The Collective vs the Public: Collective Inhabiting in Nanjido Landfill (Seoul) and the Post-Landfill Public Park

Architecture & Collective Life

AHRA 2019 Conference
Dundee University
21 – 23 November 2019

Photo: Nanjido Landfill Collective Housing Complex (c) Joon Kim

The Collective vs the Public


This study examines ‘the collective’ in the inhabited landfill of Nanjido (Seoul, 1978-1992), the creation of a political and economic authority derived from the community’s relational subjectification, and the meaning of ‘the public’ for a landfill-turned park (2002-present) in the new era.

Amidst the nation’s industrial development during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the amount of consumption reached its peak, and garbage collectors in the lower echelons of society voluntarily gathered in the Nanjido Landfill area to work as self-employed and settled around the landfill site. In 1984, the Seoul City government built a collective housing complex for 4,000 landfill habitants free of charge. There, the residents developed independent yet relational political and economic power as a collective.

Meanwhile, since the landfill was closed and a landfill-turned-park was established, the area has been called a ‘public park’. However, the identity of the term ‘the public’ has been conflated with that of the middle-class, tacitly excluding the low-income class.

This research illuminates the collective housing in the landfill from the perspective of its architecture and its relationship with the social ecology, depicting how the work group (economic community) of garbage collectors obtained the rights to collective housing independent of government control. Then, it shows how the collective housing complex’s position outside the boundary of administrational governance contributed to establishing the community’s identity as a relational collective, while developing its political and economic power.

The research also investigates the meaning of ‘the public’ in the landfill-turned-park, analyzing the discrepancy between the municipal government’s (higher-middle class) and environmental organisations’ (lower-middle class) interpretations of the term. By revealing the relationship between power and ‘the public’, and thus, the exclusion of the low-class population, the research argues that the relational ‘collectivity’ has more emancipatory potential than the socio-politically contaminated entity/term ‘the public’.

Keywords: collectivity, housing, self-build, park, the public, the civil

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