design + architecture
GWANG-JU, SOUTH KOREA
In May 1980, Gwangju, South Korea, became a symbol of the South Korean democratization movement. Citizens voluntarily joined in the Gwangju uprising in order to further democracy, and struggled together against unjust state violence in what ultimately turned into a massacre. The city of Gwangju was at the center of the Korean people’s resistance. The new military administration chose the city as a ‘sacrificial lamb,’ using it to demonstrate the extreme measures the government was willing to pursue to quell protesting citizens. Citizens stood strong against the barbarity of military forces as they strove to reignite the dying flame of Korean democracy. Gwangju became a battleground as troops, attempting to preserve the dictatorial president’s Yushin (revitalizing reform) system ruthlessly confronted the minjung (grassroots people), who were protesting against the corrupt socioeconomic structure and savage dictatorship that was oppressing and violating their most basic human rights.
After more than two decades, the wounds in the Korean people’s memory and the city of Gwangju still remain unhealed. Many Koreans try to bury their memories within themselves to numb the pain. However, as time has gone by, citizens have slowly begun to accept the memory of Gwangju in various ways - poetry, novels, paintings, and film - in order to deal with and interpret exactly what happened at that time. These methods of remembering are the end results of those Koreans who argue that the past is not to be forgotten or quietly stored away. What is left in Gwangju is the memory of the events of May, 1980, symbolized by abandoned structures, or refurbished lots, all surrounded by endless urban sprawl - layers upon layers of buildings cut through with busy traffic: cars and pedestrians going about their everyday lives.
The proposal for this project is to reuse existing elements and structures on the Gwangju site, and reinterpret and reprogram them in such a way that aids the citizens in contributing to their story telling. What exist on the site as my starting point are the cultural, historic, and spiritual aspects of the site. These existing elements act as characters that inhabit a landscape that does not conceal the memory of the wound, but rather creates a dialogue between citizens who experienced and witnessed the catastrophe.