Understanding the Role of the Architectural Profession in Busan Citizens Park
More United States Army Camps in Korea are being handed back to Koreans. About 80 U.S. Army Camps will be returned to Korea by 2017, due to the repositioning of the U.S. Army. What are left to the Koreans are the U.S. Army Camp sites, which have been decommissioned and kept shut, writing down a history of their own.
In the midst of this history, Camp Hialeah in Busan has taken on new life as a park and opened on the 1st of May. It is the first case in which a U.S. Army Camp has been transformed into a public park. The site with an area of 530,799m2, which remained closed for over 20 years, greeted citizens with the name Busan Citizens Park. There are some problems that have to be reviewed, such as the process of the competition and the issue of preserving modern age buildings. These problems do not end in Camp Hialeah. For an example, the winner for the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan(USAG-Y) site had to be modified, because the site information was inaccurate but the finally it is decided to be made of the single ecological park. There are also about 30 U.S. Army Camp sites that just remain shut, because a suitable plan could not found. SPACE will attempt to find a role of architectural profession in this new type of site development that Korean cities are facing, through Busan Citizens Park.
reported by Park Gyehyun l photographed by Yoon Joonhwan
First Case: Transforminga U.S. Army Camp into a Public Park
People dressed up in colourful clothes, making joyous noises, many with cotton candy in their hands, are filling up the streets. A convenience store nearby sold out its bottled water. This kind of scene was scarce in Busan for many years, especially in Bumjeon-dong, a desolate district since the U.S. Army left. The sudden rush is a result of creating Busan Citizen’s Park on the former Camp Hialeah site.
Busan Citizens Park opened on the 1st of May. Its area is 530,799m2, which is more than twice as large as the Yeouido Park (approx. 230,000m2). This horse shaped site was used as a horse racetrack (1930 – 40) and a Japanese Military facility (1942 – 45) during the Japanese colonial era. After the liberation of Korea, it was used as Busan Base Command (1945 – 54) and finally Camp Hialeah (1954 – 2006). Today James Corner redesigned this site, which has been inaccessible to citizens for 100 years. The Bujeon and Jeonpo stream that had been coverd with concrete were restored and the five different kinds of forest pathways were inserted on the site. The forests, grass plazas, flower gardens, sand beach, and ponds filled up the park. Haneulbit Waterfall, which drops water from 25m high structure, works like a signpost to visitors. There are ten different entrances, with an underground parking lot.
“The U.S. Army continues to return the camp sites. I want to call this particular one ‘The Busan model’” said U.S. ambassador Kathleen Stephens in her 2011 Busan Citizens Park groundbreaking ceremony speech. It is noteworthy that the park is not only a large scale park near downtown, but also a result of redeveloping a former U.S. Army Camp site. According to the Land Partnership Plan (LPP) of 2002, between Korea and the US, 80 U.S. Army Camp sites are planning to be returned, 49 of which have been returned. It is a new assignment for Koreans to make use of these massive sites all around the nation. USAG-Y is facing the same objective as Busan, to make a 240,000m2 site into a park. We will be able to foresee the role of architecture in the redevelopment of the retuned U.S. Army Camp sites by looking at the Busan Citizens Park’s case.
Procedural Planning Process and Suggestions
In 2009, the Hialeah Park Forum, which is a group of people gathered from the fields of architecture, culture, media, and civic administration, was able to make modifications to the winning project of 2006 International Proposal Competition. The competition did not provide any reference of the site, and the winning team, James Corner’s Field Operations said they didn’t even have the right measurements. Hence, the winning project was just a drawing on white paper (Fig. 1). Abnormal planning process and lack of reference only produced inadequate plans.
The forum expressed that a normal planning process is necessary, and started to research the site. From the research stage, they advised the preservation of the existing structure and vegetation and also encouraged participation from citizens. They visited and researched existing parks in the U.S., and gathered public opinion by wring an article ‘Hialiah’, all the while asking for direction from the U.S.. The forum also met James Corner, asked and sought confirmation that he would be willing to improve the park design. The whole process was published and distributed by the title The Dream of Busan: Making Citizens Park from Camp Hialeah.
All of these activities changed the attitude of Busan city government. In July of 2010, the government decided to make modifications to the original design of the park. The history of Hialeah was nearly lost by the development method of plowing up and destroying the existing site and an administration deaf to the voice of experts and citizens. In February of 2011, James Corner announced the modified plan for the park, which included the preservation of 23 buildings out of 338 (Table 1), adding a cultural history zone by preserving the horse race track (Fig. 2). Corner also claimed that ‘The historic elements of the site enriched the park’s design’. The park’s design was not perfect, but it escaped from being a worst scenario. This case exempli¬fies that, in regard to the redevelopment of the former U.S. Army Camp sites, which are being rushed to get quick results, adapting procedural planning process can bring out much better designs.
Original view of Camp Hialeah in 2009
Completed view of Busan Citizens Park in 2014
Discussion and Sharing the Value of a Preserved Building is Necessary
The visit to the actual park was quite disappointing. Heartless paintings on the wall, plastic roof tiles, replaced glass doors. Scarcely can one tell which era a building comes from. It almost seems as if the buildings belong to a theme park. It makes one wonder why there are no concerns for preservation methods whatsoever. It was unacceptable that this is part of the result of a project that went through modifications.
The horse racetracks are 89 years old, and Hialeah Camp is 50 years old, yet such the time cannot be captured nor sensed in the remaining buildings. The Officer’s Club in Hialeah, which was also a horse race betting shop, was cleaned up and transformed into a History Museum. It is the same for Commander’s residence, Officer’s residence, and Petty Officer’s residence, which was renovated into a Forest Book Café, Dasom Hall (seminar and exhibition hall), and Village of Culture & Art. Quonset hut is now a children’s museum, which is just covered with an image of the cartoon character Pororo. The landscape is full of new plants and gardens, which do not resemble any of the sites centennial history, almost seeming chaotic.
Beyond these final results, a high standard of preservation is also hard to find. Beside that of the Officer’s Club, which has been designated as the modern age building, a clear set of standards cannot be found in the selection of other buildings. Some can say that the values are covered by the new renovation, but the important reason is that the historic value of the buildings were never shared with the public. Citizens also have no clue why certain buildings and facilities were demolished and why others remain. One citizen questioned why the Watch-tower should be preserved. Also, the citizens denounced the image on the ceiling of the History Museum, which recalls the Japanese ‘rising sun flag’ from WWII. This is a result of a lack of historical research and agreement over the direction of the renovation plan.
As Kim Kisoo (professor of architecture, Dong-A University) asserts, “Preservation is not about the number of buildings that you save”, adding that “Discussing the value and meaning, and publicizing is vital”. He said that the lack of discussion and publicizing just left a few buildings. He also said that “If the value has been discussed thoroughly enough, a design including the value of preservation and its new function is possible”. Preserving tradition is not just simply maintaining the old look, but can be part of a design that keeps the shared value alive while also being creative and flexible. Kim highlighted that the time investment for experts to research and discuss, and the law and policy as support is necessary in order to come up with good designs. He concluded by adding, ‘We are living in an age where the architect not only builds new buildings, but also concentrates on utilizing the remains from the past’.
Restitution of the U.S. Army Camp Sites, and the Role of the Architectural Profession
The effort by those in the architectural field is called for in the plan of redeveloping the former U.S. Army Camps. Another case that shares similar issues to Busan Citizen’s Park and has preceded to an international competition is Yongsan Park. We can find some differences in the planning phase, which is that most participants searched and obtained information about the site themselves, when the city of Seoul did not provide the information. Because the competitors had the site information, they were able to see plans that included the preservation of buildings and ecosystems with sustainable growth. The winning project ‘HEALING: The Future Park’ made preservation plans according to the site level, and reinterpreted the demolishing structures as a yard. We can confirm that the effort of archi¬tects can bring big differences to the plans. Unfortunately, some errors from the site info were found as they executed the design, causing some modifications. From now on, we expect architects to ask for sufficient amount of research in the beginning, so that the host may respond to these requests. The architects should raise their voice that systematic planning results a sustainable design for an abandoned land, which will avoid wasting time for preventable modifications.
Also, finding an agreement for the value of the site and its facilities is another assignment, especially if the site has been shut down for a century. Cooperation between the architectural historian who studies the values, and architecture designers who can create rational designs is essential. One of the weaknesses of the Korean architecture field is that the scholars and the designers do not exchange much. If we stay this way, we cannot outgrow a relapse of situations like Busan Citizens Park.
Other former US Army Camps suffer from problems such as oil pollution, lack of plans, and paucity of funds. We can find references in Fresh Kills Park, New York, which will purify a trash landfill for 20 years and build a park, or Duisburg-Nord Landscape Park, Germany, which recycled the factory site with left over steel frame structures. It is the job of architects to put time into planning, and to come up with clever utilizing plans. A culture that opens various possibilities and new approaches is also necessary to come up with creative results. This will create places where people not only preserve the past, but a place where they create new cultures.
Such roles of architecture are not exclusively preserved for returned U.S. Army Camp sites. We can see the issue of redevelopment from our domestic cities, with its deep history in the background. These projects include Danginri power plant development project and Seosomun historic cultural park construction project in Seoul. This is why it is important to find the new role of the architecture from the redevelopment of the former U.S. Army Camp sites.