MONDAY 23 October 2023
DocTalks x MoMA
Session 2

Reclaiming Lost Spaces:
Reckoning with Natural Disasters and Erasure
in the Built Environment

Columbia University

Respondent: Emily Scott, University of Oregon

Flooded apartments during the Vanport flood, May 1948, Oregon Historical Society. Library

On August 23, 2005, Ms. Laveta Gilmore Jones was at her mom’s house in Portland, Oregon when she heard the news: the levees had broken in New Orleans. Hundreds of miles away, Hurricane Katrina was wreaking havoc on the Lower Ninth Ward. When she looked over at her mother, Ms. Bea Gilmore, she saw more than concern: tears were running down her face. “What’s the matter, Mom?” That was the day Bea would finally open up to daughter about Vanport, her childhood home. Constructed in 1942 as a temporary wartime public housing project for the workers of the Kaiser shipyards, on floodplains between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington, Bea’s family was one of thousands of working-class families — Black Americans, whites, Japanese Americans, and Indigenous Americans — that moved there for better-paying jobs. Unusually for the time, Vanport’s schools and community spaces were integrated. Residents were assured the surrounding berms would never break, but in 1948, water rushed in from the Columbia River, destroying the community. Homes and lives were taken in an instant. Survivors had to start over with nothing. In a world of climate precarity, the story of Vanport matters more than ever. Human decisions — about what land is valuable, what peoples matter, and how nature is to be treated — laid the foundations for this community’s erasure. For this DocTalk, I will explore the lessons Vanport has to teach us: about the physical erasure of place and culture in the built environment, about humans and natural resilience, about the power of telling the truth and sharing our stories. Moreover, I will expand on how I use podcasting as a tool for historic preservation — one that amplifies the voices of marginalized community members and identifies pathways for community input for future development.


Designing River Islands:
Recuperating Biosphere
Along the Han River

Seoul National University

Respondent: Tatiana Carbonell, ETH Zürich

Image courtesy of Home Living Korea / Design House.

The main waterway of Seoul, the Han River has been the symbolic resource for both human and non-human entities who inhabit the region around it for millennia. Yeouido and Seonyudo, two naturally formed river islands along the watercourse, had undergone drastic artificial interventions during colonial rule in the 1910s and 20s. Yeouido’s vast delta was turned into an airfield and Seonyudo’s rocky hill was destroyed to supply materials for building embankments as an excuse for preventing flooding in the city. It was only in the 1990s that this disfigured river was put into question by Korea’s first female licensed landscape architect Jung Young-sun (b. 1941), who has been the protagonist figure in implementing the language of nature into the context of rapid urban development in South Korea. She was the sole female voice among her mostly all-male collaborators—architects, urban planners, government officials, etc., strategically infiltrating the elements of ecological care in building nationwide urban infrastructure since the 1980s. Focusing on Jung’s two main projects along the Han River—Yeouido Saetgang Ecological Park (1997) and Seonyudo Park (1999-2002), this presentation seeks to shed light on her efforts in recuperating the pre-colonial biosphere of these two river islands before Japanese rule and modernization. Analyzing the design processes of Jung Young-sun and her team, from unearthing pre-colonial traces of the land to reviving the ecosystem that was once lost, I will draw attention to how these projects led the discipline of landscape architecture to gain recognition as an important role in Korean society. The presentation is part of my study in preparation for Jung’s retrospective exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) in 2024, which will be the first solo exhibition of a landscape architect to be introduced in the domain of visual arts.

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