Sohun Kang

MArch I

Becoming Haenyeo-Architect: Making a Commons 

Advised by Alfredo Thiermann and Gareth Doherty

What can an architect do to an imminent extinction of a culture? Through fieldwork, the author—a Jeju native—documents traditional tools, architecture, land-seascapes, and rituals of the Haenyeo in Jeju Island, South Korea, engages with the community, and attempts to build a new commons on site. 

Since the 17th century, Hae-nyeo (“sea women”) have subsisted by diving into the sea without breathing apparatus to catch animals and plants, in addition to farming their land and livestock. Across land and sea, they designed, built, and expanded these commons with scarce resources.  

Badang-bat, or “ocean-farmland,” refers to Haenyeo fisheries where resources and productions are regulated and shared among them. Bul-teok is an outdoor “fire-place” near a diving point where Haenyeo changed clothes, rested babies, discussed issues, and prayed for safety. Haenyeo-ui-jip(s) or “house(s) of Haenyeo” were built in the late 1980s by the local government as a modern translation of Bulteok; these single-story bathhouses, cladded with local basalt stones, included a communal bathroom, living room, and kitchenette. 

More of these commons are being abandoned as the Haenyeo population ages and shrinks—as of 2021, the number of Jeju Haenyeo has decreased by approximately 83 percent since 1965.  

Using the abandoned spaces, this thesis aims to form a new commons within the community where Haenyeo can bring their design skills and knowledge in a form of cultural production. The hope is that these built (or unbuilt) commons can open new conversations between the closed and closing world of Haenyeo and the younger generation. 

White plans on blue to green background

Line drawing showing a landscape with sea level depths measured at 3m increments. Above this floats a human sea diver, surrounded by images of land vegetables and a variety of sea creatures and plants connected by arrows.
Haenyeo farm both land and sea, connecting the trophic chain of the two territories.

Photograph of dark rocks and a pile of seashells with water in the background.
A Bonjogaengi roof with horned turbans and abalone shells marks the edge of the volcanic basalt stone landscape.

A wooden structure with a roof and no walls containing a stone fire pit in the center, and a large body of water in the background.
Under the Bonjogaengi roof is Halmang Bulteok, or Grandmother’s Fireplace, where previous generations of Haenyeo made fire, changed clothes, and rested their babies.

A flat wooden platform covered with a layer of seashells, with a large body of water in the background.
Bonjogaengi, an abalone shell used to mark the underwater location when Haenyeo run out of their breath, is now placed along the perimeter of the roof as a marker for the new community space.