ADD2106 Seoul Biennale

Type of decision: 
Assistant Director's decision
Date signed: 
18 April 2017
Decision by: 
Debbie Jackson, Interim Assistant Director for Built Environment

Executive summary

This ADD approves London’s participation in the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017. This includes the procurement of a design team to produce material for the Biennale exhibition, which will be funded by a £16,000 contribution from the GLA, matched by £14,000 from the British Council, £10,000 from New London Architecture, and a further £7,000 in kind from the Seoul Biennale to cover local production and installation costs.



That the Assistant Director of Regeneration approves:

1.    Expenditure of up to £40,000 towards procuring a design team to produce materials for the Seoul Biennale.

2.    Receipt of £14,000 from British council and £10,000 from New London Architecture (NLA) as a contribution towards commissioning costs for the Seoul Biennale.

Part 1: Non-confidential facts and advice

Introduction and background

The Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism is a major new international event organized by Seoul Metropolitan Government, to be held in autumn 2017. London has been invited to participate in an exhibition showcasing the most innovative public projects and initiatives from city governments around the world. Other cities include New York, Paris, Rome, Singapore and Mexico City.

Seoul have suggested the possibility of London being the ‘Guest City’ at the Biennale, as part of the wider 2017-8 UK-Korea Year of Culture, and in recognition of the renewal of our city to city friendship agreement following the recent meeting between the Mayor of London and Mayor of Seoul. 

The Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism is a new initiative organized by Seoul Metropolitan Government, and overseen by Seoul’s City Architect. It is an ambitious programme that has substantial funding and political support. Through over two years of development, including a series of international events, it has also generated significant international interest. 

The inaugural Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism will be held from 1 September – 5 November 2017, and will be co-directed by Hyungmin Pai and London-based architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo. London’s participation would be as part of the ‘Cities’ exhibition, which will showcase the most innovative public projects and initiatives from 50 cities around the world, including New York, Paris, Rome and Singapore. 

Following discussions with Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, the proposed theme of London’s participation in the Biennale is ‘The Productive City’. In other words, how London is rethinking the role of industry in the city, and developing new policies and investment programmes to encourage a more intensified, mixed and productive use of employment land. 

This proposal would build on the Places of Work programme – in particular analysis of industrial areas (i.e. the Park Royal Atlas, Old Kent Road, Brimsdown), and capital investment in new models of open workspace (i.e. Blackhorse Workshop, Meridian Works). It would provide an opportunity to showcase forthcoming work on industrial intensification demonstrator projects, integrating industrial spaces with other uses including residential. This in turn could support or illustrate a more nuanced policy approach to employment land in the next London Plan. 

A £16,000 contribution has been identified as coming from the DEE Minor Programme Budget. This will be matched by a commitment of £14,000 by the British Council, and £10,000 by New London Architecture. This would provide a total budget of £40,000. In addition, the Seoul Biennale have also committed £7,000 to cover local production and installation costs.

There is also an opportunity to exhibit the material produced for the Biennale back in London, either through New London Architecture or other exhibition partners.

GLA Regeneration will act as the primary client team, contracting a design team to produce material for the Biennale.

Objectives and expected outcomes

London’s participation in the Seoul Biennale is an opportunity to:

•    Continue the Mayor’s campaign to promote London to the world and demonstrate that London is open
•    Present the Mayor’s good growth agenda on an international stage 
•    Deliver on the ‘Advocacy’ workstream of the Mayor’s Design Advocates / Good Growth by Design agenda
•    Promote London’s world class architecture, urban design and planning sector – following up on the GLA Economy report on the value of London’s Architectural Sector
•    Draw together the GLA’s initiatives on Places of Work into a single, compelling, public-facing narrative
•    Use material produced for the Seoul Biennale as the content for an exhibition in London (e.g. in partnership with the NLA / Design Museum / V&A / Museum of London / Somerset House)

Participating cities will also be invited to a series of high profile events for city leaders in early September, including an opening conference, tours and forums.

Equality comments

The GLA will ensure that any materials produced for the Biennale will be comprehensible to a general audience by avoiding jargon and technical terminology in any text, as well as using clearly presented graphics, photography and/or film to communicate key messages. 

This piece of work will be tendered following advice from TFL Commercial and will be evaluated in line with their approach to equalities. 

Other considerations



Risk description

Mitigation/Risk response

Probability (1-5)





Insufficient time is available to undertake the work.

GLA officers have confirmed with Seoul that some additional time is available to produce initial concepts. A strategy of minimal installation / shipping will also be used to compress production timescales






A competitive tender process does not find a suitably qualified  design team

The GLA will ensure the tender goes out to as many practices as possible, and selecting practices that are already familiar with GLA Places of Work programme, as well as curatorial expertise






Places of Work narrative does not communicate to an international audience, and results in a poorly received exhibition

GLA officers will seek advice on communicating the content of the Biennale to a Korean / international audience.





Links to Mayoral Strategies / Policies

•    The Biennale exhibition links clearly to the Mayor’s high profile London is Open campaign, showcasing the innovation (policy, business and architectural) to an international audience
•    Present the Mayor’s Good Growth agenda on an international stage 
•    Highlight some of the existing work on the GLA’s initiatives on Places of Work, as well as emerging policy work around places of work in the upcoming London Plan

Financial comments

The total estimated cost of this project is £40,000 and the net cost to the GLA is £16,000. The balance of £24,000 will be funded by the receipt of income, specifically from the British Council (£14,000) and New London Architecture (£10,000). The GLA’s contribution of £16,000 will be funded from the DEE Minor Programme budget for 2017-18. 

It should be noted that the Seoul Biennale have also committed £7,000 to cover local production and installation costs. However, this expenditure will not go through the GLA’s accounts and will take the form of in-kind support to the GLA.

Planned delivery approach and next steps



Develop brief

Early April

Appoint curators / design team

End April

Production of content for client approval


Produce detail drawings for Seoul

End May

Fabrication & Construction preparation in Seoul

June - July

Installation & Assembly in Seoul


Seoul Opening Ceremony

1 September     

World Cities Summit in Seoul

2 September     

Biennale closes

5 November      

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