Paper Abstracts

Panel 1: Materializing Transition

Encircling Seoul: Walls and Gates of the City
Frank Chance (University of Pennsylvania)

This paper will discuss the construction, preservation, and restoration of the city wall of Seoul and its role in the construction of the identity and image of the city.  After a brief introduction of the plan of Hanyang (modern Seoul) we will consider the construction of city walls in the Joseon period.  By way of comparison, we will also look at the walls and gates of the Suwon Hwaseong fortress (1794-1796) and Japan’s Himeji Castle (1601-1509), considering details of construction of the physical architecture and of the ideological and psychological implications of these structures.  We will conclude with a discussion of the reconstruction of the Seoul city walls and gates in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Playing the Palace: New Leisure Experiences in Early 20th-Century Seoul
Christine Kim (Georgetown University)

This paper focuses on the uses of Seoul’s royal palaces in the twentieth century to examine the redefinition of urban space and identities of Koreans under Japanese colonial rule and U.S. military occupation. As sites that were inextricably identified with the Chosŏn dynasty, Seoul’s five palaces were re-purposed by colonial, and later occupation, authorities to introduce new cultural and social patterns to the city, resulting in significant changes to the everyday lives of the urban residents.

As part of Japan’s imperial project, Seoul’s formerly cloistered palace grounds were opened up to the public in a manner resembling early Meiji Japan’s use of prominent Tokugawa edifices in Tokyo. Less than five years into colonial rule, Seoul/Keijō could boast of modern cultural institutions epitomizing the spirit of “civilization and enlightenment” such as a zoo, botanical garden, and museum (Ch’anggyŏng Palace); an elementary school for the colonial elite (Kyŏnghŭi); and an industrial exhibition space (Kyŏngbok); a public park (Ch’angdŏk) and fine arts museum (Tŏksu) were subsequently added. Following the end of Japanese rule, the U.S. military requisitioned many of these to promote a “democratic” vision of Korea, putting them to use to host classical music concerts, dance performances, and a national museum for the newly liberated population.

This paper builds upon recent studies by Hong Sunmin, Son Chŏngmok, Se-Mi Oh, Todd Henry, and others that have engaged with perspectives on colonial modernity, urban planning, and national identity. It focuses not just on changes to the physical structures of the royal edifices, but to the new social experiences that they provided. Ultimately it seeks to chart how the experience of visiting the former palace grounds became a recreational activity that was incorporated into the everyday lives of (urban) Koreans, ultimately eroding the mystique of and reverence towards the former royal house.

Dis-placing the Indigent: Keijō’s (Seoul) Urbanization in Late Colonial Korea
Sonja Kim (Binghamton University)

This paper examines anxieties stoked by and efforts to manage the indigent population in Keijō (Seoul) in late colonial Korea, as reflected in the 1942 report of an extensive investigation of their health and living conditions. Called the t’omangmin (J. domakumin, “earth shack dwellers”), a new social category specific to the socio-economic context of Japanese colonialism and military expeditions, the urban poor were considered part of the “population problem” (K. ingu munje, J. jinkō mondai) Keijō’s infrastructure was ill-equipped to handle. Municipal authorities characterized the t’omangmin as illegal squatters, threats to public health and order, and aesthetic blights to the urban landscape, thereby relocating them further away from the city’s center and into special districts under the auspices of social welfare organizations. Although the t’omangmin’s presence was attributed to mass migration catalyzed by escalating land dispossession and deterioration in the Korean agrarian economy, their communities were often mixed. More broadly, this paper traces the contours of a growing urban underclass, indicate the limits of benevolent charity, and suggests continuities into post-liberation Seoul.

Delayed Completion of a Colonial Modernization Project: Refurbishment of Cheonggyecheon stream in Seoul from the 1930s to 1960s and the Creation of a New Urban Landscape
Bok-kyu Yum (University of Seoul)

After Hanyang (nowadays Seoul) was designated as the capital of the Joseon dynasty in 1394, Cheonggyecheon, a stream running through its central area, was refurbished to be used as the main drain in the city and regularly maintained. As the nation declined under the threat of the Japanese colonialists in the late 19th century, its surrounding area suffered from administrative negligence. When the downtown along Cheonggyecheon became polluted and unsafe during the colonialist regime, the issue highlighted national disparity in municipal administration.

Native Koreans demanded that the colonial power should cover the stream with cement. With the beginning of the Gyeongseong Urban Planning in the 1930s, the construction of covering it actually started, but made little progress by the Liberation of Korea in 1945. The downtown along Cheonggyecheon in newly-liberated Seoul was crowded with unauthorized makeshift houses and shops. In the late 1950s, the construction of covering the drain resumed with an added aim of securing roadways. But it almost stalled due to the lack of executive power of the municipal government and conflicts of political interests.

In 1961, the military government, which had seized power by May 16 Coup, finally completed the covering work of Cheonggyecheon and promoted it as an example of competence of the new regime. But a renewal plan for the newly-covered area had to wait until the appointment of Kim Hyun Ok as the Mayor of Seoul in 1966. Mayor Kim focused on building modern-style high-rise apartment complexes with shopping arcades in the area, in order to make it cleaner and more productive downtown. The Process of covering Cheonggyecheon with cement from 1930s to 1960s undergone three stages: started as a colonial modernization project in the 1930s, resumed the unfinished project in the 1950s and completed the delayed plan as a part of a new vision for the capital in the 1960s.

Panel 2: Constructing Cold War Urbanism: Urban Planning, Architecture, and Infrastructure  

The Modernist Dream: The Yŏŭido Master Plan of 1969
Se-Mi Oh (University of Michigan)

This presentation examines the debates about Seoul’s urbanity through a close look at the 1969 master plan for Yŏŭido. This plan was proposed in the Development of Yŏŭido and the Shores of the Han River by Kim Seu-geun, but was never implemented due to the competing politics and circumstances surrounding the development of the island. In proposing a solution for urban expansion, this plan envisioned Yŏŭido as an urban core that would create a new spatio-temporal potential for the city and change its socio-economic structural basis. Therefore, this presentation will analyze the place of Yŏŭido in the Seoul Master Plan and larger discourses on urban planning during this time. In particular, it will ask what place the utopian vision of the modernist city had in the context of the develomentalist state, and discuss how the idea of new urbanity in the linear model incorporated contemporary ideas of urban planning and what the changes made in the actual implementation of the plan says about the ways in which urbanization collided and collaborated with anti-communism of the Park Chung Hee regime. Its goal is to write a history by excavating a forgotten story that disappeared with the sandy alluvium under the concrete jungle of skyscrapers and to reveal the fissures within the monolithic history of the developmentalism and its violence.

Constructing Ambivalent Korea(s): Architecture, Urbanism, and Statecraft
Dongsei Kim (NYIT)

This paper illustrates how Korea—one nation divided into two states—deployed architecture and urbanism to construct state imaginaries that strengthened two Koreas’ political legitimacy over their subjects and territory. Using Nak-Chung Paik’s notion of “division system” as a means to understand the geopolitically bisected Korean Peninsula, the paper interrogates how North and South Korean governments used three pairs of Cold War period architecture and urban spaces as a form of statecraft. Examining three paired spaces respectively located in the two Korea’s capital cities, Seoul and Pyongyang, the paper illustrates how they contributed to the production of competing ambivalent Korean identities in the Korean Peninsula. The spatial comparative analysis looks at Kim Il-Sung Square (Pyongyang, 1954) and May 16th Square (Seoul, 1971); Pyongyang Grand Theatre (Pyongyang, 1960) and Sejong Center for the Performing Arts (Seoul, 1961); and Rungrado May 1st Stadium (Pyongyang, 1989) and Seoul Olympic Stadium (Seoul, 1984). This spatial analysis locates these architecture and urban spaces within the two capital cities and juxtaposes the paired spaces for architectural comparisons. Further, analytical connections are made to significant inter-Korean and international events to help us understand how architecture and urban spaces were used as part of the two Korea’s statecraft to produce ambivalent Korean identities.

Infrastructures of Displacement: The Transpacific Travel of Urban Renewal during the Cold War
Sujin Eom (Dartmouth University)

By examining South Korea’s urban development regime in the 1960s, this paper sheds light on hitherto underexplored transpacific connections in the history of urban renewal. The period in question is crucial in that both Washington and Seoul came to regard urban space as a means to maintain an anti-communist regional order, which prefigured major urban transformations in South Korea for the decades that followed. With the languages of rational land use, environmental improvement, maintenance of public health and order, and increase in property value, urban renewal programs undertaken in 1960s Korean cities (slum clearance, high-density apartments, and elevated highways) have often been portrayed as the inevitable course of urbanization in Asia. I call into question such a perspective that depoliticizes and neglects the nature of urban renewal as a Cold War geopolitical project. Taking South Korea as an example, I trace how urban renewal as racialized violence toward the poor in American cities crossed the Pacific to become a development tool to prevent insurgency and revolution in South Korea during the Cold War, a time in which poverty was considered a threat not only to domestic but also to international security. In doing so, this study shows that the Cold War geopolitics played a decisive role in the transpacific travel of urban renewal in the mid-century, thereby disseminating ideas, norms, and technologies of building the capitalist urban future.

Panel 3: Unsettled City: Urban Environment, Virtual Spatiality, and Dislocation

Workers, Emigres, and Shamans: The Evolution and the Future of Yongsan’s Last Shantytown
Jean Lee (Wilson Center)

Bogwang-dong was not built with the modern world in mind. Its mazelike alleyways are too narrow for cars, requiring garbagemen to squeeze through on mopeds piled high with bags of trash. Ramshackle homes with corrugated roofs teeter on sharply sloped hillsides, residents too impoverished to afford upgrades and repairs. And yet, this rundown neighborhood in central Yongsan District — arguably the last shantytown in the heart of Seoul — serves as home to perhaps the most diverse population in South Korea’s capital, including mudang, or shamans, drawn to the traditional belief that the hills of Bogwang- dong bear powerful chi, or energy; working-class South Koreans, from factory workers to chicken hawkers; African emigres whose children attend local school and for whom Korean is now their mother tongue; Muslims from across Asia and the Arab world who observe at the mosque and keep their community fed by maintaining halal butcher shops and restaurants, and now young hipsters from all corners of the Western world turning abandoned mom-and-pop shops into cafes and restaurants.

However, as Seoul’s neighborhoods gentrify one by one, Bogwang-dong is next on the list. Slated for redevelopment, Bogwang-dong is set to be razed and, eventually, to be renamed Hannam New Town, an urban utopia anticipated to become one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Seoul. While examining the history of redevelopment in Seoul and raising the question of what will happen to the residents of Bogwang-dong, and the diversity they bring to Yongsan District, this group project carried out by the Korea Center also aims to catalogue and capture the history of a neighborhood destined to disappear, before the shaman temples whose flags dot the hillside make way for Starbucks and stylish speakeasies.

Urban Fear and New House Syndrome in South Korea
Seo Young Park (Scripps College)

The paper explores how “New house syndrome,” or saejibjeunghugun, has become public knowledge and an urban phenomenon in the Seoul Capital Area. Globally, “sick building syndrome” refers to a perceived threat that deteriorating buildings or poorly managed facilities, often workplace, may pose to people inside. In Korea, the concept refers to same set of symptoms, including itch eyes, rashes, aches, sensitivity to odors, and fatigues but has taken on peculiar focus around “new” “residential” building, especially in highly concentrated condominium complexes. While medicine and engineering specialists suggested the chemical substance in new residential buildings remain below general standards and the symptoms are minimal, the “fear” for the chemical exposure in new buildings has intensified in 2000s. New businesses have proliferated, providing indoor air management and chemical control services,  It has also become common that people hire these companies when moving to a new building or practice “home remedies” to filter air by using natural materials, such as indigenous plants, charcoal, or onion. Responding to the growing fear, the Ministry of Environment issued ordinances addressing indoor air quality management. The paper overviews these practices and argues that it is through these processes that the new house syndrome is “made to matter.” In doing so, the paper situates the phenomenon within the particular social and historical context of Seoul, including the collective memories of the city’s rapid urbanization and developmentalism, intensified real estate speculation and construction, the cultural and spatial mode of residence, and the relationship between civil society and the state.

Seoul, Dislocation, and the Emergence of the Korean Laptop Nation
Ellie Choi (Brown University)

A hyper-focused developmentalism from the Park Chunghee era (1961-1979) onward in South Korea gave rise to the now famous “Miracle on the Han.” It also forged the cosmopolitan expanse of contemporary Seoul, a megapolis of glittering lights, kaleidoscopic signboards, and towering apartment complexes (ap’at’ŭ tanji). In their mass-produced forms overseen by a draconian military regime, the now ubiquitous ap’at’ŭ tanji formed monotonous rows of identical cereal-boxes, which flattened and erased the historical urban tissue of the ancient city of Seoul (f. 1394), not only physically but also politically and culturally.

Recent popular media depict Seoulites’ attempts to escape the frenetic “concrete jungle” of the hypermodern city to Other spaces of refuge and comfort, which, I argue, are mediated through the primordial act of eating.  One common escape away from the claustrophobic apartments occurs in the countryside. Yet another escape from the city is found deeper in the city, to private sites where laptops stream an alternative cyber-togetherness.  The virtual aroma of organic food in the popular “Three Meals A Day” (Samsi saekki, 2014-) wafts across transnational boundaries, opening up forgotten memories of lost mothers and hometowns to the diasporic community who keep abreast of the latest through their laptops. This “laptop nation” configures new in-between spaces of belonging for exilic bodies, migrant laborers, international students, and immigrants.  Here, identity is consumed through a voyeuristic relationship with food that is crucial to the cultural negotiation of the cosmopolitan city with the terroir (t’oji) of the pastoral imaginary.  Within this new place of togetherness and belonging are invented media futurities forging new imagined communities of cyber spatiality.