I recently worked with Jill Maltby and Han Kwon on an International Competition titled ‘DMZ Platform for Peace’. The competition was a call for architects to address the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea by designing a ‘platform for peaceful engagements’.
Architecture and Peace
We believe that peace comes through human interaction, awareness and empathy. Architecture is merely the backdrop or stage to these larger political and social exchanges. The actors take the stage and ‘the stage’ recedes. We understand that peace itself cannot be designed, but can be prepared for by collective ownership and site reclamation.
Seeds of War
An estimated 2.2 million landmines are embedded in the Korean DMZ. These seeds of war continue to kill and maim humans and animals, as well as ignite fires in the low land forests. New satellite mapping technologies make these subsurface weapons visible, yet do not remove them from the earth.
We recognize the material presence of danger in our new global stage, and address it straightforwardly as an architectural problem. How can the realities of warfare become a productive context within which to design?
Plotting and PLOT+FORMS
We find a desirable relationship between the grid as both conceptual and physical ordering of space, and the unpredictable terrain of the DMZ. The regularity of the grid is graphically superimposed over the dynamic terrain of the 38th parallel. Subsequently, mine clusters and existing growth are allocated as points onto this grid, creating a charted field or PLOT. This PLOT is then given physical FORM by means of columns, planks, and seed stations. PLOT+FORMS are both the process of territorial reclamation and the physical evidence of that process.
Function and Program
We challenge the notion that every object and every space can be programmed. The PLOT+FORM’s capacity to reveal invisible dangers, while not interrupting existing biological flows are their primary function. What takes place above these conditions is neither autonomous nor imposed, only suggested. Between mines and existing natural growth are a series of seed stations. These stations are equipped with soil bricks consisting of fertile biomass from both North and South Korea that are thrown into dangerous zones, detonating mines. The dramatic upturning of the earth consecrates the land, while the seeds of both cultures are spread among the terrain.
Mapping and Identity
Since the beginning of recorded human history, social territory was measured by mapping techniques used to define, explain and navigate the Earth. In many ways these maps embodied the identity of its peoples; geometry is culture. Our proposed PLOT+FORMS are both functional and symbolic, creating a new cultural layer by means of peaceful interaction and collective ownership.
Sadly we weren’t shortlisted as finalists (although a group in our studio won second place), but we learned a lot about the political limits of architecture and its relationship to war. Our group constantly struggled between what was best for the project, and what was best for competition culture. It has been an important reference for our studio team.