W13 | Special Hiking Zone – Reconnecting Mt Seorak and Mt Kumgang

by Naomi Marcelle Bachtiar and Song Tingxuan

Special Hiking Zone: Experiment to Restart Inter-Korea Tour

Zone of exception is a region that is not under the full control of one regime. Instead, it is a product of negotiation and agreement between the North and South. There has been several experiments on exception areas. Where both parties move freely in a controlled environment. Some existing examples include the Kaesong Industrial Zone, Panmunjom and Mount Kumgang. When we look at the mount kumgang tourist regions in north korea, it caters mostly to south korean and foreign tourists, leaving no room for genuine interaction with North Koreans. With the infrastructure built by south korean for south korean, the mount kumgang experience has no relation to north korean culture, and instead it simply serve as a typical mountain resort. This region was later shut down following the shooting incident in 2008.

This failure reflects the necessity for clear boundary and checkpoints in creating a zone of exception. Tourism potential of such zone lies in the mixing and introduction of each other’s culture. Hence, the creation of a zone of exception should be a balancing act between having a controlled environment, curation of experience and exposing parts of each other’s culture to the other party. Our proposal will be an experiment to restart inter Korea tour by defining a zone of exception between Kumgangsan and Seoraksan that bridges the tourism experience currently existing in the North and South. 

Series of Gateways Dispersed around Zone of Exception

Our project is situated in the Baekdudaegan mountain range.It is a mountain system that runs across almost the entire length of the Korean Peninsula, creating a topographical backbone. With the existing road network, we identified 4 regions that are easily accessible. Our intervention consist of series of gateway that will act as checkpoints to visit the village as well as entrypoint into our zone of exception. Our zone of exception will be in proximity to different local villages with different characteristics and offerings. Such arrangement can foster more genuine interaction between locals and tourists, as well as stimulate local economy.

Collage: Vision of Gateway

Our intervention will be a new typology for gateway where the role of the gateway is not limited to a checkpoint to limit and control access between village and zone of exception, but at the same time representing a condensed version of the local life in the form of jjimjilbang which is a traditional korean bathhouse, and more importantly a marketplace that is inherently a place of exchange and interaction.

Programs structured to cause different combinations of actors

Hence our massing strategy will be to create a series of viewing platform that will be injected with other programme, so that the visitor can have views towards the village while experiencing the local way of life. This is especially significant for the North koreans, whose closest encounter to the village will be the experience that the gateway has to offer as they are unable to physically visit the village.

Our programmes are then structured in layers. The roof acts as the main viewing platform. Accommodation taking the top level for maximum privacy. Market street being the main level and spine of activity will be located in B1. Meanwhile, bus bay and checkpoint is located down in B2 to access the village. This programmatic layout results in various combinations of the 3 actors, allowing different dynamics to emerge. The accommodation level allows North and South korean tourists to interact. Market street will be the common ground for all tourists and locals, bus bay and checkpoint will cater to the locals and south korean tourist who will be accessing the village. 

For the accommodation, in order to encourage interaction between different groups of tourist,  communal areas are extracted out of the sleeping quarters, and dispersed at the various courtyards, where informal conversation can occur. On top of that, Jjimjilbang offers a relaxed environment for both sides to interact without any preconceived idea, and the fact they will be wearing same attire to enter this facility reinforce the commonality of the two.

Our market street doesn’t only help to stimulate economy but also serve a social function as a living gallery / human library that allows first hand exchange of information between the locals and tourists.

Mix of Activities

Within our intervention, the North and South koreans are able to interact with relative freedom. The market and access to local products also bring the village to the North Koreans. However, the hard truth still remains, that North Koreans would probably never gain access into South Korea. And what we are able to offer is at best an imitation of the South and at worst, simply highlights this invisible boundary that separates the North and South. 

Overall, our gateway is not only a checkpoint but a hub of activity ranging from the busy market street to the quiet living quarter and orderliness of the checkpoint. 

View From Hiking Trail
Night Elevation
Interior View of Market Street
Interior View of Accommodation

This video will give a hint of the complex cultural and political context in which our project is positioned

Through a series of small interventions in the form of gateways,  existing villages help to instigate dialogues. The overall scheme thus aim to start to breakdown the stereotypes and invisible boundaries that currently exist, and start conversation on possibility for inter korea tour under this complex political and cultural context

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