Session 1: Making Changes

Hyein Chae


Hyein Chae is a Ph.D. student in the college of Built Environments at University of Washington. She previously studied landscape architecture and urban design at Seoul National University and worked as an urban designer in Seoul, South Korea. Her interests have evolved from urban preservation especially on an everyday basis. Expanded from this, she is looking closely into bottom-up and communal power that makes changes in old urban areas. This interest encompasses a series of inquiries about the roles and impacts of autonomy in the realm of urban design, and its relationship (or mostly tensions) with institutions.

Project Summary

Members of BLANK having dinner together at Chungchun Platform, the first shared community venue of BLANK (Photo by BLANK)

The study is an empirical exploration of Ma-eul Sal-i of the young people in South Korea. Literally meaning “to live in a village,” the term indicates the phenomenon that Korean youth move and settle into old urban neighborhoods in pursuit of creating alternative lifestyles. By transforming empty spaces into shared venues, those young settlers attempt to build a Ma-eul (village) where they can live, work, play, and get rest away from a hectic modern-city-life. These Korean young people known as Millennials, however, are considered as a struggling generation in the competition-infused neoliberal Korean society. Given the fact and the long-standing standards of living such as longing for metropolitanism, it is beyond common understanding that their settlements often accompany choices to give up what they have achieved such as stable jobs, good salaries, and opportunities in metropolitan cities.

Residents of Gwaenchanh-a Ma-eul in front of Ujinjang, the first base camp of the project (photo by Gong-jang-gong-jang)

Regarding this as an intriguing urban phenomenon, Chae’s research questions the meaning of Korean youths’ village making by delving into two empirical cases: one is an architectural group called BLANK in a neighborhood of southern Seoul; and the other is Gwaenchanh-a Ma-eul (Don’t Worry Village) project occurring in the inner-city area of Mokpo, a colonial historical city in the southwestern province of South Korea. Notwithstanding a geographical difference, people in both groups have strived to create, experiment, and develop a stronghold of their lifestyles and communities they feel a sense of belonging. In this study, a range of activities, shared spaces, and community projects of the two groups are investigated. Based on common implications for the meanings of their Ma-eul and Ma-eul Sal-i from economic, social, political and psychological perspectives, this paper argues that the Maeul Sal-i of Korean youth functions as a maneuver to resist and, at the same time, to survive in the neoliberal society.