MIT Team to Design South Korean Landfill Space

A team led by MIT architects Alexander D'Hooghe and Nader Tehrani this summer won the chance to design a mammoth landfill project on South Korea's western coast, according to a September press release.

The Urban Design Institute of Korea sponsored the contest for a 401-square-kilometer area that will house farms, cities, and developments ranging from a spaceport to an amusement park. The MIT team was a finalist along with teams from Columbia University and London Metropolitan University.

Intended to fill between the long fingers of land that project into South Korea's Saemangeum Bay, the project could cost billions of dollars.

Making trips to South Korea and working with assistant design director Nida Rehman, urban economist Regina Armstrong of Urbanomics, MIT engineers and students, Tehrani and D'Hooghe developed a proposal that reflected Korean cultural norms and demographic trends, such as an aging population as well as a tech savvy, urban citizenry.

They envisioned "mega parcels" for tourist attractions, such as a racetrack and spaceport. About 30 percent of the new land, which would be built significantly higher than sea level, would be dedicated to agriculture, but D'Hooghe and Tehrani wanted to see a "relationship between production and consumption" with the farms operating alongside culinary institutes; the result would be a "South Korean Tuscany."

The area's 15 urban centers would be dense and compact to enhance employment, transportation, and sustainability. Construction would be phased in such a way that programs could change over time; the form might be final but the function would be fluid. People would be living many years in one section before the total project was completed.

"A city can truly be a laboratory for certain kind of urban or territorial speculation and you can see its results in a much shorter plan of time than you would 50 years ago," Tehrani said.

Now D'Hooghe and Tehrani are waiting for the South Korea government to move forward.

The project also faces numerous logistical issues as well as environmental concerns. A sea wall, already built around the peninsula, has been slammed as an ecological disaster, but D'Hooghe and Tehrani believe that their plan, by creating wetlands and biological diversity, would mitigate the damage already done.

Seventy percent of South Korea is mountainous and thus unsuitable for building. "It's more valuable to create new land because then you can compete on a global scale with new economic models," Tehrani said.

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