Reimagining a Symbolic Centre for the Korean Peninsula

Capital cities are often centres of urban, political and economic density. The act of creating a centralised capital has historically been a symbol of unity and political compromise. Our project taps on this symbolism and hopes to create a space for genuine dialogue between the two Koreas.

In the Korean peninsula, the four main airports bound a central region, highlighting the possibility of a new area of development and connectivity. Proposals have already outlined rail connections between the airports. Could a central node enhance integration between transport nodes, and give new connectivity?

Cheorwon county lies in the heart of this bounded region. Right along the DMZ, it is a connection between Seoul and Wonsan, as well as the eastern and western coasts of the peninsula. Historically, Cheorwon was an agricultural land, due to its topography.

In the present day, we see remnants of Cheorwon’s agricultural past, with the agricultural flatland separated by the DMZ. We see
two distinct forms of farming. the regularly distributed, individually farmed plots in the south, versus the collectively farmed plots in the

At the site, we have the preserved Woljeong-ri station and a train from the Korean war, which have been kept as historical attractions. The tracks of the old Gyeongwon line are disconnected and surrounded by paddy fields.


This composite image shows the current state of things at our site in Cheorwon. We have the remnants of a link between the two Koreas – the wrecked Gyeongwon line which ran all the way to Wonsan in the north, the paddy fields and greenhouses, tended by the villagers living near the border, whose home you see on the bottom right, and the untamed ecology of the DMZ, which has flourished into a variety of habitats and is home to many endangered species, having been left untouched since the Korean armistice.

Cheorwon county is predominantly inhabited by a middle-aged to elderly populace. Currently, around 48,000 residents in 18,000 households live in Cheorwon, giving it a population density of roughly 60 ppl/sqkm. Cheorwon takes part in a seasonal worker program scheme in Gangwon. It is set up to assist farmers in the agricultural sector to fill up labour shortages during busy farming periods. These foreign workers come from countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Their duration of stay can last from 90 days to 5 months depending on their visa. The scheme allows for a maximum of six seasonal workers per south Korean farmer.

Cheorwon Special Agricultural Zone (CSAZ) looks to Cheorwon’s origins, utilizing agriculture as a tool for diplomacy and tourism. A reimagined centre; not a new metropolis, but a site for reconciliation that employs the intrinsic characteristics of this agricultural flatland. It is a response to two fundamental conditions of the border and inter-Korea relations. First, special Economic Zones, namely Kaesong Industrial Complex, located just along the DMZ. It was developed as a diplomatic collaboration that would benefit both countries. While the complex was heavily regulated with many restrictions that limited interaction between the managers and workers, both countries profited from this arrangement but the complex has since closed due to political tensions.

Secondly, we looked at were the Unification villages and border inhabitants. After the armistice agreement split the peninsula with the demilitarized zone, both governments encouraged settlers to inhabit the frontier along the border, as a means of staking claim over the land. In later years, these villagers were collated in state constructed and regulated ‘Unification Villages’, like the Yugok-ri Unification Village. These weren’t precursors to unification but rather a show of modernity and progress to the other side. The border inhabitants, referred to as Subokmin, are treated as an ‘other’ in South Korea.

credits to Alex

We envision this ‘other’ class as ambassadors to a gathering of foreigners, Subokmin as a group that is integral to facilitating inter-Korean communications, and key contributors to the region’s agricultural production. Within our site, we’ve identified the taxonomy of the existing infrastructure, with the recreational clusters in pink, the farming cluster in yellow and green as the greenhouses. We’ve identified the greenhouse, easily visible in an aerial view of Cheorwon, as the main architectural typology. These modular, easy-to-build structures act as containers that regulate microclimatic conditions for the growth of crops across seasons. We envision that the typology of the greenhouse can be adapted to regulate social interactions between north and south Koreans, a typology when distilled to its base elements, can take the form of a series of different thresholds and spaces. This infrastructure will be the basis for our communes.

Our proposal addresses two existing forms of tourism: the Work Holiday and Agri-Tourism, and accommodates 1000 tourists annually across five farming communes. Based on our taxonomy of the existing infrastructure on-site, as well as the county’s average population density, we postulate that there are around 35 South Korean farmers inhabiting our site. Assuming full participation from the farmers, we are entitled to 210 seasonal work visas. These work visas last for a maximum of 5 months, accommodating two cycles of seasonal work tourists in a year to help with sowing and harvest seasons. These foreign Seasonal Work Tourists are work holidayers from various regions including North Korea, who reside in the commune for a five-month period, working with and learning from experienced South Korean hosts. Additionally, short-term guests; Agri-Tourists, come as an escape from the city, and to experience life on a farm. These tourists can vary from foreigners on vacation to weekend city dwellers to groups of school children on excursion. Visitors will get immersed in the natural environment, learn about the farming process, get some hands-on experience and celebrate seasonal festivals in the commune.


On average, two people are required to till 1 hectare of farmland. This means for our commune of 200, 100 hectares of land is required. This is the daily itinerary of the different inhabitants of the CSAZ.

While there are distinct spatial separations between areas that are publicly accessible and workers-only, their paths intersect at five common locations to facilitate interactions across the groups.

Housing units are placed along the northeastern and northwestern blocks of the building to avoid direct contact with the sun, while production spaces and the seedling nursery are located along the southwestern and southeastern blocks to ensure maximum exposure to the sun for plant growth. The northeastern and southwestern blocks are raised to allow wind circulation through the courtyard.

The ground floor shows the organisation of spaces in relation to the large internal courtyard and the paddy fields. The internal courtyard acts as a habitat to welcome migratory bird species during winter seasons, and as a recreational space for the inhabitants to interact and relax. Housing and production spaces are only accessible to their relevant personnel, but the highlighted locations are common to the three groups and become spaces for interaction. First, the dining hall, a double-volume space where meals are prepared and served communally. Then, the enrichment space, for classes, and finally, the internal courtyard. Moving on to the second floor, Guests are welcomed at the entrance pavilion, where after checking in, proceed to their accommodations. Along the way, they pass by the nursery and are able to view workers tending to the rice seedlings. While the production space is not accessible to guests, it is viewable from a platform on the second floor.

Four typical building systems based on the greenhouse typology, serve four different programs. They can be identified by their envelopes: The production building is clad entirely in steel, with large windows for ventilation and sunlight. The nursery building uses a clear polycarbonate facade to allow maximum for the seedlings. The housing structures mix the two, providing both shelter and a sense of connection to the natural environment surrounding it. The buildings utilise a basic steel-frame structure with concrete slab floors cast onsite in steels decks. Pre-fab concrete walls define the main interior spaces, with a steel corrugated roof for shelter and clear polycarbonate sheets on steel frames make up a permeable building envelope.

In orange, we see the single bedroom workers housing unit. They are accessed via staircases from the first floor adjacent to small communal spaces nestled between clusters of units. Spaces are granted a degree of flexibility and climatic control via the layered facade and folding doors. In the summer, a high level of ventilation and be achieved. While in the wintertime, these layers serve to insulate the spaces and introduce thresholds.

In yellow are the courtyard houses for the south Korean hosts, and in purple are the guest rooms for Agri-tourists. Similarly, the folding and sliding doors give spatial and climatic flexibility, for ventilation in summer, and insulation in winter. The thresholds form intermediate spaces and add a layer of vibrance to the housing. Additionally, the materiality and proportions of the spaces aim to immerse users in the natural environment.

Here are some siCk views:




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