Monday, April 29, 2013

Our neighborhood in Songdo

Our world here in Songdo is comprised of about a ten block area in the heart of downtown with Chadwick at one end and Central Park at the other. By now we've walked around and through (most blocks have inner courtyards / pocket parks) the area enough to begin to know it. The emphasis on design from architecture to sidewalk pavers, tree branch articulation to neon lighting is remarkable. Nowhere have I ever seen such a comprehensive design aesthetic put into practice. Here are some examples.

Store front signage.


Diagonal crossing is encouraged.

Manhole covers.




 Public art.

And...young Audi drivers.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Songdo - painting begins

On Tuesday, two days after our arrival and still fighting against our bodies telling us it was the middle of the night and we should be sleeping, we primed the wall over at Central Park. Looking around at the gleaming skyscrappers and grandeur of the landscape design, I realized how lucky we were to be painting in such a place. I imagined painting a mural in New York's Central Park. Fat chance.

Not an illusion
Our good fortune to be here now owes much to Vanessa Vanek's vision and persistence along with plain old good timing - we arrived right at the moment when the park and the city were ready to introduce themselves to the country and world, and a little human touch in the form of a community mural helped to warm that greeting.

Putting the first paint to the wall was a relief. No sirens went off. No security came running to stop us. It was just like priming any other wall. We had planned to transfer the design using a projector that evening, but the skies disagreed. A wave of clouds rolled in from the Yellow Sea, disappeared the upper halves of Songdo's skyline and then let out an all day rain. 

Wednesday was cool and clear so we decided to skip the projector and transfer the old-school way - squaring up with a grid. We figured it would also be a good lesson in patience and practical math for our student group. We also got to hang out at the Boathouse Cafe for hot drinks. In the distance we could hear loud music being broadcast over a PA. It sounded like an antiquated patriotic song full of nationalistic zeal. All of us wondered, the North Koreans?

Thursday, more cold rain so we began by mixing colors for an audience of Chadwick second graders back at school. They had a blast trying to figure out how to make black from our pure colors. By lunch the rain had subsided and we headed over to the park, where a bright blue Chadwick canopy had been erected over our wall, just in case.

Some of Chadwick's administrators joined us along with another group of second graders. I dipped a brush in blue and handed it to the Headmaster Jeff Mercer. Painting began. Second graders followed, mentored by their upper school peers, along with a few of their moms. By the end of the day, nearly half the mural had some color.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Songdo mural design

The Songdo project was initiated over a year ago when art teacher Vanessa Vanek (who once taught at Topeka High School) contacted me out of the blue. We'd met years ago at a spring break art camp at the Lawrence Arts Center and then later when her Topeka High students helped on the 2005 Aaron Douglas recreation in Tennessee Town. Now after a stint in Thailand she was teaching in South Korea at a new school, Chadwick International, that she felt could really benefit from an art project that took students out of the classroom and into the community.

We worked out the logistics and settled on a ten day project in April and on a prized location in Songdo's new Central Park (modeled believe it or not on New York's very own). In February we began meeting with Vanessa's students over Skype and doing our own research in Lawrence.

Two major themes emerged: Chadwick International's five core values (respect, compassion, fairness, responsibility and honesty) and Songdo's aspiration to be a leader in the development of a model sustainable environmentally conscious city. 

Students in Songdo acted out the core values for photos and made drawings showcasing humans' interdependence with nature. Back in Lawrence, we had to complete a rough draft of the design to present to the school and IFEZ (Incheon Free Economic Zone) leadership for approval a week before we arrived. Of special concern was that we not include guns or other violent imagery.

The mural design, inspired by the artwork of Chadwick students, is divided into three sections. At the center is a great red crested crane (Korean symbol for longevity) aloft over the Central Park carrying the City (made up of Songdo's most prominent architecture) upon its wings. On the right and left are panels, based on the hand gestures made by Chadwick students, representing respect and compassion.

Both the school and IFEZ gave the design a unanimous thumbs up, which meant we were on our way to Korea... After spending a day exploring Central Park here in Songdo, the mural team decided to add to the design on the right and left side.

A free book kiosk near the I-Tower
This meant going up the stairs on the right. To create balance,  we mimicked the stair pattern (even thought there were no stairs) on the left. These spaces will include a traditional Korean lattice design, with the title "Songdo:A City on the Rise" and a pattern made up of cherry blossoms which our trip was perfectly planned to enjoy.

Ashley squaring up the design

Thursday, April 25, 2013

First days in Songdo

We arrived in Songdo on Sunday afternoon- after a total of sixteen hours in the sky. Strange to find the weather almost exactly the same as Kansas after our 7000 mile journey. We jumped into a taxi sent to meet us for the fifteen minute trip over the Incheon Bridge to Songdo, "City of the Future.".

Songdo seems to have emerged from the tidal flats as a fully realized vision. The scale of downtown reminds me of Kansas City, the difference being that there are no old parts of town - everything is new - really new.

Community garden near our apartment

Countless green glass skyscrapers with fashionable architectural top hats lean over large urban greenways (some with impromptu vegetable gardens) that give Songdo its claim to environmental friendliness (It was recently named home to the United Nations Green Climate Fund). Bikers take full advantage of the extensive bike lanes that run parallel to pedestrian sidewalks, traffic swells during rush hour and construction cranes dominate every horizon.  But for its height and density Songdo feels unusually quiet and uncrowded.We're here seeing a city being born, built with the hope that the people will come.

"Global Business Utopia" in Central Park

We're staying in a guest apartment a half a block away from Chadwick International School and within walking distance of Central Park, site of the mural project. The apartment, clean and spare is equipped with an integrated home base system that controls all the lights and appliances, and a toilet with multiple push button controls for options I can't figure out. It only took us two days to learn how to switch on the bedroom light.

The Chadwick campus is impressive in both its architecture and offerings for students. It also boasts one of the most incredible school lunchrooms I've ever encountered. A half dozen chefs prepare entrees from around the world. There's even a full espresso bar. Our host Vanessa Vanek's art classroom feels more familiar with projects in process scattered around the room, inspirational art posters on the walls surrounded and plenty of creative clutter ready for cultivation.

Chadwick's 'Core Values'

We knew ahead of time but it still comes as a bit of a surprise that all the students are fluent English speakers and have English names they use while in school. At times it's a bit disorienting being surrounded by school kids working on a mural, I forget we're in Asia only a couple hours south of the DMZ with North Korea.

The mural site.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Songdo, South Korea mural project

We've got our tickets, so I guess we're really going ... to Songdo, South Korea for a super-quick mural project! Thanks to art teacher, and former Kansan, Vanessa Vanek for reaching out to us and handling all of the logistics. Ashley Laird and I will be working April 20 -30 with students from Chadwick International school on the mural for Songdo's Central Park. Check back here for updates.