Between the Mountain and the Sea: Density and Intensity in Yaksan

Marco Kusumawijaya

Things Noted and Learned during Song of the Wind Residency,
3 May-10 June (Yaksan) and 10-15 June (Busan).

During the kelp harvesting season, I observed the densities of different kingdoms1, which are: 

  1. Geological Density.
  2. Fauna and Flora Density.
  3. Cultural Density.

The three densities create intensity of life. Minerals form the geological density. They give rise to plants and animals on the land and in the sea, which in turn make it possible for different human races to get together and thrive alongside, creating cultures. 

Water is their infrastructure that circulates among the different kingdoms, connecting and binding them together.

I accompany my observation with reading on ecology and ecotopia. In Busan I browsed the variegated neo-liberal urban development. Together they —the learning from observation on specific locations such as Yaksan, Busan and others, and from reading—form a part of my long-term project: sustainable urbanism. 

Geological, Fauna and Flora Densities

Figure 1. Two main types of seaweed are cultivated in South Korea: Undaria (known as miyeok in Korean, wakame in Japanese) and Pyropia (gim in Korean, nori in Japanese)
Figure 2. Rock stone by nature, 200 million years old, and stoneware bowl by ceramist Heesang Kim, a few years old.

The islands in Wando-gun, including Yaksan, consist of “rias”, formed during the earliest Jurassic Period, around 200-170 million years ago. They have very rich and dense mineral contents. Their “elvan” rocks are rich in potassium nitrate, an important source of nitrogen for the animal and plant kingdoms on the land as well as in the sea. This is the main nutrient that gives rise to seaweeds, abalone, fishes and others. The thin top soils are often only 50 centimeters in thickness, but at some spots are 3 meters; this means the forests on the mountain tops and slopes have trees that are relatively small, mostly reaching only 30 cm in diameter, but there are a lot of grasses and shrubs. The special black goats, the only Korean native goat (Capra hircus coreanae), thrive on herbs in these forests. They are farmed in several locations on Yaksan. There are also wild ones higher up on the mountain slopes.

The mountains are relatively small and low, reaching only around 370-400 meters above sea level. Because of that, and the small size of the Yaksan island (maximum length 9 kilometers) there are only small streams and no big river. Run-off water reaches the sea almost instantly after rain, bringing important nutrients to the kingdoms in the sea. There are also nutrients flowing out from the big rivers in the mainland of the Korean peninsula, whose estuaries are not far to the north-east. The different currents on the west, south and east sides of the peninsula pass the islands, thus play a role in forming these islands and the sea surrounding them as habitat for specific species.

Figure 3. Map of seas around Korea indicating main ocean currents during summer and winter.

The Korean peninsula is influenced by two main ocean currents: the Kuroshio Warm Current, which branches partially from the Kuroshio Main Current, and the North Korean Cold Current. The Kuroshio Warm Current is divided into two; the Tsushima Warm Current passing through the Korea Strait and the Yellow Sea Warm Current passing around the coast of Jeju Island. The Tsushima Warm Current is further subdivided into the East Korea Warm Current along the east coast of Korea. In the northern part of the East Sea, the North Korean Cold Current flows southwards along the east coast of Korea.

The Korean Peninsula is surrounded by three different Seas:

  • Yellow Sea (or West Sea): The Yellow Sea has an average depth of 44 m with 4–9 m of tidal range. It also has a large area of mud flats, resulting in high turbidity. In the Yellow Sea, summer temperatures are 24–29 °C and range from 2 to 8 °C in winter from north to south.

  • South Sea: The tidal amplitudes of the South Sea range from 1.4 to 3.9 m. Many seaweed aquaculture farms are located in the South Sea. These farms are surrounded by several thousand islands. Summer water temperatures in the South Sea are about 28–29 °C and 13 °C in winter.

  • East Sea. The East Sea starts from the east coast of Busan and continues northwards with an average depth of 1,684 m. The tidal amplitude of the East Sea ranges between 0.2 and 0.6 m. Seawater temperature in the East Sea ranges from 24 to 29 °C in the summer and 10–14 °C during the winter.

Average depth (m)Tidal range (m)Summer Temp. (ºC)Winter Temp. (ºC)
Yellow (West) Sea444-924-292-8Large area of mud flats, resulting in high turbidity
South Sea711.4-3.928-2913Many seaweed aquaculture farms, several thousand islands
East Sea1.6840.2-0.624-2910-14From the east of Busan to the north

Table 1. Basic Information on Korean sea

The average annual rainfall is only 1,706.5 mm, with a monthly average of 142.3 mm, highest in July with 468.3 mm, and lowest in January with 19.9 mm. This is a relatively small amount for humans, so they have to intervene to have enough water supply for a whole year. Some valleys higher up the slopes are dammed to create reservoirs to catch the run-off water. Some reservoirs are actually small bays that are diked, with sea water replaced with fresh rain water and run-off. This is a typical fresh water supply solution for small islands. It indeed may reduce the amount of run-off water, with nutrients from the forest floors, to the sea. But fauna and flora species thrive and evolve into unique ones. Sea plants and animals, including seaweed and abalone, have been the main products of Yaksan and other islands in the surrounding area.

Figure 4. Fields, Sea, Reservoir of Yaksan Island, 2023, Marco Kusumawijaya

Wando islands have the most varieties of species in the whole of Korea, with 2,200 varieties of different species. Some of them are exploited to become the basis for human existence on the islands, while significantly also feeding the rest of the country and the world.

Wando-gun (district)’s shares of national product are as follows:

  •  Kelp 78%
  •  Fusiformes 75%
  •  Seaweed fuloescens 61%
  •  Sea mustard 27%
  •  Laver 7%

  • Abalone 80%
  • Halibut 36%
  • Anchovy 20%

Wando’s 237,000 tons annual fisheries production (highest in Korea) is 34.1% of its province, Jeollanam-do’s, and 8.3% of South Korea. Since 1970, farmed seaweed production has increased by approximately 8 percent per year. To regulate the interaction between humans and the islands, Wando was proclaimed “Korea’s capital of Clean Sea” in May 2015. With its warm temperatures and modest tides, Wando County’s shallow waters offer an ideal environment for raising kelp, laver, and sea mustard. Seaweed is often grown on ropes that are kept floating near the surface with buoys. 

The domestic market is strong because seaweed has long been prized in South Korea. Seaweed consumption has been embedded into Korean culture. When a woman gives birth, it is very common for the new mother to eat seaweed (Undaria) soup (called miyeok-guk in Korean) for every meal during the 3–4 week postpartum resting period. It is also traditional to eat miyeok-guk as a birthday meal. South Korea is the world’s top exporter of Pyropia, a type of red seaweed often used to make nori for sushi.

Ancient literature, such as the Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms stated that seaweed (Pyropia spp., Gim in Korean) was used as part of dowries during the Shilla Dynasty (57 BC–935 AD). Korean people consumed chopped and dried Pyropia even before 1425. The oldest seaweed aquaculture first occurred nearly 400 years ago.

Gim is a seaweed that has long been loved by Koreans as a side dish, and now has become popular as healthy well-being food. It is familiar and loved by everyone from children to adults. Gim is the first-generation cultured seaweed of Korea, and has the longest history in the aquaculture industry. It is recorded in the ancient literature of the Joseon Dynasty, more than 400 years ago. The current name ‘gim’ first appeared in the Joseon Dynasty.

Figure 5. Characteristics of gim by era 

The popularization of seaweed began in the 1980s during which seaweed processing technology was innovated, further resulting in the development of seasoned seaweed. As savory sesame oil and perilla oil were pasted on seaweed, and seasoned salt was sprayed on, it gained popularity as a side dish for cooked rice and lunchboxes and, as such, various types of seaweed began to appear one after another. In the 2000s, due to the well-being trend, healthy seaweed products were introduced and exported throughout the world. As such, it began to attract attention overseas as a low-calorie healthy food.

Seaweed cultivation began with Pyropia sp. in Korea. Cultivation of Pyropia appears to have begun between 1623 and 1649 (Bae, 1991; Chung, 1937; Sohn, 1996). The first cultivation of Pyropia was conducted around Taein Island, Jeollanam-do. A fisherman found some floating bamboo twigs with Pyropia attached and began his own cultivation by planting bamboo twigs along the seashore (Kang and Ko, 1977). This bamboo twig cultivation method was used around Taein Island and its vicinity on the south coast until 1986, but it no longer occurs (Sohn, 1998). A horizontal net system was devised in 1928 (Kang and Ko, 1977), and the use of a spread synthetic net began in the 1960s (Yoo, 1964). Seaweed farming in Korea expanded rapidly in the 1970s. This expansion resulted in low-quality seaweed products, genetic degradation, failure to adapt environmentally, and an increase in the incidence of disease. Therefore, breeding studies were critical to maintain the sustainability of the seaweed aquaculture industry.

About 90 per cent of all the seaweed that humans consume globally is farmed. That may be beneficial for the environment. In comparison to other types of food production, seaweed farming has a light environmental footprint because it does not require fresh water or fertilizer. It also removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Figure 6. Density in the Sea. When the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this image on February 19, 2021, seaweed cultivation had left an obvious mark on many of the bays, inlets, and straits separating Wando County’s many small islands. The colors in the image have been enhanced; the patterns are all real, but certain shades and tones in the data have been separated and filtered to make water features more visible. In some places, the lighter and darker tones reflect the depth of the water (darker is deeper); in other places close to the coast, there may be some suspended sediment from rivers. (February 19, 2021)

Two main types of seaweed are cultivated in South Korea: Undaria (known as miyeok in Korean, wakame in Japanese) and Pyropia (gim in Korean, nori in Japanese). Both types are used generously in traditional Korean, Japanese and Chinese food.

Korea has a long history of utilizing seaweed, as the country has a high biodiversity of seaweed. The abundance and composition of seaweed species have changed over the past decades due to climate change and anthropogenic influences. Some species showed a significant extension of their distribution range to the north while some species declined. Some areas have even become barren ground. Korea has put extensive effort into restoring the seaweed resources in these deforested areas. Korea is one of the most advanced countries in the World in terms of seaweed aquaculture. Although Korea has an abundant and diverse seaweed flora, only three genera, Saccharina and Undaria, and Pyroria, represent 96% of the entire seaweed production in the country (Table 2). Korea has developed highly advanced cultivation technologies as well as various cultivars using breeding and hybridization technologies for these species. There has also been considerable effort in developing environmentally sustainable aquaculture systems using seaweed cultivation (e. g. integrated multi-trophic aquaculture, nutrient bioextraction and biofloc).2 Recently, however, Sargassum has been cultivated intensively in some regions. Other species such as Ulva (U. prolifera, U. compressa, U. intestinalis, U. linza, U. clathrata), Capsosiphon fulvescens, Codium fragile, Ecklonia cava, Ecklonia stolonifera and Gracilariopsis chorda, have also been cultivated, but the production is very low.


(MT, FW)


Saccharina japonica572,595 (33.5%)90,608 (10.8%)
Pyropia spp.567,827 (33.2%)572,864 (68.2%)
Undaria pinnatifida515,666 (30.1%)135,923 (16.2%)
Sargassum fusiforme36,170 (2.1%)17,833 (2.1%)
Others18,226 (1.12%)22,700 (2.74%)

Table 2. Production and value of farmed seaweed species in Korea in 2018.

Figure 7. Farmed seaweed species in Korea. (A) Pyropia sp., (B) Undaria pinnatifida, (C) Saccharina japonica, (D) Sargassum fusiforme, (E) Sargassum fulvellum, (F) Ulva sp., (G) Codium fragile, (H) Capsosiphone fulvescens and (I) Gracilariopsis chorda.

Over 908 species of seaweeds have been reported in Korea (Kim et al. 2013): 123 greens, 193 browns, and 592 reds. Over 520 species are found in Jeju Island, including 85 endemic species (Lee, 2008). The Korean Peninsula has 34 endemic species, including three greens, two browns, and 29 reds (Nam et al. 2018). Among these endemic species two green algae (Codium spinulosum, C. tapetum), one brown alga (Undaria crenata) and several red seaweeds (Pyropia koreana, Gelidium coreanum, G. eucorneum, G. jejuensis, G. minimum, G. prostratum) have been used as resources in the seaweed industry in Korea. Some species showed a significant extension in their distribution to the north due in part to climate change while some species decreased or even became extinct. For example, Undaria peterseniana and Caulerpa okamurae have expanded their geographical distribution on the coast of Korea. Undaria peterseniana was previously only found on the Udo coast of Jeju Island (Hwang et al. 2010a), but recently was found subtidally (20–30 m deep) at Ulleung Island, East Sea, Korea (Yoon, 2015). One of the climate change indicators, C. okamurae, was originally reported along the coast of Jeju Island and in some coastal areas of the South Sea (Gao et al. 2019). Recently, this species has significantly expanded its geographical distribution to the north (Gao et al. 2019), most likely due to the increased seawater temperature.

Twelve kelp species have been found along the coasts of Korea.

SpeciesLocation and notes
1Saccharina japonica All the coast; thoroughly cultivated for human consumption and abalone feed
2Saccharina sculperaMainly found in the East Sea, but recently the natural population of S. sculpera has disappeared from the area
3Saccharina religiosaMainly found in the East Sea,
4Ecklonia cava From Jeju to Samcheok, Gangwon-do; cultivation techniques have been fully developed and are used in kelp forest restoration in barren grounds.
5Ecklonia stoloniferaThe South Sea of Korea; cultivation techniques have been fully developed and are used in kelp forest restoration in barren grounds.
6Ecklonia kuromeThe South Sea of Korea
7Undaria pinnatifidaAll the coast; thoroughly cultivated for human consumption and abalone feed
8Undaria crenataJeju islands
9Undaria petersenianaFrom Jeju Island to Ulleung Island, East Sea, Korea
10Agarum clathratumMainly found in the East Sea
11Costaria costataMainly found in the East Sea; thoroughly cultivated for human consumption and abalone feed
12Eisenia bicyclis. Mainly found in the East Sea; cultivation techniques have been fully developed and are used in kelp forest restoration in barren grounds

Table 3. Kelp species of the coasts of Korea

Marine kelp forests have sharply declined in Korea, resulting in a serious reduction of marine fisheries resources and species diversity, and contributing to a decrease in spawning and nursery grounds for various species of finfish and invertebrates (Choi et al. 2019; Gao et al. 2016; Lindstrom, 2009). To restore deforested areas, the Korean government has invested over US$280 million from 2009 to 2019.

Driven by an increasing demand for kelp in the abalone industry, S. japonica farming areas have increased by 671% from 2001 to 2015, and the cultivation area is in 2019 over 9100 ha (Hwang et al. 2019). 

Korea’s seaweed production is No. 2 in the world, but its seaweed exports are No. 1. In December 2017, Korea’s seaweed exports first exceeded US$ 500 million. Currently, about half of domestic seaweed production is exported. The number of export destinations of seaweed, meanwhile, came to 112 countries as of September 2020, compared with 60 in 2010. Korea's marine product exports are expected to register a record high of over 4 trillion won ($3 billion) in 2023, powered by the popularity of seaweed and tuna in Southeast Asia. Korea's marine product exports soared 15 per cent from a year earlier, buoyed by $620 million in sales of seaweed and $580 million in tuna sales. Korea has an over 70 per cent market share in the global seaweed market. The export figure surpassed $100 million for the first time in 2010 and has since grown by more than six-fold over the past decade. It has topped the list of best-selling marine product export items since 2019. The added value created by seaweed is meaningful since the entire production and manufacturing process is finished in Korea.

Exports of South Korean foodstuffs have been rising sharply over the recent years on the back of the Korean Wave generated by K-pop and other cultural content. The COVID-19 pandemic also induced people around the globe to consume healthier food. The United States accounted for 21.5 per cent of seaweed exports, followed by China with 21 per cent. Japan took up 17.6 per cent.

Cultural Density

In the meantime, the islands’ increasing production requires an additional seasonal density of humans. During my time there, May to mid-June, the intense, brief period of kelp harvesting invited a seasonal density of cultures. Korea has always been short of labor force since its economic success that started in 1987. Indonesia alone starting from 2023 is sending 12,000 workers per annum for the next several years. Some of them work in the aquaculture and fishery industries. The young Koreans tend not to return to those industries that are located in rural areas. However, I think the concern that in the long run, younger generations will not come back, causing the marine industry to shut down, is exaggerated. The significance of the industry in the national economy will not let the government allow that to happen. 

Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Kazakhstan, Taiwanese, and perhaps other nationalities that I cannot recognize, now make up the major part of the workforce during the kelp (and other products) harvesting time. Nevertheless, while looking at groups of migrant workers waiting near the bus stop to be picked-up by their agents, these questions come to my mind:

  •         What could work produce to make it more valuable than income?
  •         What can migration reproduce to mean more than work?
  •         What could migrant workers do to make seasonal migrant working mean more than income? (*Bus stop leads out to places, but their time leads only to rest and the next working day)
  •         What could Yaksan do for itself and its seasonal international community more than feed the world with abalone and seaweeds?

 With many seaweed farmers employing seasonal migrant workers—up to 16, mostly between 4 to 6—a significant number of them make their presence visible in different spaces: in the sea on board the boats, on drying fields, bus stations, quays, streets, courtyards and some buildings, that were empty in other seasons, become alive as their temporary lodgings. This sudden lively density happens because, as an expert on migrant workers said, “You want labor, you get people”. People bring with them not only their muscles and skills in exchange for wages, but also needs, habits, cultures. 

The migrant workers get up at about 04:00, as early as the farm owner, then they might do their toiletry, prepare small bites of breakfast, and go to the drying fields, which are most likely near the houses of the farmers. Some might leave lodgings without breakfast, because they will get some at the fields at around 08:00-09:00, after 3 or 4 hours of work. During the working hours, they mostly only work. Here and there will be instructions, which are of course work related. Here and there will be flirting between the male bosses and the young female workers. But this is social, despite the language barrier, because flirting requires very few words. They would have breakfast and lunch together, which is social, sitting at the same table, with very little talk about work. After lunch, there will be a short rest, enough for 45 minutes or so of nap. Again, some flirting, friendly chats, and jokes might be advanced. This is social. After work, in most places, there is no dinner together. Therefore, lunch becomes the most important and potentially intense time together, between the bosses (sajangnims) and the workers. At between 17:00 and 18:30 the workers will leave the fields—some directly to their lodgings in the warehouses next to their bosses’ houses, and some will walk through the village to the meeting point next to the bus stop by the quays to be picked up with buses by their agents, and go to their lodgings outside the village. A food truck several times a week would lay out things they need for dinner and other necessities—toothbrushes, snacks, underwear, earplugs and electronics. This makes the open spaces near the bus stop a temporary marketplace. The village itself appears to have so many lodgings for the workers to stay in, built on one or two sides next to the bosses’ houses, so they together form small courtyards. Some stay in modified buildings near the quays, at the edge of the village. 

During early May they will cook inside. At the end of May or more likely at the beginning of June they will cook outside, at least rice in pots. Some younger ones go to convenience stores that also sell cooked food and alcoholic drinks (makoli, soju, beer, vodka, wine, whisky…). Some are “alone”, some with partners (who come along to work together), or are with fellows from the same country with the same language. 

The bosses will have dinner separately in their houses. Dinner is not a social activity. Time outside work does not lead to much, apart from rest for the next day. The bus stops look like they could lead to somewhere, but not to additional time.

One boss has been working for 7 consecutive years with two heterosexual couples and a lesbian who just brought along her partner this year. They are all from one country with the same language, which makes it a strong team with less instruction to give and to pass on. Hence it seems nobody is lonely and all are content with intimate intra-cultural communication, no need for awkward intercultural communication. For the lesbian couple, the work in this foreign land seems like a liberation from the norms of their hometown, and gives them a sense of empowerment and independence, earning a huge income3 to bring home and continue to stay together. The mixed couples must have kids back home, put up by their aunts or grandparents. 

A boss spent time fishing after work, accompanied by a pretty young migrant worker. Another boss flirts with the youngest lesbian couple, sometimes touching their backs, near to the butts of others, with the “intention” to instruct a better position when they are spreading the kelp. There are social interchanges in the heat of day light. Romance seems to be appropriate for the short period of seasonal work. Nevertheless, if it is repeated regularly and with certainty every year4, more permanent flows of social-cultural reproduction can take place—or not, and of what possible kinds?

The limited, intense time of harvesting—two months at the most—provides a better justification than any other capitalistic motif to get people to hurry—bali, bali!5—all the time. A migrant was fired for being too slow and asking too many questions. There is really no time for such conversation in the field. “Just do what you are told” seems to be the norm of the moment. A group of Vietnamese canceled their work with a boss after a night staying at his place, apparently not approving the conditions. 

What kind of social reproduction can take place in such a time and space every time? What if the same workers come again and again? Does it make a difference? After the harvest, perhaps the bosses would like and maybe actually do have some fun, spending the latest revenues. But the workers cannot afford to stay an extra day without payment, with living costs here in Korea twice or even thrice than in their home towns/countries.

Another important fact is that in the agricultural areas of S. Korea, about 40% of new marriages of Korean men are now with foreign wives, a very large share of whom are coming from Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam and more recently Cambodia (Song. 2008; Migration News. 2008). These couples also have higher fertility rates than Korean to Korean spouses, meaning that they disproportionately add more children to the population (Quoted in Mike Douglas, 2018). This will have significant social-cultural impacts in the coming decades.

Dangmok village itself, where I stayed, is a dense tissue of walled-around homesteads. These are denser and smaller near the coast and more sparse and larger further up the slopes. It is between the mountain and the sea. Drying fields are mostly on the slopes “behind” the village, with some between the homesteads or, the smaller ones, within respective homesteads. 

The only old wooden traditional house (“hanok” in Korean) that I found is about 400 meters from the nearest coastal line, located higher than many, but not the highest among all. Interestingly, this southern Korean hanok has higher grounds behind it and on two of its end-sides, with that behind being the highest, sloping down to the two sides. Together they form crescent-shaped bamboo groves. The house faces North-West; the prevailing wind is from the southeast - the house’s back.

Figure 8. The only wooden hanok remaining in Dangmok village: in the center of the picture, surrounded by crescent-shaped bamboo groves on higher ground, protecting the house from prevailing wind. 

Many houses have the basic southern Korean hanok design. It is a long house consisting basically of three parts: the middle for gatherings, and the sides for rooms and a kitchen at one end. It does not have much depth: between 3 and 4 meters. This is one of the things that make it difficult to use in modern times, according to Professor Shinkoo Woo at the Architecture Graduate School of Pusan National University. Additional side pavilions create protected courtyards in front of the main house. These pavilions house small-room-size cold storage, drying machines, and lodgings for migrant workers. 

Figure 9. The houses of Dangmok village

Possibility for Spatial Thinking for Dangmok

Figure 10. Yes you can! Mural in Gogeum by Haeyum 

Yes you can! But can do what?

Perhaps “spatial thinking” should precede any “design thinking.” Design has a pre-determined pretentious intention to provide something (often but not always physical) in crafted form. By spatial thinking, I mean to just reflect upon a given reality (including spatial reality) and the basis for formulating purpose. This might or might not lead to “design” in a conventional way. 

A possible summary of the given reality is:

  • The repeated temporality (seasonal) is expected to be permanently recurring.

  • There is the first space of lodgings and residing; 

  • There is the second space of work: the sea, the drying fields, warehouses…; 

  • There is a third space where meetings take place: lunch table, veranda, courtyard, tent, alleys, food trucks, various outdoor spaces where people cook, fish…, convenience stores…;

  • The 2nd and 3rd spaces are common territories with different degrees of belonging, open for collective shaping, also with different degrees of possibilities. Inside the common territories there are also various common objects.

Figure 11. Yaksan village during the kelp farming season in May-June, 2023, Marco Kusumawijaya

Those are the socially and spatially available materials identified through distanced observations. Further mapping, with methods such as “Cultural Mapping” (Janet Pillai), Green Map Making (Wendy Brawer, Marco Kusumawijaya), “eventual” (such as festivals) should reveal much more. The point is to start from what is given and available, and trust that they will show the way.

Figure 12. Above: the southern hanok in Yaksan Island; half abandoned. The question is often posed: “How can we transform and transpose it into urban modern life?”

Figure 12. Below: limasan, the traditional, vernacular Javanese house where I lived in south Yogyakarta. I tried to turn around the question: “How can we transform and transpose our present and future life into it?”

When “just thinking” about space without the pretentious intention to intervene (not to mention “design”), Heidegger’s philosophy of “Being, Dwelling, Building” provides a locus to sit upon and reflect. It may lead to a sense of purpose for architecture and other practitioners of making things. In a situation of risky and un-precise intercultural communication, the “language art”, which consists of allegories and symbols, may better facilitate. What needs to be developed are spatial allegories and symbols. While thinking about collectively shaping commons, different ideas and perspectives on “infrastructure” need to be considered, for example the “commons as infrastructure for transition” of Lauren Berlant and “people as infrastructure” of Abdoumaliq Simone.

  •        The word “allegory” is from greek allo agforeueithat meansspeaking of something else”.

  •        The word “symbol” is from greek sumballein that means “gather meanings”.  (Heidegger)

If we take, in this case, that architecture’s purpose is to spatially support social and cultural reproductions, what can spatial thinking do in Yaksan island (and perhaps other islands with similar conditions) for that purpose, with those given materials? 

Heidegger points out that beings build in order to dwell in this world. Dwelling is existential, it actualizes being. That leads to a fundamental purpose of architecture: to help building in such a way that assists beings to feel at home in this world. Concretely that means to be at peace with their milieu, which means the creation of both social and environmental surroundings. It is that social dimension of a milieu that is often forgotten by many design professionals. To facilitate that social dimension of dwelling, one needs first of all to focus on interactions. In Dangmok village, Yaksan Island, during the marine products harvesting season, that would mean inter-cultural exchanges among and between the many cultures present there. The physical space might be important, but they are already there, made manifest when something takes place there. People and their events make the space. Nevertheless, the question is how intense it can be and how necessary it is. How the temporary density can be intensified to be beyond the economic value of the migrant workers’ being there. For example, the seasonal workers and their employers, the local farmers, have actually been embedded in the nature of kelp. They have spent a lot of time together with nature and the marine species as their intermediary and common interest.  However, a further embedding, that is more social, consisting of more intercultural exchanges, can be launched from that reality.

The following questions can be tested to guide further investigation following our being-dwelling spatial thinking:

  •         What should work produce that is more valuable than income?
  •         What should migration reproduce to mean more than work?
  •         What can migrant workers do to make seasonal migration mean more than income?
  •         What could Yaksan do for itself and its seasonal international community to be more than feeding the world with abalone, fish and seaweed?

Ecological sustainability is yet to be included into spatial thinking. One needs to develop “ecosophy” (ecological philosophy) to contextualize “being, dwelling, building” in our contemporary world at a time of ecological crisis. “Being, Dwelling, Building” can be ecologically reconsidered.

By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs in our universe. Wisdom is policy wisdom, prescription, not only scientific description and prediction. The details of an ecosophy will show many variations due to significant differences concerning not only the 'facts' of pollution, resources, population, etc. but also value priorities.
(Arne Naess (1995:8) in A. Drengson and Y. Inoue)

Figure 13. The pink gate of life and death: where species pass from and into different worlds. 
Figure 13. The pink gate of life and death: where species pass from and into different worlds. 
That way, we can leave behind the Cartesian idea of instrumentalization of nature, labor and space, that had been so toxic for almost four centuries:

  • (My discoveries) have satisfied me that it is possible to reach knowledge that will be of much utility in this life; and that instead of the speculative philosophy now taught in the schools we can find a practical one, by which, knowing the nature and behavior of fire, water, air, stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies which surround us, as well as we now understand the different skills of our workers we can employ these entitiesfor all the purposes for which they are suited, and so make ourselves masters and possessors of nature. (René Descartes, Discourse on Method, 1637)

An example of how to ask eco-philosophical questions can be applied to the reality of the remaining southern hanok in Dangmok. We all know that the simplicity of vernacular architecture conforms to a certain way of life, and because of that, it contains simultaneously in itself a certain complexity because the form is so entangled with ritualized daily routines that have evolved over centuries if not millennia. So, a complaint is often raised that it is too narrow (in depth) to accommodate “modern” life. Therefore, it is not surprising that towards this, and many other traditional, vernacular forms, the question always goes in this direction: “How can we transform and transpose (this) traditional form into (urban) modern life?” Now, given ecological crisis and better philosophy, I think it is not wrong to turn the question the other way around and inside out, to become: “How can we transform and transpose present and future life into traditional form?” Rather than changing what is given to conform to our desires (that for the last 250 years or so has caused the climate crisis), we can try to change ourselves to fit into the given (form). The fact that what is given is often limited and limiting is exactly what we need to conform to in order for the earth to recover. The given helps discipline us, if we would just allow it.

An ecosophy can be a space of negotiation with ecological sustainability in mind. (Arne Naess

As a building is meant for beings to dwell within, if we want to qualify the spatiality of the dwelling for the migrant workers, we have to think first of all about their conditions of being. The same must also be true for the local farmers. Their common condition is the seasonal nature of their interactions.

Can seasonal interactions create a sense of belonging to the social milieu that hence comes into existence? The fact is that all existence is transient. The concept of being and dwelling already always entails a sense of being transient. “To live is but to drop by (the earth) for a drink” as a Javanese expression says. There are only degrees of transientness: a day, a year, a decade, a century…or a season. Therefore, being transient does not cancel the idea of dwelling, it is but a given condition for it. 

Being cannot be alone. Being is social. One does not exist because one thinks (alone), but when there are other beings to be with. While a building alone (or any crafted space by men) will mark a “space in this world”, the existence of interactions (sociability) signifies and makes the space itself a life. 

Figure 14. ‘Living in the era of migration ① Korea preparing to accompany migrants “How?”’, EKW, 2023. 6. 4.

So, we can think and speak about (at least) “seasonal being and dwelling”, hence “seasonal space” must be a thing that helps that aspiration. This seasonal space can be next to a “more permanent or frequent” space, such as a house or a farm or an east sea, south sea or west sea. The seaweed and their consequent interactions with the farmers and their seasonal assistants signify and make the sea itself a thing, apparent from their different times; when they are seeds just planted, when they are growing, when they are pruned or taken care of in other ways, when they are harvested, and eventually transported through the “pink gate of life and death” to the drying fields, when they will make those spaces to also become things.

Seaweed: Peace, Please6

One interesting proposal is called by its proponents “The Korean Seaweed Peace Belt and Red Gold”: to use seaweed as a bridge for conflict resolution and sustainable peace between South and North Koreas.

  • When managed well, natural resources can play an important and positive role in improving economic recovery and growth, and even help to build sustainable and durable peace. There are numerous cases where hostility between countries has been reduced by environmental interventions. The Cordillera Condor between Peru and Ecuador is one of the best examples of achieving peace through setting up a cross-area conservation area as a buffer zone.

Similar efforts through Gelidium (a major source of agar) research are being made in Korea. The annual demand for agar has increased from 250 to 700 tons, but the global harvest of Gelidium has decreased significantly (Callaway, 2015), resulting in a substantial shortage of agar in life sciences laboratories, schools, and hospitals around the world. The wholesale price of agar rose nearly threefold, with a record high of around $35–45 per kilogram. Amidst these concerns, North Korea was named as a potential alternative to supply Gelidium (Callaway, 2015).‘Korean Seaweed Peace Belt and Red Gold (Gelidium)’ was proposed as a project on the west coast between South and North Korea. Researchers from 14 different countries (Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, Germany, India, Japan, Netherlands, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States) met in Incheon, Korea to support this project on March 27, 2019, in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen of Belgium, Matilde, and former UN Secretary-in-General, Kimoon Ban. This project expects to confirm the agreement made at the April 2018 Inter-Korean Summit, which states that the “Special Peace and Cooperation Zone in the Yellow Sea” shall be established as defined in the Joint Declaration on October 4, 2007 and the construction of a special economic zone shall be actively promoted. The launch of the South–North joint marine resources R&D project in the Yellow Sea Peace zone, including the establishment of the South–North joint fishing Zone, may serve as the basis for creating stable peace between the two Koreas and securing marine resources, thus contributing to future economic symbiosis.

 ‘The Korean Seaweed Peace Belt and Red Gold’ project plans to pursue (1) making an invoice of North Korean seaweed resources for biodiversity survey and standing stocks, and assessments, leading to the identification of species for potential exploitation; (2) determining Gelidium bed ecology and environmental physiology (e. g., phenology, seasonal growth patterns, sustainable harvesting strategies); (3) developing Gelidium aquaculture both in-sea (site selection, environmental conditions, engineering design) and on-shore (optimization; engineering design; sustainability, CO2 sequestration); and (4) industrializing agar extraction protocols: identifying other functional biomolecules (bio-refinery), utilizing remaining residues (biochar, fertilizer, absorbents) or establishing AI/IoT-based zero-waste technology platforms, identifying and exploiting functional biomolecules from other seaweed species, and maximizing biomolecule production via genetic modification.

This joint project aims to achieve a seaweed bio-economy in pursuit of sustainable conservation, utilization and valorization of marine algal resources on the Korean Peninsula. Moreover, this project plans to biorefine the Gelidium to produce agar and other high-value materials including polyphenols, fluorescent proteins for medical imaging, dementia therapeutic substances and biochar. Additionally, this project may help to establish peace negotiations that will hopefully lead to an end of the war in the Korean peninsula, and resolve the conflict between the two Koreas. The most critical challenge is that this unification movement by phycologists is dependent on the relationship between both Korean governments. The atmosphere for this collaboration was much better when the Inter-Korean Summits occurred in 2018. The current political situation between South Korea and North Korea, however, is not as stable as it was in 2018. To overcome this difficult obstacle, strong support from international organizations such as the United Nations, Green Climate Fund, etc. may help to achieve the goals of this Inter-Korean project.

As the number of species and their quantity has decreased due to climate change, coastal development, and intensive aquaculture practices, a North-South collaboration might have more heightened urgency that will eventually bring peace—who knows!

The border between both Korea’s in the Yellow Sea and its coastline may be a biological hotspot and could provide valuable seaweed resources. Peace often starts with working together.

Marco Kusumawijaya is an architect by training. While still practicing architectural design, he focuses more on urban studies and incredibly sustainable urbanism. He co-founded the Rujak Center for Urban Studies in 2010 and was its director from 2010 to 2017. He is also involved in arts due to his concern for the relationship between arts, creativity, and sustainable (urban) living. From 2006 through 2010, he was chair and director of the Jakarta Arts Council, one of the oldest arts councils in Asia. In 2012 he co-founded and built a sustainability learning center, “Bumi Pemuda Rahayu” in Yogyakarta. It hosts workshops, experiments, and residency programs for artists to work on issues of ecology and community. Since 2021 for five years, he has been a member of Jakarta Academy, a body charged with monitoring the Jakarta Arts Council, selecting the latter’s members, granting lifetime achievements for artists and intellectuals, and advising the government of Jakarta on artistic and cultural issues.

[1] Kingdom in Biology: the highest category in taxonomic classification.

[2]Eun Kyoung Hwang, Han Gil Choi and Jang Kyun Kim. (2000). Seaweed resources of Korea, Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.

[3] The average monthly income in agriculture (including aquaculture) and fishery in S. Korea is 3,47 million won. In reality it may start from 2 million. This is already many times higher than that in S.E.Asian countries and even Taiwan. 

[4] Korea has been industrializing its seaweed production since late 1980s. The farmers can be categorized in basic groups of age: late 30s to early 40s, late 40s - early 50s, and late 60s or early 70s years old. The youngest are aspiring and experimenting; the second group is established and some are very successful with improved efficiency and quality control; the oldest are established, some very successful, some remain small with old ways.

[5] Meaning “quickly, quickly!”.

[6]  Eun Kyoung Hwang, Han Gil Choi and Jang Kyun Kim. (2000).