On Zaha Hadid’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza

On zaha hadid’s dongdaemun design plaza

What legacy does the the famous British-Iraqi architect, who passed away last month aged 65, leave in Seoul?

In February, Failed Architecture conducted a short but intensive research workshop on Seoul’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza, designed by the controversial London-based architect Zaha Hadid. Shortly after the workshop, Zaha Hadid passed away at the age of 65, leaving a remarkable legacy. Her building, and the discussions with the workshop participants, inspired Failed Architecture’s René Boer to write the following reflections on the ‘DDP’.

The curved shapes of exit number 1 of the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park underground station are an odd sight in Seoul’s straightforward transport system, and indeed lead to one of the oddest novelties in the South-Korean capital. Passing through the glass doors of exit number 1, you suddenly emerge into the spacious world of Zaha Hadid. Curved, concrete surfaces create an attractive and well-maintained plaza a few meters below street level, characterised by a visual consistency that is rare in a city like Seoul. The irregular contours of the plaza and a large, concrete bridge direct your gaze towards a large structure of an undefined but exciting shape, which is entirely clad in metal plates. It’s the world’s ‘biggest atypical building’, according to one of the signs. So atypical in fact, that it’s hardly a building.

It’s indeed more of an ‘architectural landscape’, as Zaha Hadid described it, where the undulating shapes of the exterior and the surrounding public space easily merge into the structure’s irregular interiors. From any position in the surrounding landscape, it’s these architectural motions that lure you into the DDP’s main structure. Receptionists will bow upon your appearance, after which a bright white corridor, that turns out to be a large, spiral staircase, entices the visitor to ascend into the building. At the top, it spits the visitors out again into the crisp, blue-sky afternoon of Seoul’s cold winter days, after which you descend on another curvy surface towards the park. Following the park’s landscaping, you pass through some irregularly shaped pavilions before being conducted back into the main structure. […]

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