Meaning in Art and Design: A Reflection of the South Korean Spirit of Hospitality

Anticipate what’s ahead; be content in where you are. It seems a bit backwards and yet isn’t this the goal of a satisfied place? As designers we are constantly looking forward and yet; if the place is well designed, we completely enjoy what surrounds us. The built environment in Seoul, South Korea speaks to this theme. The city reflects ancient history, stories of struggle and the hope of peace against a background of decades of war. The enemy of the north flattened much of the brick and mortar landscape but what design has risen up bustles with revelation.

From their history, the South Korean people have emerged with both satisfaction and anticipation. This is best reflected in their unwavering hospitality. A historic theme of hospitality seeps through every experience of life ... in a meal, in business, in the built environment.

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Hospitality in a Meal 

You won’t find people on the streets of Seoul walking and eating. Food is not a tool of transition but an experience of submersion—submersion of community. The food is typically served in a combination of one large pot kept hot by a central heat source surrounded by many small side dishes.

A person sits with one small plate, a pair of chopsticks and a long handled tablespoon. Rather than serving one large helping of food that is then eaten in a confined one plate space, the hands and chopsticks of each person continues to move from their small plate to the communal platter and side dishes, expanding the personal space of the individual into shared space defining community. While the dimensions of the tables are no different, the proportions of space occupying communal function is much larger then the individual space. The meal doesn’t exist without interaction.

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Hospitality in Business

When approaching retail storefronts or open markets, a kind, confident person immediately confronts the customer. At first experience, this may seem ‘pushy’ but when later understanding the culture, this initiative is a form of hospitality. Similar to when you enter one’s home, it’s a gesture similar to what’s expected when greeted at the door. In the same way, when a retailer approaches the customer at the door and motions toward their wares, they’re performing a similar form of hospitality in business. Welcoming the public to their home.

Example of Wayfinding
Example of Wayfinding
Example of Wayfinding
Example of Wayfinding

Hospitality in the Built Environment

The transition from one building to the next is guided by a yellow line on the ground with a relief of thick lines or regularly spaced dots. This graphic design serves as communication to the visual and non-visual user. It defines where the path is, where it stops and where it transitions. It serves as a form of "welcome," inviting the user to the next location. It’s the hospitality of universal design.

Bricks and mortar support the theme of hospitality displayed by the people of Seoul. Meaning of art and design is possible in conjunction with the human spirit. The human spirit of hospitality is seamlessly reflected in the cohesion of the two.