Design

[07/16] Thesis Proposal Blockchain Acceleration Usage to Facilitate North Korean Assimilation

What is the Problem Statement?


How can I use blockchain technology (digital) to empower new built fabric (physical) along the DMZ border and accelerate the assimilation of North Koreans in a reunified society?

In addition to housing, there is speculation to what I believe needs to be designed for me to show what impact architecture can have regarding the peaceful reunification between the North and the South. In addition to co-habitation, there needs to be a campus or educational center that accompanies the housing to help facilitate the assimilation of the North Korean into everyday South Korean society. With the consideration of co-habitation, I am in the process of thinking of a complete program list that is required for a post-unification North Korean to comfortably assimilate into modern day society.

Currently, many people are speculating the future of North and South Korea, including social, political, and economic implications. According to the book, The Search for a Unified Korea, Eui-Gak Hwang predicts an implosion within North Korea, therefore the country would require help from other countries. This book was published in 2014, and implied the self-implosion of North Korea, because it cannot sustain feeding its people through droughts.

The reunification process is very complicated and must consider the radical contrast in lifestyle between North and South Korea. Important issues are to be compared side-by-side, where social, political, and economic structures are compared between the North and the South.

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I look to design an architecture design project that mimics the framework of an incubator, where it first begins as an educational facility at the scale of one or two buildings, with no more than around 100 North Koreans. It will essentially be a social experiment, in which this educational facility will teach North Koreans about the post-modern world, which is perceived to be radically different than lifestyles in for example the United States or South Korea.

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This kind of step-by-step system tries to find that balance between taking a risk, but also minimizing that risk. It does not funnel all of Korea’s resources, but more of a project / experiment based on trust. One problem with post-reunification is that North Korea’s lifestyle has been so different from other more modern-day societies such as the United States or South Korea, therefore the most logical thing to do is to create a hub where North Koreans can learn about the world, what things they were taught incorrectly, and how the facility begins to essentially un-condition whatever propaganda was jammed into their heads during the lower points in North Korea history.

In terms of rooting this proposal into reality and its viability, I am proposing a cryptocurrency that is specially going to be used for addressing the financial situation for the reunification costs. This cryptocurrency is going to be called UnityCoin and this coin attempts to address four of the main issues regarding the reunification process:

  1. Different kinds of currency used on either side.
  2. The wealth gap between the North and the South.
  3. Funding for the reunification project itself.
  4. Other countries’ involvement with the reunification process.

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Different Kinds of Currency on Both Sides


One of the main worries surrounding Korean reunification is integrating a currency that can be used on both sides. North Korea has their own Won, while South Korea uses their own Won. UnityCoin can be a paper-less universal currency that can be used as payment within the educational facility, while serving as a teaching lesson to both North and South Koreans about the potential of what crypto-currency and blockchain technology are capable of inside the educational facility.

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The Wealth Gap between North and South Koreans


The problem with using the Berlin Wall as a precedent to the Korean Divide is that the wealth gap is too large in comparison to the Berlin Divide. West Germany was only 2 to 3 times richer than the East side, but South Korea is between 12 and 40 times richer than North Korea. UnityCoin can become a liaison between the sides with different currency exchanges regarding the North Korean Won and the South Korean Won.

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Funding for the Reunification Itself


The average cost of Korean reunification is approximately $1 trillion USD. The perceived surge of North Koreans into the unified Korea will cause stagnation or economic collapse. With the introduction a UnityCoin-based blockchain system, it can be both investment and donation-based, where all transactions are open source and exposed to the public, therefore everyone will know where the donations are being sent to.


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Other Countries’ Involvement in the Reunification Process


This UnityCoin-based blockchain can provide incentive for other countries to invest in the reunification financial process. If they want to get involved, they can invest large amounts of UnityCoin to support the debt that will accrue post-reunification.

What is the Agenda?


There has always been consistent fear from South Korea and the rest of the world due to North Korea’s reckless nuclear missile testing and lowering walls could always come at a risk if North strikes after defenses are laid down. Even though there is a possibility of North Korea plotting with ulterior motives, forgiveness is the only option that can lead to a brighter future. It’s not like realistic implications are not considered at all but risks always must be made in a controversial project like this one. As research was on-going, there have recently been efforts of a peaceful meeting between leaders Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un. On April 27, 2018, North and South Korea pledged to bring a formal end to the Korean War, 65 years after hostilities ceased.

This proposal is very controversial in that there are many different parties of people that oppose the reunification of North and South Korea. Support for reunification in South Korea has been falling, especially among the younger generations. In the 1990s, the percentage of people in government polls who regarded reunification as essential was over 80%, but that percentage dropped to 56% when the poll was taken on 2011. Younger South Koreans are more worried about issues related to economy, employment, and living costs. The standard narrative for a growing indifference to North Korea among South Korean youths is the cultural generational gap, where young people have no living memory of the division nor its immediate consequences.

Transitioning to the economic worries of the younger generation, these South Korean youths are turning away from reunification due to the financial burden that their generation will have to carry because of it. Over the decade of reunification, South Korea would have to pay as much as $591 billion dollars, but the former South Korean president attempted to start a public funding effort for reunification, but only collected around $700,000. For South Korea’s younger generation, the cruel tangibility of unemployment, financial stagnation, and societal pressures heavily outweigh the vague, distant reality of missile to the North.

The four major countries surrounding North and South Korea, (China, Japan, United States, Russia), would have to propose a regional cooperation, or would simply not want to see the Koreas unify for different reasons. Even though recent news articles state that denuclearization will be part of the deal to bring a formal end to the Korean War between North and South Korea, who’s to say that they do not restart the nuclear facilities under one unified Korea. With South Korea’s rapid economic growth and the North’s already existing experience with nuclear weapons, Korea might just become to powerful of a country, in which other larger countries would be unable to control them. Chances are the unified Korea would be more democratic than communist, putting an Allied force right on the doorstep of the Chinese, which would put them at unease.

A unified Korea should utilize its own cryptocurrency to tackle many of Korea’s problems when faced with reunification, with one of the most important issues being how it should focus on itself and leave other countries not involved with whatever’s going on inside Korea’s rebuilding process.

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After Korea has condensed its strength and has worked out their infrastructure from the inside, Korea can begin to expand outward and reach out to the other nations as a NEUTRAL nation, where no one can pin a side politically on the unified Korea as a nation.

This thesis wants a peaceful reunification and utilize that reunification as a building ground for distributed architectural development on the borderline conditions.

What is the Framework of the Project?


There are several precedents that I will expand on and reference from based on how certain building designs dealt with the cultural, political, or other differences between both sides. Checkpoint Charlie is a name given by Western Allies to the most popular Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. It was designated as the single crossing point for foreigners and members of the Allied forces, also being the most visible Berlin Wall cross-point. The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. This would be a precedent that idealized the division of two different parties, being West and East Berlin, with the East side being occupied by the Soviets.

There was a design competition for the narrative of designing a bathhouse classifying the border between North and South Korea as not just a symbolic line dividing the two countries, but a highly tensioned zone that is not freely entered or explored. This design competition displays a framework that falls in line with my perspective of exploring the implications of border conditions using architecture. The idea of a bathhouse is interesting, because it presents an opportunity to bring people into the DMZ through the only public means possible, while maintaining a linkage with the longstanding typological precedent within Korean culture. An underground bathhouse muddles the understanding of architectural object in relation to context and highlights a shifted relationship between building and landscape.

This precedent explores the possibility of creating an underground bathhouse within the Korean DMZ which responds to the surrounding geopolitical conditions. The minor difference between our narratives would be considering the recent events of efforts to make peace between North and South Korea, thus further justifying new forms of non-military architecture that could occupy this border zone and begin to ease the existing tension not just through culture and politics, but through the landscape and cities. The winning entry of this competition defined the 38th parallel not as a thin superficial line, but rather a thickened situation, which has been solidified by accumulation of ambivalent emotions, and a mixture of tensions and relaxations.

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This project represents their bathhouse as a ‘metaphorical theater’ where visitors reproduce the process of solidification while walking down a double helix ramp, merging and diverging in moments of crossing uncrossable lines, while being at a constantly widening distance from one another. This tense experience dissolves into the water as they enter the bath, and the ‘debris of emotions brought by visitors soaks into each other’s skin’. This project entry takes on a very elegant and poetic approach to how delineation occurs while essentially putting on a play for how this history is reenacted along the double helix ramp.

With the addition of thinking about the framework as more of a distributed system rather than a centralized or decentralized system, there is this thesis by Vikram Bengani that addresses a very interesting narrative, where he goes in depth on Incubating Architecture for the new paradigm of Startups, in which a society evolves into an Experience-based Economy. With the introduction of an incubation system, where the building design gradually adapts and evolves based on experimental observations and results, this thesis addresses important precedents of its own regarding the generation of maximum impact of interwoven urban, economic, and social space.

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In terms of organizing a distributed system of both facilities and houses, it becomes an archipelago through the system of Proof of Location. Proof of Location utilizes Zone Anchors, which are distributed beacons with radio transceivers. The initial steps for joining this network involves connecting on of these Zone Anchors. This system relies on synchronized clocks, where these anchors send messages until a consensus is reached. Once they are synchronized, these groups of anchors can establish a Zone, which pledges to give location services that are enforced by smart contract safety deposits. Finally, Zones include time stamped messages from customers in a competitive market for a transaction fee, while these Zones are re synchronizing clocks and publishing their time logs to a data store. Validators provide fraud-proofs, and constant triangulation is calculated to verify the final presence claims.

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Other precedents include the Co-habitation project in Morocco by Kilo Architecture, which consists of five experimental houses within a communal farm, which propose alternative modes of domesticity and co-habitation, both within the home and between homes. This project places the two linear houses along a single line, where they both disappear from the visual sight line of the other, thus maximizing privacy while democratizing access.

What is the Context?


Previously, I was skeptical on where the site of my proposal would be, as the narrative was still abstract, so I just opted to pin it in Panmunjom, which is the Peace Village between North and South Korea, where all the peace talks, and negotiations happen. As this proposal took on more of an incubated project standpoint, the scale of the project will possibly grow exponentially, because the iteration of design changes and adapts with time and results through its incubation phase. Therefore, in addition to Panmunjom, this project can reach both the Kaesong Industrial Region and Panmunjom through its distributed system, metaphorically becoming the glue that binds both North and South Korea together.

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What is the Time Period of this Project?


This project speculates a peaceful future with minimal to no ‘border-like’ qualities in the design but will also consider other futures where caution is maintained in construction, including walls, defense systems, or even stretching out the transitional period further due to economic costs of reunification, or existing political differences between North and South Korea.

What are the Design and Research Methods?


There are a lot of bases that I would need to cover regarding research for this project proposal. I intend on working/sorting the information that I find into different levels of scale:

  • The Person – The South Korean vs. The North Korean
  • The Site – Immediate Context of Peace Village, History of the Village
  • The City – Surrounding Districts and Cities
  • The DMZ – History and Structure of the Demilitarized Zone
  • The Sides – History and Compare/Contrast of North and South Korea, Considerations for the differences in the political, cultural, and economic.
  • The Country – History of Unified Korea, and how they ended up splitting into North/South
  • The World – Further Analysis on Impacts on the United States, Russia, China, and Japan.

In addition, the idea of blockchain and cryptocurrency is an important part of my proposal, and I need to be fluent enough to explain the core concepts behind the technology to the critics and anyone that is just skeptical about blockchain in a timely and concise manner. I am utilizing this internship of a blockchain startup to become more fluent in my explanation of blockchains.

What are the Deliverables of the Project?


As previously mentioned, I will sort research into different levels of scale, and display site analysis that is sorted through scale as a sequence, in addition to a presentation on the monitor that will both acquaint reviewers with the two countries, where they came from, their histories, and what situations that can be applied to their maximized benefit in the near, and far future. Considerations for design will be displayed as both a building design, and on a larger scale as an urban master plan. The process will resemble a timeline, and will include everything necessary of displaying essentially a ‘buyable’ project, seeking to stray away from a more abstract conclusion:

  • Construction Drawings
  • Plans
  • Sections
  • Elevations
  • Renders
  • Speculative drawings/diagrams
  • Building models and city models
  • Graphs, tables, etc

I will also construct a syllabus for myself that rigorously divides the kind of work I will do, as time is the most important budget for presenting a ‘complete’ project for review by the end of the semester.

In addition, I will do a total of 8 models, where 4 of them will document the different milestones of the incubation growth of the building design and how it transitions from a building design to an urban planning project. The other 4 models will be precedent models of different border conditions that are around the world, such as Berlin, Syria, etc. In addition, I will do an overall site context model that will be CNCed at a larger scale.

What is the Purpose?


This project matters even more so than it did earlier in the semester because of the recent efforts to make peace between North and South Korea. With this narrative directly addressing a possible future, this project seeks to speculate the role of architecture and how much architecture can influence a peaceful reunification between the two countries. I believe that this project, or something similar, will be visited in the far future, when North Koreans will have to assimilate into modern day society, and drastically change their lifestyle once they are no longer the rule of dictatorship. What North Koreans considered normal is radically different than South Koreans, where the difference in lifestyle is minimal between South Korea and other modern countries in comparison to the North Korean and the rest of the world.

This proposal will most likely be read by many different parties, including the United States government, the North and South Korean government, or even the United Nations. I predict that this project will be very controversial and lead to nationwide coverage regarding ethics and morals, while providing exposure to the people around the world that are ignorant to the existing situation regarding North and South Korea.

These lessons that are taught in this proposal can be applied to other contexts around the world that deal with two radically different lifestyles and governments, and how they address the border, the connections within that border, and potentially assist a less fortunate side of the country through this connection. In the book Why Nations Fail, the author states that, “Economic institutions shape economic incentives to become educated, to save and invest, to innovate and adopt new technologies, and so on. It is the political process that determines what economic institutions people live under, and it is the political institutions that determine how his process works”.

This problem also addresses the moral issue of whether an outside power should interfere with an existing culture for the greater good on the people inside it. Normally, it would be more of a debate if the people existing in these spaces in happy within their own regulations, but even after understanding that it is ‘lifestyle’, North Koreans are generally very dissatisfied with their lives, as they struggle to satisfy their basic needs at sustaining their life, with no energy/power at night, constant famines and droughts, and strict regulations that lead to execution or imprisonment, while maintaining a devout worship for their leaders.

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My thesis will contribute to bringing further discussion to the role of the architect, and how much influence the architect has in furthering the agenda of the government around the world. I was also interested in exploring the proposal of new public policies regarding construction, and I constantly think about how much architects can bring to the table in bringing about progress and change to unfavorable conditions in certain categories related to the existing governmental policies such as affordable housing and more community-based buildings for the people.

Furthermore, the proposal of my thesis has reached this stage with the inclusion of blockchains and cryptocurrency, because it can serve a significant purpose of handling or facilitating the payment of the reunification costs of this project. As mentioned earlier, the cryptocurrency aspect of my project will root its core values into a realm of viability and reality. This increases the purpose of the project, where it seeks to continue as a publication for future investors, where the research will retain its purpose and lead to future development, both for the unification, and the public policy.

What is the Timeline/Process?


This project will foresee a formal agreement to reunification between both countries and estimate a transitional period of how the countries will unify physically, metaphorically, and culturally. The formal agreement can take as long as 5 to 10 years, with the transitional period taking as long as an additional 10 years, regarding the debt that these efforts will accompany the process. Gathering the funding for this reunification will take an extended amount of time, considering that the reunification is unpopular among the younger South Korean generation.

The work will be sorted through the first and second semester. As previously mentioned, the work process is divided through scale:

  • The Person – The South Korean vs. The North Korean
  • The Site – Immediate Context of Peace Village, History of the Village
  • The City – Surrounding Districts and Cities
  • The DMZ – History and Structure of the Demilitarized Zone
  • The Sides – History and Compare/Contrast of North and South Korea, Considerations for the differences in the political, cultural, and economic.
  • The Country – History of Unified Korea, and how they ended up splitting into North/South
  • The World – Further Analysis on Impacts on the United States, Russia, China, and Japan.

1st half – site model, comparison diagrams between North/South Korean, speculative diagrams, precedent studies and development, (plans, sections, conceptual design/intent).

2nd half – city scale development, masterplan model, ‘campus’ design drawings, (plans, sections, elevations, renders, diagrams)

Apart from the ‘Person’, the sequence of research will scale down from the largest to the site. Starting from the ‘World’ and the ‘Person’, it will scale down until the site.
Readings would include finishing the books:

  • Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Acemoğlu, D.
  • The Search for a Unified Korea: Political and Economic Implications, by Eui-Gak Hwang
  • North Korea, a Country Study, by Robert L. Worden
  • The Future of North Korea, by Tsuneo Akaha
  • North and South Korea: internal politics and external relations since 1988, by Kim Hak-joon
  • The New Koreans: the story of a nation, by Michael Breen

Research – I am currently interning at a startup in Brooklyn, NYC, that deals with blockchains and monetizing the design process, called Sndbox, and the intern will be expected to maintain a personal blog where I will be required to publish weekly posts on research, general ideas and designs that I pursue alongside Sndbox. This will work very well for me in that I will be able to research my thesis alongside this internship.

Who am I and How did I get here?


I have always had a connection to South Korea as my heritage that I’ve always wanted to study, and my ambition of helping others through architecture, primarily through sustainability and affordable housing. At first, I was planning on utilizing radically sustainable materials and resources to build sub urban housing that connects the gap between the countryside and the urban cities of South Korea. Then I switched to focusing on addressing the potential of Korean unification. I felt that addressing this issue if significant because it is a current event that has drastically raised its possibility over the recent years. The site of this idea is right on the DMZ, or the demarcation line, which separates North and South Korea.

What’s great about this project is that a specific criterion is very visible. The problem lays in how this housing can facilitate or invigorate the reunification process between the Koreas. The criterion is simply how influential this project can be with facilitating this process. The research of this problem comes into many categories, such as addressing the lifestyle comparisons between North and South Korea, the potential outcomes and scenarios of successful Korean unification, and political issues surrounding this reunification.

This issue is particularly interesting because if you ask the question, “How will you know if it is ‘good’ or significant or new or helpful?”, there is no clear answer. One must speculate that trying to unify both Koreas can also be a bad thing instead of a good thing. Regardless, I feel that this is a very controversial issue to address, but also a very significant issue to testify. This is also referencing the potential outcomes of Korean reunification. Will Korea become too powerful of a country? Will there be civil unrest? Political opposition? Is a peaceful outcome always the right answer? Will Korean reunification be even peaceful? I must ask myself these questions to fight for this innovation to be justified in existence and prove its significance to the world.

When I took ethics, I stated that I would focus on sustainable and affordable housing as my primary goal in terms of my career. After careful contemplation on my ambitions, I’ve decided to pursue the proposal of new policies that surround the benefits of the less fortunate, who need access to their basic rights to shelter. Since that is too generalized of a problem, I’ve turned it into a significant scenario that also needs to be addressed. North Koreans would be the target people I would be working with, as they are not necessarily living without a shelter, but many are living in extreme poverty, thus assimilating into modern day society would be quite difficult if their financial situation is dire.

When I took the real estate course, I did a paper on the overabundance of apartment complexes that are plaguing the urban landscape of South Korea’s major cities. This was over-predicting the urban growth of South Korea’s economy, but there are no considerations for individual design, and thus the cookie-cutter appearance occurs, but conglomerates keep building new apartment complexes even though the older ones still exist. This paper was a contrast between the population decline of Korea, the age group being elderly, and how they live in the countryside, thus making more apartments than people to occupy them.

The future trajectory for this thesis would lead me to be more involved with the Korean government and assist in efforts to use architecture as a liaison to help bridge a connection between North and South Korea not just physically, but metaphorically. I am looking to work in both the field of architecture and public policy, and this research would acquaint me with South Korean culture and the governmental policies within the South Korean government.