MIT Environmental Studies

Statement of Purpose

“Those who look to Nature as a support for their landscape architecture works collaborate with the Creator.” When I first entered college and exposed myself to different courses in landscape architecture design, I realized that while artists performed on stage, nature was the playing ground for landscape architecture, delivering humans closer to the benefits of the natural environment. However, as I mesmerized in the idea of bringing green benefits to the dull grey urban environment I could not but help feel the limitations in these small units of parks scattered sporadically in urban settings: they only served as a ‘green oasis’ in the midst of the desert of urbanization. In fact, while spaces should guarantee continuity and harmonization with its surroundings, my proposals were artificial and separated: they were empty, lacking contents.

But, when I participated in the IFLA Design Competition, I began seeing possible answers to this dilemma: If I had been obsessed in expanding the size of the area, I began pondering on the functions of these spaces – spaces were opportunities to respond to the social, cultural and economic changes as well as to prepare for the rapidly changing natural environment. Thereby, turning my attention to the natural environment not as a source of ‘decoration,’ but rather as a mechanism in responding to the changing natural environment, I proposed the “Fluctuating Tidal Infrastructure” for my graduation project. All major cities have rivers, including Seoul, and recent climate changes have produced mass flooding, devastating many regions around the world. So, I believed that if I could create flood plains on the wetlands around the river, introducing the natural flow of the river into the heart of the city, I could not only bring the benefits of nature closer to people but also build a natural infrastructure to safeguard against natural catastrophes.

Through this experience, I realized that our surrounding natural environment could become a valuable source for creating creative new opportunities. However, despite this realization, I soon faced many ‘real’ problems which I had failed to consider. In fact, while I had successfully devised a mechanism to create an idealistic harmony between nature and urban infrastructures, I had completely discarded many practical aspects, critical for the realization of urban infrastructures: negating the true demands and needs of the residents. From this, I realized that consideration and analysis of multiple factors, like human resources, natural resources, social structure, and social demands were fundamental behind all planning activities thus decided to continue my studies in this field through graduate school.

First, I would like to reinforce my knowledge on landscape architecture and environmental planning. Today, represented through the perception of ‘landscape urbanism’ in perceiving urbanism, there has been growing emphasis on the scope and expressed contents behind landscape architectural plans and designs. However, in order to successfully utilize and harmonize the natural environment in future environmental planning, one must not only be skilled in design planning but more importantly, have profound knowledge of the natural environment and its possible implications; being versed in various tools for ecological and social analysis; having the ability to incorporate scientific data into environmental planning; and having the ears to listen and reflect the needs of the local residents as well as considering the economical and socio-political aspects. Therefore, in graduate school, I will focus on expanding my knowledge on environmental planning, thus manifesting my skills in comprehensive analysis and planning as to contribute to the enrichment of human civilization through the benefits of nature.

In addition, if given the opportunity, I would like to explore the relationship between water-resources and urban development. I envision the role for future urban development is in guaranteeing sustainability in response to the continued climatic changes. In fact, during the past two centuries, many have focused on reinterpreting the spatial byproducts of the rapid industrialization, which human society had experienced. However, recently, much attention has been shifted to exploring different plans to develop the unlimited potentials of the water/river-front resources, as most clearly represented through the “Development of Thames Estuary” project in England, the “Lower don Land” project in Canada, as well as the “Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition,” and “Waller Creek Design Competition” in the United States. However, despite these growing attention and success cases, vast majority of the available water resources has been utilized for rainwater treatment and sewage treatment purposes, despite its unlimited potentials. Therefore, rather than continuing the current practices, I would like to direct my research on utilizing the water resources as a source to not only respond to the changing climates but also satisfying the demands of post-industrial sites. I believe that these endeavors in return will help to revitalize and regenerate the urban environment of today and tomorrow.

To this end, I believe the graduate program at MIT DUSP provides the optimum environment for my proposed research. MIT, as a frontier for innovative movements and interdisciplinary researches, collaboration among the branches of urban studies, environment studies, and architecture will help me to address the proposed research topic from a comprehensive perspective. In particular, the City Design and Development program encourages researchers to incorporate landscape architecture as well as urban design and environmental planning from a multi-facet perspective, considering the political, economical, and environmental factors, emphasizing research, theory and practice. In addition, enrollment in courses like the ‘Water, Landscape and Urban Design’ will help me to combine water issues with urban design, while courses like the ‘Politics of Ecosystem Management’ and ‘Complexity, Ecology, and Policy Design’ will provide the necessary theoretical foundations in process, methods, implementation and techniques to execute my proposed studies. Furthermore, I am excited to receive advice from Professor Alan Berger, focusing on integrating environmental issues with the economic and programmatic realities of the site. In fact, the “System Design; Wetland Machines on Pontine Marshes” through the P-REX project is reflective of my research interest, and I look forward to address the most pressing environmental and social challenges under his guidance. Also, the works of Professor Eran Ben-Joseph, especially his current research on “Urban Form and Ecological Model of Development” will help me to explore different schemes to utilize nature in responding to the pressing climatic changes.

I believe landscape architecture or environmental plans should not be limited to simply creating or re-interpreting existing spaces. Rather, they should be directed to reflect the interests of the residents within the site, which I expressed through the “Safe Common” and the “Village with Water.” Furthermore, in college, I learned the close correlation between environmental planning and nature as well as participating in different competitions to abridge theories with reality like the IFLA and ASLA competition with “Evolving Boundary” and “Fringe Urbanism” proposals respectively. Additionally, participation in various group projects as well as serving as a drill sergeant in the military helped me to appreciate the value of leadership and team spirit. Therefore, I would like to bring these experiences to the MIT community, sharing my experiences and knowledge.

Upon graduation, I would like to apply my learning in practice by working for firms like AECOM and SWA, focusing on the impact of climatic change on future urban developments. Furthermore, I would like to add scientific validity to my future research efforts by employing scientific and physical data in to my proposals. I believe environmental and regional planners are more than mechanics or technicians: they proactively respond to environmental changes. Thus, with this confidence, I am excited to take the next step in my career at MIT and beyond.