Historically, Korean landscape was utilized in three ways. The working farm of the peasants; the palace ground of the royalty and the more difficult to utilized lands; i.e. mountains and steep sloped areas were left to nature. Given the mountainous terrain of the country, the arable lands were treasured and utilized to maximize their output. In times of crop failures the peasants gathered edibles from forest and meadows to create a unique blend of cuisine that is distinct from other cultures.

The notion of “public space” did not exist. There were farms where every surface was utilized for a purpose. The palace grounds of the royalty and the grand houses of the gentry’s class were designed for assembly, formal ceremonies and private use. It was a Kingdom. The people owned nothing without his blessing. King could give and take away.

Fast forward. In the last 100 years, Korea has gone through a dramatic transformation in many ways. The Kingdom became a colony which became a democracy. There was a devastating war. There was industrialization and urbanization….capitalism and ownership of land.

As Korea struggles to define “Korean Style Democracy”, this struggle also manifests itself into the public realm. Places for people. Places which have context and connectivity to the people it is intended for and the fulfillment of the function which there is demand for. Too often, public officials and industry leaders are too quick to import a place that they have visited and liked and insert it into the Korean Fabric. The innate distrust which exists between the public and private sector also creates the reverse of a “transparent process”. Wholesale scales of land-use master plans are prepared in total secrecy while the private land holdings are frozen for the fear of land speculation.

Fredrick Law Olmstead described designing Parks, Public Plazas and other types of projects in the public realm, an exercise in the democratic process. As ______ said “The greatness of any civilization can be measured by the excellence of their public realm.” What are some of the challenges and possible solutions to achieve the its legacy as a great civilization as Korea moves ahead for the next 100 years?

Join us in discussing how future “Land Ethics” (what is the right thing to do; what is the proper methodology to do the right thing) in shaping the new public realm in Korea.

Jeff Lee, FASLA

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