Reef Metropolis Geopolitics of Korean Subaquatic Urbanism

Ediciones ARQ
Publication Type:
Journal Article
ARQ, 2018, 99 pp. 60 - 69
Issue Date:
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In the summer of 2016, the South Korean government installed eighty artificial reef structures along the Northern Limit Line (NLL) that extends the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into the Yellow Sea. These subaquatic constructions were equipped with hooks that were strategically designed to cut the fishing nets of Chinese commercial vessels operating in the area. Camouflaged as marine conservation and extraction devices, these reefs act as passive defensive artefacts, crystallizing the tensions between coexisting actors in the region. Several circumstances have forced South Korea to project its future aspirations towards the oceans. The country’s geography, increasing population, the reduction of fishing resources, the impacts of 1982 Exclusive Economic Zone agreements (EEZ) and the geopolitical tensions with neighbouring countries, have driven the South Korean government to situate maritime territorial planning as a national priority. Since 1971, a constellation of artificial reefs has been deployed across 210,000 hectares of the seabed around the Korean coastline, expanding the country’s urban condition into the underwater realm and mirroring its rapid inland urban growth. The implementation of reefs has followed an equivalent sequential process to that of urban development, with the traditional phases of planning, zoning and the application of construction guidelines. Drawing on Neil Brenner's theory of Planetary Urbanisation, this paper examines South Korea’s pioneering role in the development of reef urbanism in a global context. The construction of artificial reefs along the NNL is a paradigmatic example of Cosmopolitical Architecture, which illustrates the geopolitical and environmental implications of these subaquatic structures.
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