Prof. em Christophe Girot | Landscape Architecture

Cultural Laboratory Seoul. Strategies for culture-specific landscape architecture in South Korea

The doctoral thesis «Cultural Laboratory Seoul» aims to decode culturally-rooted design concepts in parks and open spaces in Seoul. It seeks to examine the perception and meaning of these historical concepts, and proposes a translation into contemporary landscape design.

In the second half of the 20th century a radical economic and social change took place in South Korea, which shaped all areas of life: The transformation from an agrarian to an export oriented industrial state occurred within a few decades and demanded a huge political, economic and social engagement. After the Korean War (1950-1953) quick urbanization, modernization as well as opening to international markets brought an economic uplift.

At the same time, South Korean architects and landscape architects were seeking their inspiration in American and European design theories, techniques and elements. As a result numerous landscape architecture projects emerged imitating «western» design styles. In many cases historical knowledge of Korean architecture and garden art vanished, for instance Pungsu-jiri, a geomantic concept that determines the spatial arrangement, orientation and use of specific places for human benefit. This concept has not only influenced the built environment since the Chosŏn-Dynasty (1392–1910), but also the belief and understanding of space and nature in Korea. The dwindling of these traditional features has led to a critical debate about identity and culture in Korean landscape architecture.

However from the 1990s onwards, politicians have increasingly promoted the return to Korean culture, history and nature. This paradigm shift was initiated by the metropolitan government of Seoul and has transformed the capital into a kind of laboratory since then. In recent years, several landscape architecture projects were realized, which try to link traditional to modern design approaches. These projects have gained vast media and public attention, however the design strategies as well as the partially hidden pattern of meanings of these projects have not been academically examined.

The doctoral thesis analyzes these projects in view of the perception and meaning of culturally-rooted design concepts, and argues for a culture-specific landscape architecture within the current design practice.



Susann Ahn


Prof. Christophe Girot


Project funding through the Swiss National Science Foundation, SNSF

Project timeframe

2016 – 2019


Ongoing dissertation