What kind of city do we want? Italo Calvino stated that the true value of a city lies not in monumental buildings, but is “written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the pole of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.” Calvino is saying that the truth of the city lies in the everyday. He is asking us to break away from existing concepts of the city in order to build more humane and democratic urban structures. The city is a community always in the process of becoming, formed by anonymity and ready to tell us manifold stories. It is formed by both physical spaces—squares, parks, streets, and even gaps between buildings—and virtual spaces where strangers gather, commune, and part ways. They form the essentials of a new biennale of architecture and urbanism in Seoul.
But why Seoul? Seoul is a megacity of ten million people, a historical city that spans a millennium, and a beautiful city of mountains and streams. Located at the end of the Eurasian continent, it is a strategic point that connects the continent to the Pacific region and beyond. Destroyed under Japanese imperialism and the Korean War, the capital of what was once the world’s poorest country has grown to become a global economic power. However, in the process indiscriminately absorbing Western capital and culture, this magnificent city lost its identity. It hurriedly erected a modernist shell as it passively incorporated itself into a global system. Nature and history, however, do not disappear: they are the powerful forces of the living city. Seoul is now energetically moving to reconstruct its identity. There is another great factor that will affect Seoul’s future transformation: the unification of Korea that many say lies in the not too distant future, and which will inevitably catapult Seoul into a new era.
As the cities of the world continue to expand, will we continue to prosper? With the destruction of the environment, social inequality, and urban crime, we are unable to remain optimistic about the future. We must therefore ask ourselves what is a good city? The space and structure of cities, creative development and regeneration, new building methods and technology, sustainable urban environments, city governance, and new forms of solidarity: these are the central issues of the contemporary urban generation. Seoul is a global city where these issues coalesce in both a particular and universal fashion. It is where its history and tradition, its economy and culture, its politics and ideology co-exist to form a unique landscape. It is for these reasons that the Seoul Metropolitan Government announces the launching of a new biennale of architecture and urbanism.
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