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Thoughts on urban planning, city design, architecture, the built environment, social issues, Seoul, Korea, and soon... London

29.2.04

artwork from the edge 



21.2.04

Creation checklist 

Program
Minimize role of car
Sun/shadow paths (maximize use of natural light)
Wind flows
Paradigmatic relations (context of surrounding built environment)
Weather protection
Lighting (safety)
Visual lines into/out of building/complex
Existing nature
Accessibility
Access routes

To continue...


16.2.04

Migrant Worker Union Leader Detained in South Korea 

South Korean immigration officials detained the head of the nation's only migrant worker union group Feb. 15, the three-month mark for his group's sit-in demonstration against an incoming foreign labor system at a downtown Seoul church compound.

Nepali Samar Thapa, the chief of the Equality Trade Union-Migrants Branch, was apprehended by 5 immigration officers and forced into a nearby car as he, alone, approached Hyehwa Cathedral on the edge of central Seoul, where he was to give documents to a Filipino migrant workers group and then meet with other ETU-MB members in the area.

He was quickly whisked off to a holding center in Yeosu, 455 km south of Seoul, ETU-MB officials said.

Thapa's immediate fate is unknown, but one ETU-MB members concur that he is definitely facing deportation.

"This is a dirty trick by the immigration authorities before the Justice Ministry comes to the bargaining table with the ETU-MB," said a source close to the migrant workers union. Immigration is under the authority of the Justice Ministry.

The day before Thapa's detainment, a delegation from the Justice Ministry met with members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the more progressive of South Korea's two labor umbrellas, and said they were willing to meet with the ETU-MB to discuss its demands and problems the union has with the Employment Permit System (EPS), she said. The ETU-MB is a member of the KCTU.

On Nov. 15, Thapa and over 80 ETU-MB members began a sit-in demonstration at the Myeongdong Cathedral, a customary haven from the police for labor and civic groups, to demand the government not proceed with a crackdown on illegal foreign workers, to begin two days later, and to instead legalize them.

The crackdown is part of government measures to put into effect in August the EPS for procuring and managing foreign workers, mainly for so-called "3D" (dirty, dangerous and difficult) jobs at small- and medium-sized manufacturers. The EPS was to replace the older and problematic Industrial Trainee System (ITS), but now will run along side it.

Thapa and his peers from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and other nations are also calling for the abolishment of the ITS, the creation of a five-year work permit system, the freedom to choose their place of work, the release of all migrant workers being held in detention centers, and the guarantee of the three basic labor rights stipulated by the South Korean Constitution: the rights of organization, collective bargaining and collective action.

As the crackdown has continued, the government has enacted a number of grace periods to allow migrant workers to voluntarily leave the country without penalization, including the current one until the end of the month, during which Thapa was apprehended.

Local English daily the Korea Times reported last week that Lim Chae-lim, an official at the Justice Ministry's Residence Control Division, said his ministry would collaborate with the police from next month to crackdown on illegal foreigners. He also said that as of last Monday his ministry has detained 3,192 undocumented foreign workers, deporting 2,831 of them, since the roundups began. There are an estimated 120,000 illegal foreign workers in South Korea.

Currently, some 65 migrant workers and a group of supporters are camped out in the cold in a makeshift shelter at Myeongdong Cathedral, holding daily demonstrations at 7 p.m.

14.2.04

Space is a battlefield... la la la 

Just finished reading Beatriz Colomina's article "Battle Lines: E.1027" in the "Architect Reconstructing her Practice" (editor: Francesca Hughes). My first impression of the article was interesting, well written but that it does not present a straightforward argument – not that that is necessary (but I guess I expect it).

In the article Colomina narrates a path of concepts in telling the tale of how Le Corbusier colonized the work -- specifically E.1027 (built 1926-9) – of Eileen Gray: horizon as enclosure; the violence of the modern concept of public space, i.e. the turning of its back, its opposition against the private; photography/paintings as tools of colonialism, tools of claiming the other via the physical/visual breaking and entering into the space of the other; fetishization of the image/image of the other; the mural as destroyer of architecture. My immediate response was that Le Corbusier was a bit of a bastard – perhaps typical of his time, but a bastard nonetheless.

Upon reflecting on the title of the article, the point of Colomina's came clear: E.1027 was the site of battles -- not only those of World War II (the building incl. the interior had been riddled with bullet holes) --, but these lines, as they came across in the article, were lines of advance. Though there were other acts of violence, which I won't mention here, the one Colomina focuses on foremost in the article is Le Corbusier's drawing of eight murals, of which one is of most interest to Colomina, on the walls of E.1027 -- he also managed to privately and publicly disassociate Gray from the house she designed.

This made evident who was one the one side of the battle line: Le Corbusier, modernism, the colonial master, androcentrism, the Nazis (Le Corbusier included a swastika in one of the murals -- painted in 1938). I said the battle lines were lines of advance as, in the article, there does not seem to be much description/explanation of counterattacking protagonists on the other side of the lines. Colomina does mention that Gray/Jean Badovici (her friend for whom she built and shared E.1027) wrote a letter or two and that Gray had been "outraged" by certain of Le Corbusier's acts, but Colomina does not mention more. It is unfortunate; I would have like to read more of the defences or counterattacks, to stay with the metaphor.

To extrapolate to the level of the overly general, this notion of a place/space as battle line between numerous forces could hold true for many/most/all space, be it public or private. The ideas of power and contestation invest space with a constant possibility for conflict, and on the positive side this means challenges can be made to dominant social forces -- lines of advance can be made against them or those by them can be pushed back. Indeed, the notion that Eileen Gray, a woman born at the tail end of the Victorian Age, could design and build such a house in the 1920s and accomplish the other things she did before and after that attests to these possibilities and offers inspiration. Perhaps, Le Corbusier's murals were actually his counterattack against Gray's building of E.1027.

8.2.04

What can urban/architectural design do? 

The question of the ability of city design to determine social activities is one of the more interesting questions/points Malcom Tait of the Department of Town and Regional Planning of the University of Sheffield raises in his article "Urban villages as self-sufficient, integrated communities: a case study in London's Docklands" published in Urban Design International.

Proponents of the "Urban Village", as indeed do those of other planning solutions/utopias, tend to assume that if you build it, they will act this way. In other words, a plan -- or more particularly its resulting space and forms -- are expected to set off a particular and intended chain of behavioral, social, economic, political, etc. reactions that will ultimately result in a (closed) social system (in the case of the urban village, a "community").

The question of the ability of urban or architectural designs/spaces to determine the behavior of inhabitants is a fundamental one to all architects, planners, developers, and others involved in the formation of buildings and cities. I propose that the built environment influences, not determines, social behavior. That is, it frames our experiences, but is only one of a number of factors that inform how we live, the choices we make and what we do. That is, the design of the built environment sets off a wave of ripples (reactions), but this wave is at times/places confounded or complimented by waves from other social, political and economic factors.

As Tait points out, the activities of the inhabitants of West Silvertown were greatly influenced by an entanglement of factors such as location of employment, job status, housing tenure, life stage and mobility. The spatial relations of the 'village' do not account for these - they are rather additional factors.

This suggests that design plans cannot provide a totalizing solution.

So what can urban and architectural designs do? -- I'll come back to this (well hopefully eventually).

2.2.04

Rhetorical Excess in South Korea 

Rhetorical excess -- this term would be an accurate descriptor for most government and big business English-language dispatches, especially those focusing on future plans. Steeped in superlatives -- the world's best, No. 1, the greatest, the largest, state-of-the art, world leader -- these dispatches smack more of an inferiority complex than ambition. At times it would seem South Korea's political elites and business moguls have yet to forgo schoolyard competitiveness.

With the vantage of looking back, perhaps the rhetorical excesses may indeed spring from some form of ambition -- like that which helped the nation repay its loans from the IMF in record time and overcome the economic crisis that caused need for those loans. This notion is reified if one looks at the tempering of the rhetorical excess by the economic slump weighing down the nation over the last year or two. Does this mean, the upper echelons of old men leading business and government are starting to realize they just need to learn to focus on being good before being the best? My guess, however, is that they are too mired in covering up their bribery and corruption and evading formal charges to pay attention to anything else in the meantime.

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