together with its more recent history of industrialisation and mass production. Our surveys of product designers and contemporary ceramicists each provide an illuminating insight into the current design landscape — and hint at what the future may hold.
Much of the content in this edition is centred in Seoul because — more than any other country to which we’ve dedicated an issue — the creative communities are largely concentrated in the capital, the history of which is remarkable. The seat of the country’s rulers for more than 500 years, Seoul is a city of layers. If you look closely enough, you’ll see evidence of Japanese and American influence, and structures designed by architects who have until recently lacked the freedom or confidence to interpret their national identity and culture through architecture and urban planning. You’ll also see a modern metropolis facing many of the same issues with which other big cities around the world are grappling: density versus sprawl, gentrification, skyrocketing property prices, and the loss of heritage buildings and public spaces. We hope that the first essay in our Architectonics section by respected educator, curator and author Professor Hyungmin Pai will shed some light on this history of architecture in South Korea. Professor Youngbum Reigh then introduces the work of one of the country’s most lauded architectural firms, Unsangdong, through one of their characteristically cerebral buildings in the glitzy Gangnam district.
If you’re yet to visit South Korea and are looking for some travel inspiration, we’re excited to share a few destination hotels and guesthouses with you, including the award-winning Healing Stay kosmos on Ulleungdo island, the breathtaking South Cape Hotel in Namhae, and a collection of boutique accommodations across the country that we hope will inspire even the armchair traveller.
There are many more stories in this issue that we’re thrilled to be sharing, and we sincerely hope you enjoy becoming acquainted with a country that very quickly stole our hearts. A big, warm gomabseubnida to all our friends in Seoul and across the country who helped make this issue a reality.
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