The Demilitarized Zone : Redrawing the Border Between North and South Korea

Dongsei Kim (MDesS)

Project Overview

This study is an attempt to better understand the DMZ beyond the political border, physical barrier, military buffer, and container of biodiversity, and understand its complex spatial operations. After the Korean War, the “38th parallel line” became more fixed in a different form. How and who drew the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that makes up the DMZ? Why was it constructed? How is it maintained? With these questions in mind, this Penny White award study focused its investigation on the current tourism industry flourishing around the DMZ on the South Korean side, and how we can start to read it in a more productive and meaningful way.

What kind of touristic operations are taking place? How do they impact the contiguous 4.8 to 20 Km (3 to 12 miles) wide Civilian Control Area (CCA)? What do the estimated 1.2 million land mines on the South Korean side represent to these touristic operations, and the future ofthese territories and especially their settlement patterns?

Project Information

Long before the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945) and before the DMZ was established as a result of the Korean War (June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953), the 38th parallel was discussed as a proposed line for delimiting Russian and Japanese infl uence in the peninsula in the late 19th century. Polarized political ideologies in Korea following its independence from Japanese colonization caused the Korean War, one of the fi rst proxy wars between superpowers.

The ideological contestation between communist powers China and the Soviet Union, and the free world led by the U.S. left behind the demilitarized zone (DMZ), 250 Km (160 miles) long and 4 Km (2.5 miles) wide, that is 907 km2 (224,125 acres). This area accounts for about 0.5% of the Korean peninsula. To this day the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) runs through the center of DMZ and divides the communist North from the capitalist South. Technically, the two Koreas are still at war, and are only under a temporary armistice that
was signed in 1953.

Given the DMZ’s relative freedom from human intervention in the past 60 years, it has become one of the most bio-diverse areas in Korea, perhaps in the world. Starting in the early 2000s, many calls and proposals have been made to conserve and preserve the area as a national or international peace park. The DMZ is however not free from other depredations: according to the United Nations Environment Programme report, for example, multiple burn scars linked to military surveillance operations in DMZ have been revealed through NASA’s
Landsat 7 satellite. Furthermore, several organized DMZ tourist operations offer limited access to it on the South Korean side.

Beyond existing history, security concerns, and ecologically themed tourism and other moneymaking ventures, what more can the DMZ become? What Can it do? Can it be a more productive landscape, harness energy or become a cultural asset that creates value for North and South Korea? Alike, can it foster collaboration between the two Koreas? Or to put it differently: what should it not be? Ultimately, elaborate mapping of the DMZ and its surrounding environment through the lens of current touristic operations can be used to provoke thoughts and envision the DMZ’s alternate future, speculating its potential transformation to an asset from a barrier.

Further Information

Contact Information
[email protected]

Pierre Bélanger, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Harvard University, GSD

Niall Kirkwood, Professor of Landscape Architecture, Harvard University, GSD

Nina-Marie Lister, Visiting Associate Professor (Spring 2011), Harvard University, GSD

Lars Muller, Lars Muller Publishers & Lecturer, Department of Architecture, GSD