Arena in Korea

A porous border study.

Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Spring 2009

Graduate Thesis with Florian Idenburg and Mark Mulligan

A joint North-South Korean city located on a remote island in the West Sea between the DPRK, ROK, and ROC bounds together these three economies and cultures through undersea rail tunnels, industrial and cultural programming, and an Arena.

Depending on the political climate between North and South Korea, the city acts as: transportation hub and joint industrial center in times of separation, symbolic Arena in an imagined time of reunification, or most simply as a dividing Wall architecturalizing the 38th parallel as it extends into the disputed maritime border.

This thesis looks at the way buildings that are built intending to house certain ideologies can be transformed when those ideologies change over time.

In precedent studies of buildings in Berlin after the fall of the Wall, most GDR buildings were treated as blank walls.  But could a building type with a specific form used for a specific program be re-appropriated for other uses, and could symbolic forms be appropriated for functional uses - i.e. an Arena as DMZ as rail hub.

The maritime border was addressed because, unlike the land border at the DMZ, the NLL (or Northern Limit Line) is not architecturalized in any way and is a site of contestation because its edges are by nature ambiguous.  Without a physical border, there are no precise means to guard its boundaries. 

During the thesis prep phase, the discovery that South Korea and China are in the beginning stages of planning an undersea tunnel spanning the West Sea spurred the question: What if the tunnel could be routed to become a way of architecturalizing the border, with a series of islands that could house rest-stops and be programmed for the different political contexts in which the Koreas might find themselves?

China's unique political and economic relationship with both Koreas independently would make this connection beneficial from either side and for different reasons - regardless of their relationship to each other in their current political state.

The transportation system would be the Wall, with each rest-stop (housing program mutually beneficial to both Koreas) becoming a potential checkpoint crossing.

Using an existing island along the border, the western- and northern-most, as a location for a catalytic site, it was programmed to be able to accommodate the political scenarios of separation, reunification, or something in between. 

The Arena would at times be a militarized void zone of separation, its perimeter concourse acting as a transfer rail stop between China-South Korea and China-North Korea trains - or the meeting space that could be used by both in a time of unification.  

See more here.