Tourism New Deal by Chong Yin Yi, Christy (1003533) and Koh Jie Ying (1003682)
We are designing an Ecology Research Facility for North and South Koreans such that invisible dialogues can be formed through the common interest of ecology within Inner Kumgang.
Our project is titled “woori yeongu odumak”, otherwise known as Our Research Hut in Korean. South Korea has grown to become an ideal destination for wellness tourism. The Korea Tourism Organisation has actively been promoting the various forms and multitudes of recommended wellness destinations within South Korea. One type of wellness program focuses on enjoying nature. A typical example is the Donghae Mureung Health Forest. It offers a short-term stay within the forest, plenty of eco-activities for tourists to engage with, and wellness-based services such as saunas. It clearly identifies as a consumption model, with large groups of tourists entering its facilities to receive as much as they can with this forest experience. This form of mass tourism is not sustainable for the future and with tourism halted due to COVID-19, we can ideate on redefining wellness tourism as a contribution model. A contribution model allows for tourists to contribute their time and effort in building up the local region. We aim to achieve this by redefining wellness tourism. Instead of relaxing at a wellness retreat, we want to allow for tourists to explore nature through a research point of view. We aim to create a research facility that allows for only a selected group of people, such as researchers, students and enthusiasts to reside within the natural environment over a period of three months, on a seasonal basis. In this way, the tourists will gain awareness of the role we play in bettering rather than denigrating the natural environment. They will be engaged with the world through learning and problem-solving with creativity. By being engaged in research, they are searching for meaning and purpose in human existence. To reside in a natural environment for an extended period of time, the tourists will be exposed to the local cultural heritage while collectively living with others of the same interests.
This same interest comes through Ship-jangsaeng, otherwise known as the “Ten Symbols of Longevity”. It is a motif commonly employed in Korean decorative arts traditions and has existed long before Korea divided. Hence, the two Koreas share the common ideal of enjoying a robustly healthy life in wise harmony with nature. Having this common ideology binds North and South Koreans together and incentivises them to come together to explore more harmonious living within nature through ecological research. Another belief the two Koreas share is the spiritual importance of its mountains. In particular, the Baekdudaegan Mountain Range is known as the spine of Korea. It is the social, sociological, culture, and historical foundation of the nation. It is the focal point around which Korea’s ecological and environmental systems revolve. More than that, the Korean version of feng shui, known as pungsu-jiri, holds that the nation’s energy flows south along the Baekdu-Daegan ridge and outward along its branches. Baekdudaegan becomes a central focus in Gangwon Province as it takes up the majority of the mountain range by stretching a total distance of 512km and occupying 34.1% of the whole mountain range. Within Gangwon, we have to recognise the most successful tourism program, which is Mount Kumgang Tours that takes place in the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region, the most prominent site of the beginnings of diplomacy and reconciliation. At the peak of Sunshine Policy, it is the very site where 200,000 South Koreans actually visited North Korea. However, the fundamental problem of Kumgang was that it was overly commodified, and eventually there arose a political deadlock and poor tourist numbers. Moreover, after a South Korean tourist was shot dead, there was an immediate termination of the ability for South Koreans to cross the border even until today.
Zooming into the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region, we discovered that there are three separate regions. Segregated into Sea, Outer and Inner Kumgang, each of these regions give a different offering in environment. Sea Kumgang presents itself as a landing point for tourists, yet also an isolated space. Outer Kumgang offers tourism facilities such as hotels. They were designed by South Koreans, built by South Koreans, and for South Koreans. This staged experience prevents any real interaction with the locals in Kumgang. Inner Kumgang remains relatively untouched by the development bordering it. In a sense, the culture and environment is still very well preserved to the locals; offering undiscovered gems within the natural elements of the region. Our project identifies Inner Kumgang region as a potential site for redefining wellness tourism. We foresee Inner Kumgang to be the frontier of restarting potential future interaction between the two Koreas.
By peeling away the layer of forest within Inner Kumgang, one discovers a network of temples and hermitages organised along a central river. They present rich local culture and experience within Inner Kumgang. A hermitage is an annex to a temple that is often placed further away where monks can meditate within nature. Hermitages have experiential and architectural qualities which allow them to provide an effective space for monks. We analysed Podok Hermitage in particular. It allows for a couple of monks to live and meditate within the hermitage over an extended period of time. This experience provides them with the peace they wish to attain. As for its architecture, it conveys a strong connection to nature, as we can see that it is carefully built around nature and has specific framed views toward nature. This analysis provides us with the knowledge to design sensitively with regards to the natural environment of Inner Kumgang and meet the goals of redefining wellness. Our proposed research facility within Inner Kumgang will focus on redefining wellness tourism through the hermitage experience.
The hermitage experience will present itself in Our Research Hut as researchers will live within the research hut for an extended period of time and conduct ecological research to discover more of the natural beauty of Inner Kumgang. Moreover, the research hut has an architecture that details the connection between the researchers and nature.
To achieve this, we limit the capacity of the facility to 40 North and South Korean researchers. This sets a more intimate setting for invisible dialogues to occur. However, this does not restrict the opportunity for more people to gain this unique experience, because this research program would take place on a seasonal basis and we have six of such research huts distributed in Inner Kumgang. Thus, over a year, we allow for a total of a thousand researchers to gain this exposure.
The research huts, despite being a standalone architecture, are all connected to the existing hermitages and nature through a trail. This trail allows the researchers to venture into the wild nature that Inner Kumgang has to offer for them to conduct on-site research or collect samples.
Additionally, tying back to the idea of redefining the wellness experience, the research huts are aligned with pungsu-jiri values, with the back facing the mountain and front facing the south direction and river.
The space for ecological research is located at the highest floor within the research hut, providing a close proximity to nature and offering the best environment for the researchers to explore Inner Kumgang together. While an enclosed research space on the right allows for a controlled environment to conduct experiments, an open research space allows researchers to have discussions of their findings in the heart of nature and set forth on their journey when venturing out to conduct on-site research. Following the framed views of the hermitage, our research hut follows suit by elevating the hut above the natural terrain of the mountain slope. This provides two types of framed views toward nature. The first view faces the slope and is more intimate and closer to nature itself. The second view looks out to the wider frame of nature in the distance. Being within architecture that allows for multiple views constantly reminds the researchers of their purpose within this natural environment.
This is a perspective from the bedroom, which re-emphasises on the framed views of nature.
The framed views are also captured through the vertical circulation. This can happen due to the location of the different stairs that help researchers to navigate between the residential space and research space. While the stairs near the residential area face the outward nature, the stairs leading to the research spaces bring one closer to the mountain slope. Aligned with the hermitage typology, our research hut also has an envelope that harmonises well with nature.
The wellness experience is also clearly redefined when communal spaces are designed for natural conversations to occur unintentionally.
Our Research Hut