LAWB's A Conversation With: KILA's Youngmin Kim

South Korea | Youngmin Kim

Associate Professor

Korean Institute of Landscape Architects


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Can our landscape design overcome the pandemic?


“From now on, landscape architects need to provide aesthetics of space that can persuade scientists and policymakers. Landscape architects should be more innovative to provide new design methods and systems that can integrate science into the realm of art. There has always been a gap between the landscape of art and landscape of numbers. Landscape architects can insist that our design can help society to overcome the pandemic and make a better environment; however, if we cannot prove it through numbers and data, it will remain a meaningless manifesto or megalomania.”


How would you describe the COVID-19 pandemic situation in your country? What hopes and fears do you currently have?


The pandemic situation is not as harsh as in other countries. Korea had not shut down the economy to control the pandemic. People are getting back to normal life. Hopes- we can overcome the pandemic with advanced technology and a well-organized social system. Fears - the situation can get worse anytime and it will not end soon. 


What do you think are some major future challenges to come in the world of design academics?


Most of the universities in Korea allow face-to-face design studio education from May. So far, it works without causing any additional outbreak or critical problems. However, theory classes continue to be in an online format, and it is expected to be the same for the next semester. This situation can be regarded as both a crisis and an opportunity for education. We may not go back to the traditional way of teaching even after the pandemic ends. Although the profession has tremendously changed, the education system has still remained in the 20th century. Universities and educators should think about the new system for the 21st century, especially for the era of the pandemic. 


Who is the most vulnerable population in your country affected by this aftermath? And what can we as landscape architects do to provide help?


The situation of the pandemic might be different by countries, but the social group most vulnerable by the pandemic are not much different. Low-income households, aged people, and illegal immigrants are the ones who suffered most these days. Since most of the indoor activities are banned, people are heading to outdoor spaces to relieve their stress. However, the number and quality of outdoor spaces significantly differ by community income levels. Landscape architects and policymakers should provide strategies to improve the social equality of outdoor space service, which we always put as our prime value but have never accomplished successfully. 


In what ways would you improve your city to enhance the way of life for people in your country post-pandemic?


Air pollution, climate change, inequality, population decrease, North Korea, and, of course, pandemic. These are the issues that Korean landscape architects are facing now. Among various issues, the most urgent problem is that almost 80% of legal parklands will be invalid in a few years according to the recent court decision. In the 1960s, when the Korean government was struggling to rebuild the country after the Korean war, Seoul established the masterplan for parks and green spaces of the city. Since the city did not have enough funding to buy back the lands at that moment, most of the parklands remained as reserved areas. However, the constitutional court pronounced it was illegal to reserve private properties to keep as parklands without proper compensation. However, due to tremendous inflation on land prices, it became more difficult to buy back parklands.


By 2021, Seoul is expected to lose 83% of the legal parklands. During the area of COVID pandemic, urban open spaces became more precious than ever. It is not just a matter of design and the profession of landscape architecture. Korean landscape architects need to find more innovative and integrated solutions with policymakers, urban planners, architects, and academics. Landscape architects should persuade politicians and the public why parks and green spaces are more valuable than additional roads and parking spaces. It is the moment that we must prove what we have always insisted on but never able to prove; parks and green spaces can work as green infrastructure while they are the catalysts that can fundamentally change the culture and the life of people. 


What would you like to say to the world?


COVID pandemic might be the most terrible catastrophe in our time. However, this does not literally mean we are in a hopeless situation. History tells us that even in the darkest times, there are always hopes to make a better world. W. Churchill said that we can see an opportunity in every difficulty. COVID pandemic can be a great opportunity to rethink our environment and future.


I may have a question I want to ask my colleagues. Are we going to live in a different world after the pandemic, or will we go back to the world we have known before? Every expert and futurologist is saying that our world will fundamentally change due to the pandemic. However, nobody seems to have a clear vision of what will actually change. Although I do not expect that what we are pursuing before will be invalid after the pandemic, it is hard to imagine that we, landscape architects, will do the same design and talk about the same strategies as before. It is my thought that we are all at the same starting point to rethink the future of our profession. I do not know the answer, but I am very sure that it cannot be done alone. We need to share our idea and find a new direction together.


*Please join us in shaping our post-pandemic world and landscape architecture profession, by sharing your thoughts and idea aspirations for the new world you envision. We will be collecting everyone's ideas and sharing them with our Landscape Without Borders Community. It is time, we look forward to hearing from you.


Produced by: IFLA APR Landscape without Border, Kotchakorn Voraakhom, TALA, and IFLA Secretary team

Text editor: Assoc. Prof. Mike Barthelmeh NZILA

Graphic: IFLA APR Landscape without Border, Watcharapon Nimwatanagul, TALA

Communication: Bosco, So Ho Lung, HKILA