Saemangeum is an estuarine tidal flat on the western coast of South Korea, just south of the port city of Gunsan. With the completion in 2006 of a 33-kilometer seawall, perhaps the world's longest, it is now essentially a 400-square-kilometer artificial lake.
It won't be a lake for long, however, because this is the site of what's been dubbed as “the world's largest reclamation project.”
To put its gargantuan scale into perspective, the project site is roughly two-thirds the size of Seoul, the South Korean capital.
The last major land reclamation project in Asia was the construction of Hong Kong International Airport, an artificial island formed out of Chek Lap Kok island. At the time, 80 percent of the world's dredging equipment was involved. But at just a little over 12 square kilometers, the airport is a mere sandbar compared to Saemangeum.
The current record holder for land reclamation is the Palm Deira, currently under construction in Dubai. Saemangeum will be 8 times larger.
So what will all that reclaimed land be used for?
The original plan was to turn 70% of the estuary into farmland with the rest set aside for industries. Because of political and economic realities, however, the ratio of agricultural use to non-agricultural use has flipped. Instead of mainly agricultural, the new plan calls for most of the reclaimed land to be developed for industrial, financial, residential and tourist facilities.
Sure to excite many and appall the rest, Saemangeum is now envisioned as the Dubai of Northeast Asia.
Last year, several teams were invited to participate in an ideas competition and submit conceptual masterplans for this Korean Dubai. Last November, three teams were chosen as co-winners.
One team comprised of designers from MIT, ORG and Office dA. In their masterplan, Saemangeum is divided into an industrial North and a more leisure-oriented South.
The North is organized into a regimented system of 330 ‘landscape chambers’ – rooms of varying sizes, bounded by trees and canals and able to host multiple kinds of development. These chambers might contain factories, a science park, a university, or even a space port. By contrast, the South has the spatial configuration of a ‘constellation.’ Similar to stars in the sky or jewels on a crown, small cities are dispersed along the landscape on a series of small hills surrounded by areas of agriculture or nature, connected by roads and pointing to each other.
One of the advantages of this scheme is that “by spreading many cities over the land, transportation is reduced as industry grows alongside residential communities, rather than commuting-distance away from it.”
Another team was led by Jeffrey Inaba. Whereas the MIT team's scheme is both orthogonal and geomorphic, the Inaba team's scheme is wholly orthogonal, organized based on symbiotic pairings.
For instance, quoting one of the presentation boards, “wetlands are coupled with industry, agriculture and buildings to filter effluents, run-off and household grey water” and “alternative energy zones are paired with agriculture and water to harness energy through biomass processing and hydro-electric production.”
A third team was led by Florian Beigel and Philip Christou from Architecture Research Unit based at the London Metropolitan University.
As described by Kieran Long in a recent article of The Architectural Review, their scheme “envisages a city of islands that combines a self-consciously artificial landscape with a logic born of land reclamation and the depth of the lagoon. Beigel's work has always pursued his concept of ‘landscape infrastructure’, where the landscape is built first and helps to define a non-programmatic urbanism born of geography and typology.”
Kieran Long, as well as Ellis Woodman in Building Design, noted the introduction of existing, Western urban typologies. Implanted into the islands are Barcelona's Cerda grid, Cambridge University's quadrangles and the “kilometre style” perimeter developments of Kay Fisker’s Copenhagen, among others. This is Collage City, and this is how one might “create a sense of place out of nothing.”
These three teams will submit their finalized proposals by the end of this month. The government will then select which of the schemes to work with. It may also elect to choose more than one team or even combine aspects from two or all three masterplans in its phased development project. Or none at all.
In any case, just a couple of decades after it's finished, Saemangeum's checkered islands and constellation cities will burst out of their seawalled compound, stimulated into runaway mitotic subdivision by population growth. Like a Suprematist painting in the works, New Saemangeum will meet up with China's own territorial expansion, sustained by immigrant soil from abraded post-glacial, post-Tibetan Himalayan mountains.
Then no sooner than the two meet, climate change will come in and undertake its own reclamation project.
Flemish Island Constellation