Think of Seoul as an English-speaking Tokyo—sexy, dynamic and a little more accessible. To me, it’s one of East Asia’s most fascinating cities. The historical blends effortlessly into the contemporary; you’ll find yourself staring out at the ancient Temple of Heaven over dinner at the Westin Chosun’s ground-floor restaurant. The urban landscape can be challenging—Seoul sprawls out on both sides of the Han River, humming with creativity and progress. It’s a city that makes you work to discover its beauty.
My firm recently redesigned the first floor of the Westin Chosun to create a contemporary hotel that incorporates the essence of Korean design. The artwork on the walls is a blend of blue-chip Western and Korean pieces. Rooms start at $300; Sogong-dong 87; 82-2/771-0500; echosunhotel.com.
Lee Hyung Jun, the young chef at La Catégorie, is a rising star. You can see his classical training in inventive, artful French-Korean dishes. The unmarked restaurant has only seven tables. The food is extraordinary and the setting relaxed. At Shinsa-dong 627-21, 2nd fl.; 82-2/545-6647; lacategorie.com.
Gallery SEOMI showcases work by bold, contemporary Korean artists who straddle art and design. Choi Byung Hoon, for example, merges sculpture with furniture, creating work with a distinctly Korean minimalist aesthetic. At Cheongdam-dong 97-19; seomituus.com.
Much of Dominique Perrault’s Ewha Womans University is subterranean, but natural light pours into the large valley between the building’s sunken halves. At Daehyun-dong 11-1; ewha.ac.kr.
Kim Jaehyun, South Korea’s most promising young designer, studied sculpture before moving to Paris to study fashion. Her Jardin de Chouette line fuses traditional Korean drapery with hard, modern lines and edges. At Cheongdam-dong 21-15; jdchouette.com.
A Few More Details
I love to shop night markets like Doota—giant 24-hour department stores (Ulji-ro 6 Ga 18-12; doota.com). Everyone should visit Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art (747-18 Hannam-dong; leeum.samsungfoundation.org), a trio of buildings designed by Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas. And I recently designed a new multilevel restaurant by La Catégorie’s chef Lee, in the upscale Cheongdam-dong district. It opens in spring 2013, but in the meantime, the food at Mooldongyi (Itaewon-dong 258-13; 82-2/792-0474) is extremely sophisticated yet totally unpretentious.