Five Layers of a Nature-Based Korean City (Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism

Our work “Five Layers for a Nature-Based Korean City” will be exhibited as part of the Seoul 100-year Masterplan Exhibition, along with the winning proposals from other teams around the world.

We were just in Seoul shortly, to attend a pre-opening event for the 2023 Seoul Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism. Last year we applied to an open call, and heard some good news about the results.

Our proposal “Five Layers of a Nature-Based Korean City” was submitted to a global open call. The theme of the call was to imagine a future Seoul in 100 years. Biennale director Byoung Soo Cho asked specifically for a future Seoul existing in harmonious relation with nature. Fittingly, this sentiment aligns well with the work we have been doing for the past decade.

The work we submitted is based on an ongoing project of ours called City Designed by Trees. The project began in 2018 as an essay at The Nature of Cities, and then another for Kyoto Journal the following year. Eventually, this concept grew into a full-scale exhibition for the Daejeon Biennale in 2022.

Now, five years later, it is to be part of one of the most innovative and wide-ranging events on cities that I know of. Perhaps even rivaling the interdisciplinarity of The Nature of Cities Festival.


The Call: Seoul 100-year Masterplan Exhibition

The call for proposals is what attracted us the most…

“… over the past 50 years, the city has continued to develop neither for its inhabitants nor for nature. Urban development aimed at short-term interests—such as to refine the exterior, to attract large number of tourists, or for the benefit of a particular group—leads to the same result as building a castle on crumbling sand. The Seoul 100-year Masterplan Exhibition Idea Competition was planned to address this problem and to draw a big picture from the basic master plan for a high-density, eco-friendly city to the Seoul 100-year urban plan.”

byoung soo cho / E-Flux architecture

We were surprised to see such honest words from such a prominent event. Especially an event that in the past has been sponsored by some large corporations. No word yet, if they are sponsoring this year, but it looks like the city government is taking the reins as the primary producer. Does that mean they might actually take a proposal like ours seriously?

Well, the degree to which they treated the idea with seriousness is debatable, but they did take us seriously enough to count us among the contest winners.

The Project: Five Layers for a Nature-Based Korean City

Our work will be exhibited as part of the Seoul 100-year Masterplan Exhibition, along with other winning proposals from around the world, each reacting to different urban issues and geographies.

What we are showing is essentially a compact and revised version of the previously-mentioned Daejeon exhibition. This revised work is renamed Five Layers for a Nature-Based Korean City. The title owes in part to Patrick’s recent work with the soon-to-be published book Nature-Based Solutions for Cities, and a forthcoming journal piece. Here in the exhibition piece, we suggest five principles garnered from how trees and forests take care of the environments around them.

All of this is then rendered as a large-scale artwork.

Science, folk traditions, and the trees themselves, astoundingly all tell us many of the same things. Lessons from trees, when applied to cities, make the places we live not only more ecologically responsible, but more livable, healthy, and connected places where all beings can live according to their true nature.

We play a small part of this large exhibition (which officially starts in September) but are happy to have our work displayed in this forum. Though we are not architects, and not urban planners, we are artists who are passionate about building better cities. Thus, we enjoy the company of anyone and everyone else who holds such passion.

We would like to thank the hip, game-changing architect Byoung Soo Cho, who is the director of this Biennale, and who made an open call with such a forward-thinking theme.

That detail gives a small artist-run studio like ours a chance.

Exhibition Details

The Seoul Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism runs from September 1 – October 29, 2023 at multiple locations, mainly within Seoul’s original city center. We have been informed that our work is to be exhibited at Seoul City Hall.

More details about events to come.

For now, you can view past versions of this exhibition on the Google Arts & Culture portal.