Korean War Memorial Park for Civil Victims, Daejeon area:

MP207_bird's eye view

The memorial park is conceived as an emotional journey allowing a variety of choices to different visitors. Reminiscent of a traditional Korean village – a domestic space which most Korean people had to leave behind during the war. There are four main stages of the memorial journey separated by a transitional landscape: the entrance sequence, the excavation sites, the Memorial Museum at the centre of the site and the Memorial Hall as the climax of the experience. These stages are not placed accidentally, but in accordance with the readable palimpsests of the location. 


Materials are carefully selected to communicate the sense of past. They embody subtle cultural references, a nod to traditions of Korea. With an aim to create a realm where transience meets permanent, the remembrance project hinges on excavation, the design uses rammed earth, thatched roof, wooden construction and Mosi fabric.

Rammed earth technique is used to realize a two-fold purpose: approximate the domestic space of traditional Korea and to embed a symbolic gesture to unite different sites of war tragedy that will also be represented in this memorial park. The latter will be achieved through using soil samples from excavation and trauma sites from Korea.

Thatched roof is one of the most recognizable features of the vernacular Asian architecture. Documentary materials about the Korean War show us the carnage of war and the overwhelming destruction of settlements. Acknowledging this on the national site through new architecture is a collective point of reference.

Mosi fabric is an important intangible cultural heritage that powerfully corresponds with the very process of remembering – a complex process composed of a number of stages. It is said that Mosi fabric has two lives: one is when it is first created and the second life starts when the Mosi threads are weaved into a fabric. The fabric represents Korean delicacy and beauty. The memorial design uses it to create subtle connections with the tragedy and sadness of the site that are inevitably enveloped in the beauty of nature.     

Memorial Museum, positioned at the center of the site


Prior to any building activity, there are two key processes that need to take place:

a) Invite last witnesses of the Korean War, the bereaved families and local community representatives to contribute with a short statement – their input will be integrated into the entrance sequence;

Entrance to the memorial site

b) Investigate in detail, together with the survivors and the bereaved, how and where to enshrine the remains. The design framework envisions several possible spatial and symbolic solutions for the enshrinement of the remains, namely in the Memorial Hall, buried at the “sea of remembrance” or in the transitional pathway. These and other possible solutions must be discussed with the families and relevant stakeholders to respond to this challenge in an appropriate and responsible way.[1] It is precisely here that the design generates the potential for creating an emotional citizenship that will bring forward the human aspect and transcend the absurdity of the Korea’s partition.[2]

[1] See for example “Burial Traditions Changing Fast”, Korea JoongAng Daily (November 11, 2013). Available at: https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2013/11/11/features/Burial-traditions-changing-fast/2980282.html

[2] See  Suk-Young Kim,  “Staging the ‘Cartography of Paradox’: The DMZ Special Exhibition at the Korean War Memorial, Seoul”, Theatre Journal, October 2001, Vol. 63, No. 3, ASIAN THEATER AND PERFORMANCE (The Johns Hopkins University Press), pp. 381 – 402.

Excavation sites enhance the sense of place. The protection structures are low-key architectural interventions using simple wooden framework, rammed earth and a see-through Mosi fabric to allow visual connection with the surroundings. Archive photographs will be installed to retrace the original position of photographers. They act as portals to the trauma.

Memory poles

Memory poles, each placed for one victim, are visible from the Memorial Hall. Their direct reference are the Sotdae sticks – symbolic guardians, traditionally placed at the entrance to a village. Normally, the tall sticks were topped with a figurine of a bird for several reasons, but mostly due to an ancient Korean belief that they could control the rain and protect their village from both floods and fire. It was also believed that Sotdae carried the souls of the dead to the afterlife and served as messengers between this and the other world. Memory poles at the site appropriate these functions and, at the same time, communicate the scale of the war tragedy to visitors.

Memorial Hall as the last sequence of the memorial journey

Future vision

To remain true to its concept of an ever-evolving site of remembrance, the Unfinished memorial site envisions numerous future interactions and a place of mourning that is always accessible to all. Interaction with people will be realized through a variety of actions such as making and placing the memory poles behind the Memorial Hall, a Mosi-fabric workshop area on the site and the strategic development of the landscape approach. Acts of mourning such as tying ribbons and leaving offerings are encouraged and can potentially be collected and archived in the future museum of the site-specific exhibition pavilion. The very process of the site evolution through interaction will constitute a documentary aspect and can feature prominently in the future management policy for the whole memorial park.

The landscape strategy is developed according to the general approach that is based on interpreting the palimpsests of the location and evoking the sense of past. Because the location cuts through an area that was once one forest, the design allows nature to re-establish its autonomy by providing space for species to merge and to colonise over time. The law of nature will work parallel to the future process of remembrance envisioned in the memorial park. Also, the design aims to preserve existing micro-climate and flora wherever possible.

Quotations from the victims and perpetrators

They usually chose promontories, waterfalls and sandy beaches for execution sites because it was easier to dispose of bodies there.

Lee Sang-eon, 2019[1]

When my infant brother cried on the back of my mother, the soldier slammed him in the head twice with a thick club. It’s good that we can now talk about these things.

Ko Wan-soon, 2019[2]

When the shootings were over in Bukchon, 300 bodies, clad in traditional white clothes, were strewn across a nearby farm patch and rocky pine grove, looking like so many freshly pulled radishes

A survivor, 2019[3]

The remains of my parents have never been found. I am 77, and I’ve lived to this age crying. I dream of my parents and I wake up crying. I miss them so. But I want to emphasize: This is not just a personal matter for me, but a matter of our national history

Chung Hae-Yeol, 2010[4]

Thousands are still buried in the Daejeon area. This is really heartbreaking for the victims’ families

Kim Jong-hyun, 2010[5]

People were silent for a very, very long time, I think it is our responsibility to document these places

Gayoon Baek, 2018[6]

Even now, I feel guilty that I pulled the trigger.

Lee Joon-young (perpetrator), 2008[7]

My mother destroyed all pictures of my father, for fear the family would get an image as leftists. She suffered unspeakable pain.

Koh Chung-ryol, 2010[8]

For half a century, I did not utter a word about what had happened to me 

Hwang Kye-Il , 2008[9]

I think they killed up to 7,000 people there. Every day for seven or eight days, I saw four trucks in the morning and three trucks in the afternoon coming loaded with people.

Park Jong-gil, 2007[10]

The fact that these bones have remained abandoned so long and so close to where we live means that our society is still at its barbarian stage.

Kim Dong-choon, Reconciliation commission member.[11]  

They told us to light our cigarettes. Then they began shooting their rifles and machine guns. After a while, an officer called out, ‘Any of you who are still alive can stand up and go home now.’ Those who did were shot again.  

Chung Nam-sook, 2007[12]

Till today, I feel guilty for killing them. I bow my head in contrition.

Mr. Kim, 2007, a former soldier in charge of executing 170 people at Hoengsong and Wonju. around June 28, 1950.[13]

[1] Choe Sang-Hun, “Memories of Massacres Were Long Suppressed Here. Tourists Now Retrace the Atrocities”, The New York Times (May 28, 2019). Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/world/asia/south-korea-jeju-massacres.html

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Charles J. Hanley and Hyung-Jin Kim, “Korea Bloodbath ends; US escapes much blame”, San Diego Union Tribune (July 10, 2010) Available at: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-korea-bloodbath-probe-ends-us-escapes-much-blame-2010jul10-story.html

[5] Ibid

[6] Erin Craig, “The Bloody Past of Korea’s ‘Honeymoon Island’. Reckoning with a dark legacy at a time of great change”, Atlas Obscura (May 11, 2018). Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/dark-past-jeju-island-korea

[7] Charles J. Hanley and Jae-Soon Chang, “South Korea Unearths Skeletons from Summer of Terror”, The New York Sun (May 19, 2008). Available at: https://www.nysun.com/foreign/south-korea-unearths-skeletons-from-summer/76602/

[8] “Thousands of Koreans executed early in the war”, ABC News (May 18, 2008). Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna24695113

[9] Connie Kang, “Civilian Survivors Recall the Pain of Wartime in Korea”, Los Angeles Times (March 23, 2001). Available at: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2001-mar-23-me-41608-story.html

[10] Choe Sang-Hun, “Unearthing War’s Horrors Years Later in South Korea”, The New York Times (December 3, 2007). Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/03/world/asia/03korea.html

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

The concept proposal participated in an official architectural call launched by the City of Daejeon (2020)