Korean Culture No.12
K ArCHitecture
Tradition Meets Modernity
K Architecture
Korean Culture No.12
K-architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Copyright © 2013
by Korean Culture and Information Service
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means
without the written permission of the publisher.
First Published in 2013 by
Korean Culture and Information Service
Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
Phone: 82-2-398-1914~20
Fax: 82-2-398-1882
ISBN: 978-89-7375-582-0 04610
ISBN: 978-89-7375-578-3 04080 (set)
Printed in the Republic of Korea
For further information about Korea, please visit:
K Architecture
Tradition Meets Modernity
Chapter One
Bustling Cities, Rising Architecture
Rediscovering Korean Architecture
Taking the Global Stage
Chapter Two
The History of Korean Architecture
Stone Pagodas and Temple Architecture
The Beauty of Column-head Brackets and Entasis
Humble Spaces in Harmony with Nature
East Meets West; Tradition Meets Modernity
Chapter Three
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional
Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto
Muryangsujeon Hall at Buseoksa Temple
4 K- Architecture: The Convergence of Tradition and Modernity
Janggyeongpanjeon Hall at Haeinsa Temple
Changdeokgung Palace
Jongmyo Shrine
Yangdong Village
Soswaewon Garden
Dosan Seowon and Byeongsan Seowon Confucian Academies
Hwaseong Fortress
Seongyojang House
Chapter Four
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies
Two Giants of Korean Modernism
The 4.3 Group and Architectural Humanities
Standing at the Boundary of Korean and Global
Chapter Five
Pushing the Envelope: New Ideas and
Beyond the “City of Rooms”
A New Housing Culture between the Beehives
Evolution of Korean Modernism
Landscape Architecture and the Transforming Cityscape
Reinterpretation of Hanok
Further Reading
“Somewhere between tradition and modernity,
Korea’s young architects have found a style all their own.”
Frankfurter Neue Presse, December 29, 2007
“The hallmarks of Korean architecture are its outstanding
experimental spirit and its flexible approach to addressing
complex issues in a changing environment. The result is a
vitality and dynamism worth emulating.”
Die Welt, January 11, 2008
“The combination of art, philosophy, science, aesthetics,
and the peacefulness of the hanok is remarkably complex and
beautifully integrated and interrelated.”
Peter Bartholomew, former President of Royal Asiatic Society–Korea Branch
6 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Baeksangwon Condominium at Lotte Buyeo Resort designed by KYWC
Epilogue 7
© Kim Jae-kyeong
Architecture is a vessel for life. The human environments and individual
structures it creates give us better spaces for our life. It is also a vital
cultural asset, a signal of a society’s capacity for cultural production,
technology, and social consensus. Venice, that pinnacle of Renaissance
culture, is home to many great works of art, but it is all the more beautiful
for its distinctive canals and beautiful buildings. The modern era saw Paris
planning its urban center and signaling its potential with structures that
symbolized technological innovation—not least of them the world-famous
Eiffel Tower. Manhattan’s skyline of soaring skyscrapers is an image that
captivates many to this day.
In some cases, landmark structures have single-handedly revived a
city on the wane. Designed by architect Frank Gehry and opened in 1997,
the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, helped turn around the city’s
declining fortunes, transforming it almost overnight into a world cultural
center. After the defunct coal mines of Essen—Germany’s largest—
were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, a master plan
devised by Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas helped transform Zollverein
in Germany into a cultural city with a rich new cultural infrastructure.
Dubai has used bold structures by star architects to move toward its yet
8 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Prologue 9
Bukchon Hanok Village
Sunset over Yeouido district and Hangang River
unrealized dream of building a man-made paradise on Earth. Buildings
In the past, Korean architects were somewhat limited by their passive
both represent a city and speak to a society’s cultural potential.
acceptance of the Western ideas of modernism and postmodernism, but
Like so many other areas of art, Korean architecture has changed rapidly
today, they are transcending those limits as they experiment and try new
in the modern era. Traditionally, its buildings have been structures of
things in response to Korea’s dynamic society and the complex issues it
stone and wood, but this style would end up clashing with the Western
faces. The very emergence of architects who express inherently Korean
approach as the country went through occupation by Japan and eventual
sentiments in their own original styles, who accept the extremes of Korean
liberation from the colonial yoke. These were turbulent times that left
contemplativeness and modernist sensibilities, is helping the country find
Korean architecture facing both a break with the past and an onslaught of
a place that is both universal and sui generis in world architecture.
new trends from the West. The discovery of an architectural identity has
become something of an ongoing project.
This book offers an exploration of the lesser-known aspects of this
dynamically changing field, starting with a look at the paradigmatic forms
The idea that the things most Korean are also the most global was
of traditional architecture before moving on to examining the issues and
something that applied as much in architecture as it did in other cultural
currents that have unfolded in architecture as it developed on Korean soil
spheres. Indeed, it would be some time before Korean architecture broke
in the era of postmodernism—and began to find its way into the world.
from its fixation with “Koreanness” and achieved a sense of universality
By taking a historical approach with the more noteworthy developments
through the work of individual architects. In a field perhaps relegated
in Korean architecture, it seeks to support a new understanding, a
to the periphery of a Western-dominated architectural world, it was a
rediscovery, of a field in full flux.
slow process of discovering its confidence and revealing its capability.
10 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Prologue 11
Dynamic cityscape of Gangnam, Seoul
Chapter One
bustling Cities, Rising
The Pritzker Prize, often called the “Nobel Prize of Architecture,” has
been shifting its focus to Asia recently. It has been a move beyond the
limits of Western-centered discourse, turning the emphasis back on
original architecture with a local focus. If we ignore the case of Japanese
architects, who have been keen to adopt modern styles and work on
the global stage for a long time, then a prominent example of this was
the recent win by Chinese architect Wang Shu. Wang has been forging a
distinctive Chinese identity into something universally modern, working
with traditional materials like tile and stone while adamantly adhering to
China’s traditional methods of construction. Wang had been a relatively
lesser known figure internationally when the German Architecture Museum
(DAM) first introduced his work in Europe. Similarly, it was DAM’s 2007
group exhibition Megacity Network: Contemporary Korean Architecture
that served to really draw attention to the as yet undiscovered architecture
and architects of Korea.
12 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Bustling Cities, Rising Architecture 13
Rediscovering Korean Architecture
Arguably the country’s first ever group exhibition overseas, Megacity
Network: Contemporary Korean Architecture was held in December 2007
at the DAM. By the time it finished its tour, it had visited various locations
throughout Europe, earning invitations from the German Architectural
Centre (DAZ) in Berlin, the Museum of Estonian Architecture, and the
Association of Catalan Architects in Barcelona. The 16 participating
architects, all active presences in Korea and abroad, offered an eclectic
mix of perspectives and interpretations on the cities we live in, showcasing
works in Korea’s traditional hanok style alongside skyscrapers, churches,
libraries, residential/commercial complexes, and public structures.
The beginning of the exhibition can be traced back to a forum on Eastern
and Western public spaces at the 2005 Frankfurt Book Fair. It was there
that DAM director Peter Schmal first encountered the modern Korean
The Megacity Network: Contemporary Korean Architecture held at the German Architectural Centre
(DAZ), Berlin, in 2008. Photo Courtesy of DAZ
architecture that would lead to him to propose an exhibition. The European
viewers, who had seen little of the country’s architectural work in the past,
said that the exhibition was “fresh,” “dynamic,” and “full of potential.”
Highrise Award with his design for Boutique Monaco in Seoul’s Seocho-gu.
Korean architecture and its designers have made their way into the
“If Japanese architecture is the same old thing and Chinese architecture
pages of global architecture journals like DOMUS, MARK, and Architectural
gives the sense that it’s still in a process of growth, then Korean
Review, while the architects have been making names for themselves at
architecture is bold and innovative,” said Kim Sung-hong, the University
overseas awards. DOMUS focused on Moon Hoon in its March edition
of Seoul professor who planned the exhibition. “Seoul isn’t a relaxed,
of 2012, then followed this up by spotlighting Cho in the July edition
leisurely, clean city. You get the sense that there are a lot of things
that same year. A winner of New York’s Young Architects Award, Cho has
that need work, and it’s the designs that emerged from this dynamic
also been the focus of pieces in MARK and other international journals.
environment that have already achieved world-class quality in terms of
Another architect, Cho Byoung-soo, was one of 11 world architects
their creativity and excellence.”
selected in 2004 by the U.S. journal Architectural Record. He too has won
One of the participating architects, Cho Minsuk, was selected as one of
his share of accolades, including top honors for the Northwest and Pacific
the five finalists for the German Architecture Museum’s 2008 International
region from the American Institute of Architects. In 2005, he was one of
14 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Bustling Cities, Rising Architecture 15
Taking the Global Stage
The last century was not an easy one for the field. Western techniques first
came into the country when it was forced open by the U.S., then occupied
by Japan. Traditional styles were crowded out by more modern ones in the
postwar reconstruction years, when the demand was high and urbanization
was moving ahead at full bore. The introduction of Western architecture
has not been easy either. Architects struggled to learn the new techniques
and structures in the years following the country’s 1945 liberation from
Japanese rule. In conceptual terms, Western modernism was adopted
Articles about Korean architects Cho
Minsuk and Moon Hoon appeared
in the April-May 2010 issue of the
Italian architecture magazine MARK
(top) and the March 2012 issue of
Dutch magazine DOMUS (bottom),
without fully processing what the style actually meant.
It was not until the late 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century
that Korean architecture really began to diversify. A new generation of
architects returned home after experiencing global currents first hand
through overseas study—something they could do only after travel
restrictions were lifted in 1987. Having gotten a taste of postmodernism,
100 architects selected for 10 x 10, a volume published every four years by
late modernism, and deconstructionism in the West, they pondered
Britain’s Phaidon Press. Three years later in 2008, Cho Minsuk’s design for
how to develop architecture to keep up with the Korean context. In an
the Ann Demeulemeester store in Seoul’s Sinsa district turned up in the
environment where the high-rise apartment was the residential norm,
next edition. Architectural Review, considered Britain’s top architecture
these young architects began experimenting and showing off their
journal, took an in-depth look at projects by Jang Yoon-gyoo and by Cho
architectural lexicon. They certainly had learned from the West, but
Byoung-soo, whose L-House in Hwaseong earned “highly commended”
they did not simply transplant their lessons onto Korean soil. Instead,
honors at House 2013. Further evidence of Korea’s great potential can be
they wrestled with the idea of “Koreanness” while producing work that
found in the U.S. architectural association honors won by U.S.-licensed
showcased their originality. Today, many of them are among the country’s
architects like Choi DuNam, Ken Min Sungjin, and Woo Kyu Sung. All of
leading architects, with work that continues to impress.
these are significant achievements, evidence that the world is taking note
In some cases, architects have taken a more positive view of the Korean
and discovering Korean architecture after its many years languishing in the
urban environment, analyzing it and coming up with interesting new
shadow of China and Japan.
themes. The Venice Architecture Biennale has traditionally been a place
16 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Bustling Cities, Rising Architecture 17
complex, and on “showing their roots,” these newer architects―such as
Cho Minsuk’s trenchant observations of Korean society and explorations
of “mass,” or Moon Hoon’s powerfully idiosyncratic expressions of a
borderline-shamanist sensibility―are poised on the same territory as
their contemporaries around the world. As noted before, they are already
drawing the attention of international journals, earning awards in the U.S.
and Europe, and appearing in exhibitions all over the globe.
Another symbolic moment in the history of Korean architecture going
global came in 2011, when it entered the citadel of the Museum of Modern
Art (MoMa) in New York City. The works in question were the Subaekdang,
Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, located in the Seoul neighborhood of Hannam-dong, was designed by three
of the world’s top architects: Rem Koolhaas, Mario Botta and Jean Nouvel.
where these kinds of world themes come together, and in 2004 the event
featured a Korea-themed exhibition titled City of Bang, a fascinating
analysis of the Korean city’s unique and flourishing “culture of rooms”:
singing rooms, drinking rooms, phone rooms, and the like.
a Seung H-Sang building in Namyangju, and Jahajae, a work by Kim Youngjoon in Heyri Art Valley. Every year since 1939, the MoMa has selected
major examples of world architecture, requesting the architect’s original
drawings and models for exhibition and eventual addition to its permanent
Seung H-Sang’s Subaekdang, the sketch and model of which are part of the architecture collection at
the Museum of Modern Art in New York. © Osamu Murai
It was around this time that Korean architecture began merging with
contemporary international currents. A broader global network meant
greater interaction, with more and more noted overseas architects working
in Korea. The results of this include Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art,
a project that brought together Rem Koolhaas, Mario Botta, and Jean
Nouvel, as well as the Ewha Womans University Campus Complex (ECC),
designed by Dominique Perrault.
Other architects have focused less on issues of identity and
“Koreanness,” and more on individual architectural achievements in
the global context. Where the previous generation had focused on
overcoming Korea’s reverence of Western architecture and its inferiority
18 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Bustling Cities, Rising Architecture 19
collection. It had already collected work by video artist Nam June Paik,
installation artist Yang Hye-gyu, and painter Lee Ufan, but this was the first
time Korean architectural work had ever been so honored.
Barry Bergdoll, MoMa’s chief architecture and design curator at the
time, took in a wide range of Korean architecture during a 2010 visit. His
four-day itinerary took him to traditional examples like Byeongsanseowon
Confucian Academy in Andong, Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Jongmyo
Shrine in Seoul, as well as more modern structures in the Paju Book City,
Seoul’s Insa-dong neighborhood, and office buildings in Gangnam. He was
interested less in seeing structures based on Western styles, and more in
finding examples where the traditional architectural grammar had been
The Korean Hall at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, designed by Hwang Doojin
© Hwang Doojin
reinterpreted, tweaked, and applied. In the Subaekdang and Jahajae, he
found what he was looking for.
Stuttgart City Library in Germany, designed by Korean architect Yi Eun Young
Even by Western standards, modern Korean architecture seems like
something new. An especially fascinating aspect is its experimentation,
the attempts to interpret modernism and reconstruct it using traditional
forms. Such experiments can be found in Korean architects’ overseas
designs, too. In 1999, Yi Eun Young beat out 235 firms to win a bid to
design the new Stuttgart City Library in Germany. Twelve years later, the
finished building opened in 2011 to praise for its modern reading of the
ancient Roman Pantheon. Its gray interior draws attention to the lines of
books, while the exterior alerts passersby to the building’s function with
the word “library” presented in four different languages, including Korean.
Yi remains very active in Germany, placing first in a 2010 competition to
design the New Parliament of Lower Saxony in Hanover.
The work of Hwang Doojin is another example. In renovating the
Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, he not only incorporated
the spatial characteristics of Korean architecture—overlapping,
20 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Bustling Cities, Rising Architecture 21
penetration, alternation—but also echoed Sweden’s own historical
clever example of environment-friendly construction. It has been installed
structures by exposing the wooden beams in its gallery. His use of
at various locations around the world such as the Milan International
Swedish spruce (which has a similar feel to Korean pine) in the gallery
Furniture Fair and Yokohoma Triennale in 2008.
drew notice by demonstrating a communion between two seemingly
Young Korean architects have continued to make strides in 2013,
experiencing the contemporary global climate, learning from their
disparate traditional cultures.
Pavilions, though not buildings per se, have been another form through
international networks, and actively expressing themselves at home and
which the structural characteristics and ideas of architecture have been
abroad. Na Unchung and Yoo Sorae of Nameless and PRAUD director
captured around the world. Cho Minsuk’s Air Forest (2008) was an artificial
Yim Dongwoo garnered international attention by winning the Young
structure built as part of the Dialog:City global art and culture showcase
Architects Award in New York. Back home, the Korean Ministry of Culture,
in Denver and designed for use in various cultural events. Supported
Sports and Tourism’s own Young Architects Award―organized since
by wind, it drew notice for the beautiful man-made forest it created in
2008 in conjunction with the Korean Architects Institute, the Korea
Denver’s natural landscape. The hula hoop-based Ring Dome, conceived
Institute of Architects, and the Korean Institute of Female Architects—
as a temporary structure for the Storefront for Art and Architecture
has been a major venue for discovering and promoting young talents.
gallery’s 25th anniversary in New York in 2007, was also praised as a
This new generation of architects shows what might be called “horizontal
diversity,” offering fascinating solutions for the Korean urban environment
”Ring Dome,” displayed at the Milan International Furniture Fair
© Cho Minsuk/Mass Studies
and expressing themselves in form and space unbound by the fetters of
tradition. Internationally, this courage and assertiveness will prove crucial
in showing the diversity of today’s Korean architecture.
22 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Bustling Cities, Rising Architecture 23
The Making of the
‘Made in Korea’ World
Korean architectural companies first began making inroads overseas in the 1960s.
By the next decade, they were enjoying a rapid boom, buoyed by a growing
presence in the Middle East. The early 1980s saw the country ranked as one of the
world’s top two construction powers.
It didn’t last. As oil prices fell in the mid-1980s, the market dried up and demand
in overseas building declined. The companies had been too dependent on the
Middle East market. In an attempt to turn crisis into opportunity, they began
working to diversify their markets. The accessibility and demand potential of other
Asian countries made them an attractive choice, and by 1996 Korea was racking
up construction orders worth US$10.8 billion. Their projects were more diverse,
too. Rather than simple engineering and
Burj Khalifa in Dubai
construction, they were also working in high
value-added plant work.
The renewed boom in overseas
construction in the 1990s helped propel
sustainable rapid growth for the industry over
the past 20 years. Structures are going up
in a wider range of places as well, including
the Americas and Europe. Samsung C&T
was the company responsible for building
the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest
building today with 162 stories and 828
meters in height. The Marina Bay Sands hotel
in Singapore, called a “miracle of 21st century
architecture,” was built by Ssangyong.
Monumental achievements both in scale and
in architectural craft, the two structures have
been credited with alerting the world to the
excellence of Korean architectural technique.
Korean companies aren’t just constructing
buildings, though. Recent years have seen
mammoth projects that involve the building
of whole cities. One example is in Nha Be,
a suburb of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, that
is now being built by GS E&C. It’s a state-
24 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore
of-the-art new city along Korean lines, designed on a 3.4 million square meter site
to accommodate 17,000 households and 68,000 people. City authorities and local
residents have high hopes for Nha Be after getting a taste of Korean residential
culture with Riverview Palace, a luxury apartment built by GS in the city proper in
2011. Riverview Palace is located in an area along the banks of the Saigon River which
is home to many high-end villas exclusively for the city’s international residents.
Bearing the “XII” brand, it has an interior decorated in the Korean style and all the
top amenities you would find in Korea: an outdoor swimming pool, golf driving range,
sauna, tennis courts, guesthouse, and gymnasium. It is also a triumph of engineering.
Many had thought the area’s weak bedrock would prevent the building of any large
structures there, but the builders overcame this problem with a state-of-the-art
process that involved boring 21 meters deep into the weak bed to remove water.
The year 2013 saw overseas building making up a sizable chunk of the
national economy, with companies recording over US$7 million in annual orders.
Architectural companies have
come to outpace such traditional
mainstays as the automobile,
semiconductor, and shipbuilding
industries. In light of this,
talking about an “Architectural
Korean Wave” suddenly doesn’t
seem so farfetched.
The site where GS E&C is working on
the Bin Loi Bridge in Ho Chi Minh City,
Bustling Cities, Rising Architecture 25
Sungnyemun Gate
Chapter Two
The history
of korean
In the history of Korean architecture, tradition has been a valuable asset
and in some instances a root of identity, while at other times it was
something to be overcome or left behind. In both cases, it is impossible
to discuss Korean contemporary architecture without an understanding
of it. Korean traditional architecture exists within the context of Asian
traditional architecture. Nonetheless, it has developed according to its own
particular set of characteristics—its flexible responses to topography and
surrounding mountains, the organic layout of its buildings, its reiteration
and metastasis of space—that distinguish it from the architecture of
China and Japan. The unique charm of traditional building culture is
now attracting new attention. It provides important bearings for those
searching for “Koreanness” in the context of modern architecture and for
those attempting to understand Korean contemporary architecture that
rediscovers and reinterprets tradition.
26 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The History of Korean Architecture 27
Stone Pagodas and Temple Architecture
Goguryeo’s architecture is characterized by huge stone-pile tombs.
(Three Kingdoms Period and North and South States Period)
Janggunchong Tomb, thought to date from around the 5th century CE, is
In ancient times on the Korean Peninsula, intense rivalry between various
states that had entered the iron age led to the formation of three powerful
and organized monarchies: these were Goguryeo (37BCE–668CE), Baekje
(17BCE–660CE) and Silla (57BCE–935CE), known collectively as the Three
Kingdoms. Janganseong and Gyeongju, the respective capitals of Goguryeo
and Silla, displayed layouts in a grid-like configuration of horizontal and
vertical roads and residences arranged in chessboard fashion. Both cities
were planned with an emphasis on defense, surrounded by stone walls
and mountain fortresses.
Stone Tomb Culture
Each of the Three Kingdoms developed its own unique culture, into which
evidence found in excavated tombs has offered us valuable insights.
31.5 meters across and 12.4 meters high. The murals inside it realistically
depict various scenes from the life of the deceased. As time passed, the
emphasis of such tomb murals shifted from realism to symbolism, with
scenes from everyday life being replaced by one of the Four Symbols (the
Azure Dragon of the East, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the White Tiger
of the West, and the Black Tortoise of the North) each on the eastern,
southern, western and northern walls.
Baekje tombs were initially similar to those of Goguryeo, though smaller
in size. From the late-5th century, however, brick tombs began to appear;
among these, that of King Muryeong offers a rare example of a tomb in
which the deceased has been identified with certainty.
Silla tombs were built in a style different from those of Goguryeo and
Baekje. A pit was dug in the ground, after which a burial chamber was
(From left to right) Janggunchong Tomb from Goguryeo, Cheonmachong Tomb from Silla, and
King Muryeong’s tomb from Baekje
28 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The History of Korean Architecture 29
built from wood and the body of the deceased placed inside. A round pile
of small stones was built above this, which was in turn covered with earth
to create a mound. These tumuli often measured more than 45 meters in
base circumference and 12 meters in height.
Temples Built Around a Pagoda
The introduction of Buddhism brought extensive change and development
to the architecture of the Three Kingdoms. Goguryeo temples were built
The pagoda at
with three sanctums arranged to the north, east and west of a central
wooden octagonal pagoda. This layout corresponds to that of Japan’s
direct imitation of a wooden pagoda structure that illustrates the period
Asuka-dera and Horyuji temples, indicating that Goguryeo’s architectural
of transition from one material to the other. The Baekje temple layout,
culture was transmitted to Japan.
too, was transmitted to Japan, resulting in the building of temples such as
In Baekje, unlike Goguryeo, Buddhist temple complexes consisted
Shitennoji in Osaka.
of a central square pagoda from which the main building and assembly
Silla was the last of the Three Kingdoms to adopt Buddhism and thus
hall were arranged in a single
inevitably influenced by Goguryeo and Baekje. Nonetheless, it developed
row to the north. Complexes
its own creative style of Buddhist architecture through the gradual
therefore took on a long, vertical
introduction of indigenous elements. Hwangnyongsa Temple, in particular,
appearance. Although Baekje
boasted a 7th-century wooden pagoda that stood more than 70 meters
pagodas were originally built
tall. Unfortunately, this pagoda was burned down during the Mongolian
in wood, this was gradually
invasion in the 13th century. Silla differed from the other two kingdoms in
replaced by stone; the 6th-
its frequent use of brick-like patterns in the construction of pagodas. The
century stone pagoda at
pagoda at Bunhwangsa Temple, for example, consists of stone cut into the
Jeongnimsaji temple site in
shapes of bricks and was built using a bricklaying technique.
The stone pagoda at Mireuksaji temple site
30 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Buyeo, the capital of Baekje, is a
Despite such differences, the temple architectures of Goguryeo, Baekje
good example of this. The stone
and Silla shared one basic feature: the central position of the pagoda.
pagoda at Mireuksaji temple
Temples in all three kingdoms were designed with a pagoda at the heart of
site in Iksan, meanwhile, is a
their complexes, with other buildings laid out around them.
The History of Korean Architecture 31
Seokgatap (left) and Dabotap (right) pagodas in front of Daeungjeon Hall, Bulguksa Temple
Changes in Silla Buddhist Architecture
center of Gyeongju, and Gameunsa Temple, on the outskirts of the city,
Silla’s unification of the Three Kingdoms in the 7th century saw the
both featured two pagodas. This was not just a local phenomenon but a
formation of two states: Unified Silla occupied the majority of the Korean
wider trend that existed in China and Japan in the same period. Bulguksa
Peninsula, while subjects of the former kingdom of Goguryeo formed the
Temple, built in 751, also has two pagodas arranged on a left-right axis:
state of Balhae in northern Korea and Manchuria. This era is consequently
Dabotap Pagoda and Seokgatap Pagoda. These two pagodas and their
often referred to as the North and South States period. Gyeongju, the
names reflect the content of the Lotus Sutra, in which Prabhutaratna
capital of newly unified Silla, saw an even greater accumulation of people
Buddha, the Buddha of the past (known in Korean as Dabo), sits next
and material wealth, a situation that demanded both expansion and better
to Sakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha of the present (Seokga), testifying
organization. The city’s grid formation was further extended, creating
that the latter’s teaching of the dharma is correct. If the previous era had
enough square plots of land to accommodate 170,000 households.
been one of using the power of Buddhism to reinforce royal authority,
Gyeongju became a truly splendid city, the capital of a dynasty that lasted
this was one of seeking a sense of depth in religious activity through the
for more than a millennium.
interpretation of the Buddhist creed.
Changes became apparent in Silla temples immediately after it had
Silla during the North and South States period also saw a growing
unified the Three Kingdoms. Temple complexes now included not one but
preference for Zen Buddhism, which emphasized the importance of Zen
two pagodas in front of their main halls. Sacheonwangsa Temple, in the
meditation, and belief in mountain deities. This led to a rapid proliferation
32 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The History of Korean Architecture 33
of temples in mountainous areas.
excavated outside the capital; these Balhae’s brick towers are similar in
Temples from this period that remain
style to Chinese architecture, while the stone chamber tombs of its ruling
today include Tongdosa, Geumsansa,
family members, for example that of Princess Jeonghye, are identical to
Beopjusa, Buseoksa, Hwaeomsa and
those of Goguryeo.
Haeinsa. These temples, with natural
layouts that followed the contours of
the slopes on which they were built,
had completely different atmospheres
to those of the geometrically arranged
temple complexes previously built in
urban areas.
The stupa at Ssangbongsa Temple
Another new architectural form to
emerge at this time was that of the
stupa, a small stone tower built to enshrine the sarira or cremated ashes
of eminent monks. These aesthetically sophisticated structures, covered
in splendid ornamentation and carved with elaborate details are examples
of Silla’s unique and original architecture and handicraft.
International Styles in Balhae Architecture
The Beauty of Column-head Brackets and
Entasis (Goryeo)
The Goryeo (918–1392) capital of Gaegyeong, built in the 10th century, is
characterized by the way the entire city follows the natural contours of
the land upon which it sits. The topography of its location, an undulating
basin surrounded by mountains, caused the capital’s roads to be curved
rather than straight. Despite the fact that the city was planned, the sizes
of the residential plots between its roads are also irregular. The important
buildings within the royal palace compound are arranged in long, northsouth rows, but these, too, are not completely straight; rather, the position
and orientation of each structure differs slightly. This form is different to
those of palaces in Goguryeo, Baekje, Silla and China, and is due to the
way the city’s roads follow the natural contours of the land.
It can be assumed that Balhae, a state established in 698 by the former
Buddhist Architecture Flourishes
migrants of Goguryeo, inherited the latter’s architectural styles as
Goryeo was a devoutly Buddhist state, from its royal family to its
they also actively embraced the architectural culture of Tang China,
commoners. Consequently, the whole country was full of Buddhist
resulting in an international style. Long-time Balhae capital Sanggyeong
temples built to pray for the wellbeing of the royal household and the
Yongcheonbu was a thoroughly planned city from the start, arranged in
health of individual citizens. Heungwangsa Temple, built over the course
a square formation like the Tang dynasty’s capital Changan. A main road
of 12 years near Gaegyeong (today’s Gaeseong), consisted of buildings
was created along a north-south axis in the city center, at the end of which
with a total of 2,800 kan (a unit of building area corresponding to the
a royal palace was located. The remains of towers and tombs have been
distance between columns).
34 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The History of Korean Architecture 35
Wooden Architecture
The wooden architecture of Goryeo can be classified into two categories:
jusimpo (column-head bracket) and dapo (multi-bracket). Jusimpo style
architecture is that in which brackets (wooden structural elements fitted to
the tops of columns or beams in order to support the weight of roof eaves)
are placed only at the heads of the building’s structural columns, while
dapo style architecture features additional brackets between columns.
Though a transition from column-head to multi-bracket styles was in
progress in China at the time, the people of Goryeo showed a preference
for the former, resulting in magnificent buildings such as Muryangsujeon
Hall at Buseoksa Temple. The concentration of the weight of the roof on
columns in column-head bracket architecture gives columns an important
Songgwangsa Temple located on Mt. Jogyesan in Suncheon
structural and aesthetic role. In such cases, columns are shaped in a
The construction of stone pagodas and stupas continued in the Goryeo
period. The number of stone pagodas greatly increased, with strong
Types of Brackets
expressions of regional character. This led to a diversification of forms and
heights, with some pagodas reaching 11 stories. The curves of chunyeo
(rafters protruding from the eaves at the corners of roofs) grew sharper,
while overall forms grew slimmer.
The leading force in 13th century Buddhism was that of provincial
mountain temples, including Zen temples such as Songgwangsa Temple
and Baengnyeonsa Temple. These temples were laid out in asymetrical,
jusimpo (column-head bracket)
dapo (multi-bracket)
Types of Roofs
undulating arrangements that followed the contours of the land upon
which they were built. This was a form that had already appeared in
temples built by monks who had brought Zen Buddhism back to Korea
from China in the late Silla period. In the Goryeo period, however, it
became more pronounced and deeply entrenched.
matbae (gable) roof
36 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
ujingak (hipped) roof
paljak (hip-and-gable) roof
The History of Korean Architecture 37
Muryangsujeon Hall at Buseoksa
Temple (left) and Geungnakjeon Hall
at Bongjeongsa Temple (right),
good examples of the jusimpo style
from the Goryeo Dynasty.
subtly curved way whereby their profile expands gradually until around
is the Daeungjeon Hall at Sudeoksa Temple, built in 1308. While some
one third of the way up before gradually contracting again. This technique
believe it is similar in style to the architecture of southern China, details
is known in Korean as baeheullim (entasis). Baeheullim was also used
such as brackets at the heads of its columns indicate the development of a
on columns in China and Japan, but nothing compares to the beauty of
unique Korean style.
Muryangsujeon Hall at Buseoksa Temple, which represents the zenith of
Multi-bracket systems had the comparative advantage over column-
column-head bracket architecture. Muryangsujeon Hall is also valuable in
head bracket styles of solving certain structural problems. The
that it combines the column-head bracket style with a large, paljak (hip-
Bogwangjeon Hall at Simwonsa Temple in today’s North Korea features the
and-gable) roof.
same hip-and-gable roof as that of the Muryangsujeon Hall at Buseoksa,
The Geungnakjeon Hall at Bongjeongsa Temple in Andong, Korea’s
but with a multi-bracket rather than column-head bracket design. Despite
oldest extant wooden building, also features the column-head bracket
their use of different bracket systems, both buildings feature the same
system. Opinions as to exactly when this structure, which became famous
“lever-form” chunyeo at the corners of their roofs. Chunyeo are rafters
following a visit in 1999 by Queen Elizabeth II, was built, but comparison
protruding diagonally out from the corners of a building. A lever type
with Chinese buildings indicates that the Geungnakjeon Hall uses 10th-
chunyeo rests half within the cross-beams and half on the outsides. The
century architectural forms. It also features flame patterns found in
weight on the roof rests on the inner half of the chunyeo, pushing it down
Goguryeo tomb murals.
and pushing the outer half up through a lever effect, lifting the corners of
As time went on, column-head bracket architecture placed an increasing
emphasis on ornamental aspects being used to provide decoration in
the roof. This is one of the key distinctions between Goryeo-period and
Joseon (1392–1910)-period architecture.
structurally simple matbae (gable) roof buildings. A good example of this
38 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The History of Korean Architecture 39
Humble Spaces in Harmony with Nature (Joseon)
In 1392, General Yi Seong-gye founded the new dynasty of Joseon. Two
years later, he chose Hanyang (modern day Seoul) as its capital. Just as in
the preceding Goryeo period, geomancy was deeply influential in choosing
the location of the city. After the key mountains and orientation of the city
and the site of the main palace had been determined, Jongmyo Shrine
and Sajikdan Altar were built to the east and west of the main palace,
respectively. Adhering to such propriety was believed to be the most
fundamental consideration when building the new city. The topography
of the site, however, made building a completely square, symmetrical
city impossible. While remaining faithful to basic principles and ideology,
therefore, Hanyang’s planners acknowledged the natural contours of the
land, applying principles of feng shui (pungsu in Korea), yin/yang, and the
resting place; and Gyotaejeon Hall, the queen’s quarters. The overall
design of the palace was one of left-right symmetry, arranged according
to this axis. After being burned down during the Japanese invasions of the
late 16th century, Gyeongbokgung was restored to its former glory in 1865.
Changdeokgung Palace is characterized by its almost total lack of level
ground; its undulating, irregular terrain has been used in its original form
to create a natural layout. The main gate of the palace is located to the
southwest of the complex, so that visitors heading for the main hall must
turn eastwards after entering, then north again. All buildings in the palace
are arranged at oblique angles rather than along a single north-south axis,
making Changdeokgung Palace the most Korean in character among the
country’s remaining palaces.
Gyeongbokgung Palace
Five Elements.
Palaces: Joseon Royal Legacy in the Heart of
Modern Seoul
Five Joseon-era palaces still stand in modern Seoul:
Gy e o n g b o k g u n g P a l a c e , C h a n g d e o k g u n g P a l a c e ,
Changgyeonggung Palace, Gyeongungung Palace (currently
known as Deoksugung Palace) and Gyeonghuigung Palace.
Gyeongbokgung Palace, with main gate Gwanghwamun
establishing its central axis, emphasizes order and hierarchy.
Its main buildings are arranged along a central axis consisting
of Geunjeongjeon Hall, where rituals of state were conducted;
Sajeongjeon Hall, where the king performed his duties during
peacetime; Gangnyeongjeon Hall, the king’s residence and
40 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The History of Korean Architecture 41
and grandmother. Its somewhat small scale allowed its main buildings to
Jongmyo, Munmyo and Hyanggyo: Confucian
Thoughts Embodied
be arranged in a relatively straight line, but it is unusual in that it faces
Jongmyo Shrine, Joseon’s royal shrine, is located to the east of
east rather than south.
Gyeongbokgung Palace, opposite Sajikdan Altar to the west. It is one of
Changgyeonggung Palace was built as a residence for the king’s mother
Gyeongungung Palace (Deoksugung Palace) was originally not a royal
the most important pieces of architecture of this period. Starting with the
palace but the residence of a prince. When other palaces were burned
ancestral tablet of King Taejo (Yi Seong-gye), the founder of the dynasty,
down during the Japanese invasions, however, it was used as the king’s
at the far west, the building houses the successive ancestral tablets of
temporary residence. In 1611, it was named Gyeongungung Palace and
all deceased Joseon monarchs. As the number of tablets to be enshrined
acquired the status Korea’s fourth royal palace. In 1900, it became the
increased over time, the building was gradually extended from its original
imperial palace of the Daehan Empire. One of Korea’s first Western-style
7 kan, ultimately reaching a width of 19 kan. In Joseon, where Confucian
buildings, Seokjojeon Hall, was built within its complex. In 1907, after he
loyalty and filial piety were practically the cardinal tenets of the nation,
was forced to abdicate, Emperor Gojong began living in the palace and its
nowhere was more important than this building for worshipping the
name was changed to Deoksugung Palace.
ancestors of the king.
Gyeonghuigung Palace, too, features an irregular layout that reflects its
Munmyo Shrine, meanwhile, consisted of an area that housed the
natural topography. Its gate is located at the south-east corner of its complex.
ancestral tablets of Korea’s most famous Confucian scholars, centered
In 1909, imperial Japan demolished all of Gyeonghuigung Palace’s buildings
on Confucius himself, and an area where students gathered to study. A
and built a Japanese middle school on the site. In 1988, the palace’s main
hierarchical order exists within Munmyo, as well, with the buildings housing
gate, Honghwamun Gate, and Sungjeongjeon Hall were restored.
ancestral tablets accorded greater importance and buildings to the east of
Jongmyo Shrine
such as the main buildings in gaeksa (guesthouses for traveling officials
and dignitaries) and daeseongjeon (the buildings that housed the tablets
of Confucius and other important scholars) in hyanggyo, featured columnhead bracket designs. Normal houses were usually built without the use
of brackets, which is called mindori style. Regular houses designed to
appear more formal, or buildings within the complex of official places such
as palaces, temples, public offices and hyanggyo that were intended to
appear less formal, used the ikgong system. The ikgong is a simplified
version of the bracket found in column-head and multi-bracket designs,
featuring a bird beak-like protrusion as its main decorative element.
In some cases, ikgong can also be found in highly important buildings
Cheonan Hyanggyo
the complex placed in higher positions that those to the west.
Jongmyo and Munmyo shrines were located only in the capital; the
provinces were instead home to hyanggyo (provincial Confucian shrines
and village public schools). Hyanggyo echoed the function and composition
of Munmyo Shrine. They displayed certain differences according to the
various sizes and topographies of their plots. Those built on large, flat sites
placed the building housing ancestral tablets at the front of the complex,
while those with narrow plots that were forced to build on sloping land
placed this building on higher ground at the back of the complex.
such as those of Jongmyo Shrine or the shrines of hyanggyo; this can
be interpreted as a sign of respect or an emulation of the restraint and
frugality of the ancestors they commemorate. Though such symbolic
order was strictly observed in the
early Joseon period, the passing
of time led to blended styles and
the appearance of forms showing
compromise between columnhead and multi-bracket designs
or between column-head brackets
and ikgong in later years.
Restraint, Modesty and Accommodation of
Nature as a Virtue
Joseon-era wooden buildings used various bracket systems. The most
important and formal buildings in royal palaces and Buddhist temples
used multi-bracket designs. Other important buildings of lower status,
44 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The main hall at the Jongmyo
shrine is an example of the
ikgong style.
The History of Korean Architecture 45
East Meets West; Tradition Meets Modernity
(Daehan Empire and Beyond)
In the late 19th century, Korea signed a series of treaties in which it agreed
to open its doors to many foreign countries, including Japan, China,
Britain, Germany, Italy, Russia, and France. The ports of Busan, Wonsan
and Incheon were opened as a result, leading to the appearance of various
foreign concessions with new and unfamiliar buildings. While foreign
Former Belgian consulate
legations were initially housed in remodeled traditional hanok (Koreanstyle houses), after 1890 they began erecting buildings in the architectural
styles of their own respective countries. All that now remains of the
Korean traditional and Western architectural
styles rub shoulders at Deoksugung Palace.
Russian legation, built in Seoul next to Deoksugung Palace in 1895, is its
belltower, while the Belgian consulate that was built in 1905 in Hoehyeondong, Jung-gu still stands but has been relocated.
The appearance of buildings in new styles was accompanied by the
demolition of traditional city walls, leading to extensive and fundamental
change in Korea’s cityscapes. The demolition of Daegu’s city wall in 1906
was followed in 1907 by part of that of Seoul; the phenomenon spread
later on to cities all over the country.
Change in Modern Palaces
In 1897, Emperor Gojong moved from Gyeongbokgung Palace to
Gyeongungung Palace (today’s Deoksugung Palace). In order to proclaim
his new status as an emperor, he built Wongudan Altar, a round altar for
hosting the performance of the rite of heaven, a ritual that could only be
performed by an emperor, opposite Gyeongungung Palace. Hwanggungu
Shrine, part of the Wongudan complex, was built to house the ancestral
tablet of Taejo, founder of the Joseon Dynasty. Within Gyeongungung
46 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The History of Korean Architecture 47
The Western-inspired terrace at Jeonggwanheon Pavilion is enhanced with traditional patterns.
Palace itself, meanwhile, a series of Western-style buildings was erected;
the first of these, Jeonggwanheon Pavilion, was built as a venue for
holding banquets. Seokjojeon Hall, completed in 1910, is a three-story
neoclassical style building designed to imitate the style of a European
palace. Junghwajeon Hall, a two-story structure built in 1902 by Korea’s
last palace carpenters, was destroyed by fire and rebuilt as a one-story
structure in 1906. The simultaneous building of Western-style Seokjojeon
Hall and traditional-style Junghwajeon Hall completed this modern-style
palace with its coexistence of traditional and Western architectural forms.
The Appearance of Christian Architecture
The Catholic Church in Korea gained freedom to conduct missionary
activity as part of a treaty signed with France in 1886. Yakhyeon Catholic
Church was built in 1892 and became a model for other small Catholic
churches in the country. Myeong-dong Cathedral was completed in 1898,
becoming Korea’s leading Catholic building. Built under the supervision
1 2 Myeong-dong Cathedral 3 4 Ganghwa Anglican Church
of Father Eugene Coste, the cathedral was built in an overall Romanesque
style, with its interior spatial composition and finer details in Gothic style.
(1894) in Jincheon and Ganghwa Anglican Church (1900) on Ganghwado
Outside Seoul, Daegu’s Gyesan-dong Catholic Church was completed in
Island are good examples of this. Built by Rev. Charles John Corfe,
1902 in the same style as that of Myeong-dong Cathedral. Jeonju’s Jeong-
Korea’s first Anglican bishop, Ganghwa Anglican Church symbolizes the
dong Catholic Church, completed in 1914, has three domed bell towers:
Korean naturalization of Western Christianity through its adaptation of
the central dome is dodecagonal, while those on either side are octagonal.
the wooden hanok style to produce a basilica-like floor plan. The same
Protestant Jeong-dong Church, meanwhile, first used a hanok building;
process, of course, occurred with Protestant churches; Sollae Church in
this was replaced by a Victorian-style brick church in 1898.
Jangyeon, Hwanghae-do province is known as the first entirely hanok
Other protestant cathedrals and churches also followed this trend of
Protestant chapel. Many other chapels at this time used L-shaped hanok
initially using hanok before erecting their own Western-style structures.
designs in consideration of the late-Joseon social climate, which required
In provincial towns with relatively small numbers of worshippers,
segregated spaces for men and women. One surviving example of this
however, designs for hanok churches appeared. Doejae Catholic Church
form is Geumsan Church in Gimje, built in 1908.
48 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The History of Korean Architecture 49
Modern Architectural Education and Architects
By 1907, the Korean government was running a technical college which
turned out engineers with the basic skills needed for architectural work.
Gyeongseong Industrial Vocational School, a college teaching architectural
design, opened in 1916, though only a small number of its students were
Korean. This school turned out around 60 Korean graduates by 1945. Only
some of these went on to work as architects; key examples include Park
Gil-ryong and Park Dong-jin.
Park Gil-ryong graduated in 1919 and initially became a civil servant before
opening his own studio in 1932. He designed a large number of buildings
from 1929, including the former main hall of Keijo Imperial University (now
Seoul National University) in 1930, Jongno Department Store in 1931 and
Hwasin Department Store in 1935. Park also designed Bohwagak (now
Gansong Art Museum), Korea’s first private museum, in 1938.
Park Dong-jin graduated in 1924 and opened his own company in 1938;
previously, from around 1932, he designed a large number of buildings
including the main hall and library of Korea University. Though some of
his works show modern, rationalist tendencies, most of them are stone
buildings in Gothic style. The Chosun Ilbo head office (1933), Osan Middle
School (1936), Jungang Middle School (1937) and Yeongnak Church (1946)
are all Park’s work.
Former main hall of Seoul National University (top); Main hall of Korea University (bottom)
50 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The History of Korean Architecture 51
From Mud Hut to
Apartment Block
Mud Huts: the First Homes
Mud huts, which first appeared on the Korean Peninsula in the Paleolithic Period,
were created through a combination of pits dug in the ground and timbers arranged
in a converging structure above. These huts featured fireplaces in their centers and
holes for storing food around fireplaces. The remains of mud huts from this period
have been excavated in Amsa-dong in today’s southeast Seoul. With the advent
of the Bronze Age and the expansion of agriculture, villages and the mud huts in
them grew larger. Interior space was divided, according to function, into cooking
and resting areas, while some buildings were built with elevated, loft-like spaces.
The spread of iron culture around the 3rd century BCE saw the emergence of
Gojoseon and several other states on the Korean Peninsula. Buildings and villages
became larger again and the forms and structures of houses further diversified.
More houses were built without resorting to the use of pits, based instead upon
columns resting on foundation
Reconstruction of prehistoric mud huts in
stones at ground level. The
Seoul’s Amsa-dong neighborhood
use of fully vertical walls
increased available interior
space, allowing people to
spend more time and engage
in a greater range of activity
indoors. It was at this time
that original forms of ondol
(underfloor heating), which
can be regarded as a defining
characteristic of Korean
residential architecture, began
to appear.
green colors on the pillars and rafters of a building), height of walls, type of front
gate and size of stable.
Goryeo, too, placed similar restrictions upon the building of houses; those who
violated them could be punished. Nonetheless, those in power did take advantage
of their authority to build unnecessarily luxurious buildings. The houses of ordinary
citizens are presumed to have not been especially splendid. While wooden beds
were used in the houses of those of high status, commoners generally used ondol,
which made sleeping on the floor the preferable option. In the late Goryeo period,
individuals were encouraged, at the suggestion of Confucian scholars, to install
family shrines in their own houses for the performing of ancestral rites.
Maru and Ondol: the Perfection of the Korean Traditional House
In the Joseon period, too, social class-based distinctions existed not only in the
size of plot and floor area of the house, but also the length of materials used and
architectural forms. The practice of installing Confucian shrines and performing
rites in the house increased the importance of the maru (a wooden-floored central
space). A typical house was arranged with the male and female anbang (inner
quarters) facing each other across a central space and the kitchen placed in front of,
or next to, the anbang. Ondol, which warms rooms by using fire to heat the stones
that comprise the floor from below, became widespread and was used in houses
throughout Korea, regardless of the social status of their occupants. This completed
the defining characteristic of Korean architecture: the juxtaposition of fire-heated
ondol rooms and naturally ventilated ritual spaces (maru) in a single building. Those
of high social status lived in complexes with a separate anchae (main building),
Examples of maru (left) and ondol (right)
Forms Changing According to Social Status
Silla’s capital city during the North and South States period was home to people of
varying social status. In accordance with Silla’s rigid caste system, the homes of its
citizens were also subject to various restrictions, in terms of size and ornamentation,
according to their statuses. Specific standards dictated details such as the size of
rooms, form of staircases, type of roof tiles and roof decorations, form of wooden
brackets, ceiling appearance, right to use decorative dancheong painting (red and
52 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The History of Korean Architecture 53
sarangchae (men’s quarters), haengnangchae (servants’ quarters), sadang
(ancestral shrine) and occasionally a separate banbitgan (kitchen).
Modernity Brings Change to Hanok
Joseon residential architecture reached a technical and cultural peak in the mid19th century, as exemplified in buildings such as Yeongyeongdang and Nakseonjae
in Changdeokgung Palace and Unhyeongung Palace. The introduction of Western
culture and Japan’s seizure of Korea’s economic assets, however, brought change to
traditional methods of housebuilding.
The 1920s saw the appearance in cities of so-called “cultural housing,” a
compromise between Western-style housing and traditional lifestyles. As interest
in function grew, the tendency to link the inner spaces of hanok with long corridors
grew more pronounced. Examples from the 1930s illustrate this phenomenon both
in the work of trained architects, such as Park Gil-ryong’s “Min Byeong-ok House” in
Insa-dong, and in that of traditional carpenters, such as the “Lee Tae-jun House” in
Seongbuk-dong. These houses also feature indoor toilets, though they are located
in corner positions.
Increases in the urban population between the 1930s and 1960s led to a need
for more large-scale housing developments on the outskirts of cities. In order to
build large numbers of cheap hanok, land was divided into plots of a certain size
and a standard model of hanok designed. A ㄷ (a letter in the Korean alphabet)shaped design was employed in order to make efficient use of each plot; houses
were built facing away from the road, enhancing security, while inner courtyards
The house of Min Byeong-ok near Insa-dong is now used as a restaurant called Min’s Club.
were maintained, increasing the comfort of occupants. Since the structural
nature of hanok makes building them more than one-story-high difficult, some
were also built in terraced form, with several repetitions of the same floor plan,
making it possible to accommodate more than one household.
Apartments and Super-highrise Multipurpose Complexes
Following the building of apartments for civil servants in 1968, apartments for
private citizens began sprouting up in Seoul’s Dongbuichon-dong. The dull
I-shaped apartment blocks built en masse in the 1970s were simple in their
layout. A turning point for multi-unit dwellings in Korea came in 1986 with the
building of accommodations for athletes participating in the Asian Games,
which organically connected the everyday lines of flow of its residents with
communal living spaces. Later developments went beyond the scale of single
apartments to include the planning of whole urban areas. The new district built
in Seoul’s Mok-dong area was divided into commercial and residential zones,
with each apartment complex accorded a degree of independence and featuring
various other experimental elements, such as a mixture of low- and high-rise
blocks. The accommodations built for athletes and journalists at the 1988 Seoul
Olympics showed apartment blocks radiating outward and differing in shape
and height, suggesting a new form of collective housing. In 1989, the planning
of two new cities outside Seoul, Bundang and Ilsan, in order to spread housing
demand outside the bounds of the saturated capital, was announced. These
plans aimed to create not satellite cities but
areas capable of functioning as autonomous
towns in their own right.
In Seoul, meanwhile, multipurpose superhigh-rise blocks appeared as a new form in
the 1990s. Built in the 2000s, Tower Palace
is a development renowned as the epitome
of super-high-rise multipurpose blocks
in Korea. Equipped with banquet halls, a
gym, a swimming pool, a golf driving range
and a rooftop garden in a single building,
Tower Palace is an impregnable fortress
that eliminates the need for its residents to
venture beyond its gates.
Tower Palace in Seoul’s Dogok-dong neighborhood
54 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
The History of Korean Architecture 55
Chapter Three
Korean spirit
in traditional
This chapter will explore 10 buildings that offer some of the best
examples of Korea’s traditional architectural aesthetics. Six of these—the
Seokguram-Bulguksa complex, the Janggyeongpanjeon Hall at Haeinsa
Temple, Jongmyo Shrine, Changdeokgung Palace, Hwaseong Fortress, and
Yangdong Village—have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites,
underlining the global recognition of their value. Among the remaining
four, the seowon (private Confucian academies) are currently preparing for
UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. The other buildings covered in
this chapter offer the best examples of the particular architectural styles in
each period of Korean history. Muryangsujeon Hall at Buseoksa Temple is
an outstanding building, dating from the Goryeo period, that reflects the
international style of its time, while Soswaewon exemplifies landscape
architecture that reflects the views of life and nature held by intellectuals
of its time, as well as the political and sociological background of the early
56 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Bulguksa Temple
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 57
Joseon period (1392–1910). Seongyojang House, finally, is significant as a
sophisticated example of late-Joseon period residential hanok architecture.
Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto
Bulguksa Temple, built in the 8th century, is the leading extant example of
Silla religious architecture. It uses the natural slope of its site to express
spatial hierarchy, while showing an outstanding sense of form with the
natural connections between its spaces. Its sloping site means that the
front of the complex rests on a long stone base. Meanwhile, the complex
itself, which is reached by ascending stone staircases at each end of the
stone base, consists of four realms: that of the Daeungjeon Hall, the
Interior of Seokguram Grotto
Geungnakjeon Hall, the Birojeon Hall and the Gwaneumjeon Hall.
The realm of the Daeungjeon is a built embodiment of the content
of the Lotus Sutra, while that of the Geungnakjeon embodies belief in
thought in one single complex is a characteristic feature of 8th-century
Silla temple architecture.
the Pure Land (paradise). Anyangmun, the gate located in front of the
Seokguram Grotto, meanwhile, is unique in that it was created not
Geungnakjeon, represents the entrance to the Pure Land. The gate and
by finding and using a natural cave but by building an artificial one. The
the hall behind it thus constitute a set of structures representing paradise
grotto consists of a stone chamber, passageway and round dome. A statue
itself. The Birojeon Hall enshrines Vairocana Buddha of the Avatamsaka
of the Buddha sits beneath the dome, which was finished with an external
Sutra, while the Gwaneumjeon Hall enshrines Avalokitesvara, the goddess
earth covering. The halo behind the Buddha’s head is carved into the wall
of mercy. Ultimately, then, Bulguksa is a reflection of several strands
below the dome, forming a straight line of sight between the eyes of a
of Buddhist thought: the content of the Lotus Sutra, belief in the Pure
worshipper standing in the grotto, the head of the Buddha and the halo.
Land, the Avatamska Sutra and worship of Avalokitesvara. Beomyeongnu
The ceiling of the dome is crowned by a large, round stone carved with a
Pavilion, meanwhile, is located between the realms of the Daeungjeon and
lotus pattern, under which concentric circles of stones extend downwards.
Geungnakjeon halls: this represents Mt. Meru, the central world-mountain
Every second stone in the first three concentric circles protrudes slightly
in Buddhist cosmology. Accordingly, the stone columns below it are carved
inwards: these are the heads of long stones driven deep into the walls,
into cloud-like forms, creating an atmosphere befitting a high mountain.
like rivets, which provide the structural support needed to keep the dome
The building of temples combining four different streams of Buddhist
intact. Their role is thus both structural and decorative.
58 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 59
Muryangsujeon Hall at Buseoksa Temple
The chunyeo (rafters protruding from the eaves at the corners) of
According to Samguksagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) and
Samgukyusa (Legends and History of the Three Kingdoms), two of Korea’s
most important ancient historical texts, Buseoksa Temple was built in 676
by the eminent monk Uisang upon his return to Korea following a period
of study in China. Muryangsujeon Hall is built in the column-head bracket
style, with brackets located only at the top of each column. These columns
are famous for their beautiful use of entasis. Entasis is also used in the
stone columns of Greek temples and in the wooden architecture of other
East Asian countries such as China and Japan. Nowhere was this technique
popular for longer than in Korea. It was used until the early Joseon period
and manifested its full beauty in column-head bracket-style buildings.
Muryangsujeon’s roof, meanwhile, are supported by auxiliary columns
known as hwalju. These are believed to have been added to the structure
some time after it was originally built. This is because the chunyeo in the
hall’s hip-and-gable roof are of the “lever” type. The weight of the roof
thus presses down on the inner part of each chunyeo, lifting its outer
part. Supporting this outer part from beneath with an auxiliary pillar is
therefore contradictory; it is highly likely, then, that these pillars were
not part of the original structure but added at a later date to support the
corners of the roof.
Other buildings that feature lever-type chunyeo include the
Bogwangjeon Hall at Simwonsa Temple, which dates from the Goryeo
period (918–1392), and the Daeungjeon Hall at Bongjeongsa Temple,
which dates from the subsequent early Joseon era. These are the only three
known examples of hip-and-gable roof buildings with lever-type chunyeo.
The Muryangsujeon Hall at Buseoksa, meanwhile, is of great
significance due to the way it features details that echo 11th-century
northern and southern Chinese architectural styles in one building. The
soseuljae, a component found in its central roof bracket, in particular,
is an extremely old feature also depicted in Goguryeo tomb murals. The
ungong, a component located above the soseuljae, however, is found only
in the architecture of southern China. Ultimately, Muryangsujeon can be
regarded as embodying an international style that combines native Korean
forms dating from the Goguryeo period with newly introduced southern
Chinese elements. Its status as the biggest and most beautiful example of
the column-head bracket-style hip-and gable roof, where each column is
topped by its own bracket, makes it worthy of global recognition.
1 Muryangsujeon Hall 2 The roof supported by hwalju, or auxiliary columns
3 Pillars designed using baeheullim (entasis).
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 61
Janggyeongpanjeon Hall at Haeinsa Temple
Haeinsa Temple houses one of the three important “treasures” of Korean
Buddhism. These are the Buddha, the Buddhist canon and the Buddhist
clergy. In Korea, these are housed respectively in Tongdosa Temple in
Yangsan, Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon and Songgwangsa Temple in
Suncheon. These three “treasure temples” are thus often considered the
most important in Korea.
The 80,000-wood blocks that comprise the Tripitaka Koreana housed at
Haeinsa were carved over a period of 16 years during the Goryeo period
in order to overcome Mongolian invasions of the Korean Peninsula at the
time. This attempt by the people of Goryeo to unite the public spirit and
find a peaceful solution, in accordance with the Buddha’s instructions
to practice mercy, even in the face of such a national crisis, contains a
message still relevant today.
Built in Silla in 802, during the North and South States period, Haeinsa
sits on a southeast-facing slope. Each of its important buildings is located
1 A view of Haeinsa Temple 2 3 Exterior and interior of the Janggyeongpanjeon Hall
on a terrace of a different height, with the Janggyeongpanjeon Hall that
houses the woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana at the furthest back,
highest point in the temple complex. The Janggyeongpanjeon dates from
the Joseon period and consists of four individual storage buildings. The
Sudarajang building to the south and Beopbojeon building to the north
are long, their façades measuring 15 kan, while the Dongsagango and
Seosagango buildings are located at each end, forming a long, central
courtyard. The Goryeo period woodblocks were relocated here in 1398,
having previously been stored on Ganghwado Island.
These buildings are simple in structure and layout, remaining faithful to
their function of storing the Tripitaka. Their foundations and the floor in
each building are built up from a mixture of charcoal, lime, salt and sand to
prevent the spreading of dust and maintain a certain level of humidity, thus
preventing damage to the woodblocks. The four walls of the Sudarajang
and Beopbojeon have upper and lower windows to ensure ventilation. The
windows in the front and side walls are small above and large below, while
those in the back walls are large above and small below, maximizing the
ventilation effect. In overall terms, too, the windows of the Beopbojeon to
62 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 63
the south are altogether larger than those of the Sudarajang to the north,
reflecting consideration of the flow of air through the entire courtyard.
The significance of Janggyeongpanjeon lies in its combination of the
efforts of the people of Goryeo to overcome foreign invasions by peaceful
means and the architectural innovations on the part of the people of
Joseon in order to pass on the fruits of these efforts, and the message they
contain, to future generations.
Changdeokgung Palace
The Joseon capital of Hangyang (modern-day Seoul) was home to five
royal palaces. The first among these to be built by dynasty founder King
Taejo was Gyeongbokgung, but the palace most loved by the dynasty’s
many monarchs was Changdeokgung. Various kings left new buildings and
gardens within its grounds over the years, reflecting their own particular
tastes. Construction of Changdeokgung was begun by King Taejo’s son,
King Taejong, in 1404, after which an ongoing series of additions and
1 Inejongjeon Hall 2 A bridge over Geumcheon 3 Aeryeonji Pond and Aeryeonjeong Pavillion in Huwon Garden
improvements saw it grow into a substantial royal palace. Despite various
large and small fires and other mishaps, notably the Japanese invasions
a naturally flowing layout. Its site, which adheres to the southern foot
of the late 16th century, repeated restorations and rebuilding projects
of a mountain, is elongated from west to east in terms of overall layout,
have ensured that the entire palace survives, intact, today. The existence
while the line of flow from the main gate to each inner part of the complex
of Donggwoldo, an early-19th-century painting of Changdeokgung and
also runs from west to east. Each individual area, however, faces south,
adjacent Changgyeonggung, is particularly helpful in offering a detailed
creating a series of pleasant environments infused with warm energy.
view of the palaces at this time.
This method of devising layouts is commonly found in Joseon residential
Gyeongbokgung was built according to a symmetrical layout along a
north-south axis in order to reflect the ideology of the newly-established
architecture, too, so that Changdeokgung can be regarded as something
akin to a monarch’s own “cozy” home.
Joseon dynasty. Changdeokgung, however, was planned in accordance
Donhwamun, the palace’s main gate, is located at the southwestern
with the original topography of the site upon which it was built, producing
corner of its complex. Those passing through the gate and heading north
64 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 65
some distance, before turning to the right, come to the same geumcheon
(“forbidden stream”) and bridge found in other Korean palaces. Further
east, visitors come to a courtyard surrounded by a wall. This has the feel of
a wider, open version of the vestibule of Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library.
While the library vestibule is connected to the reading room by a straight
line, those arriving at the gate of this walled compound from the front
courtyard of Changdeokgung must change direction and turn west (left)
in order to enter the king’s courtyard. The front courtyard, surrounded
by buildings and walls, becomes gradually narrower, converging like a
perspective drawing. Those entering it, however, do not do so while facing
the king head-on. Those making their way to the area where the king
performed his daily duties or the area where he slept and ate had to turn
Jongmyo Shrine
Jongmyo is a Confucian shrine built to enshrine the spirits of deceased
kings and queens. These spirits are symbolized in the shrine by mortuary
tablets in the form of long wooden sticks. The chamber at the far western
end of the shrine contains the tablet of the founding king of the Joseon
dynasty, with those to the east containing the tablets of his successors.
As time passed, the number of deceased monarchs and their mortuary
tablets increased, necessitating extensions to the building. Jongmyo was
initially built with seven kan, but this number was subsequently increased
to 11, then to 15 in 1726 and to the current 19 in 1836.
Because of its function as a venue for the holding of ancestral rites,
once again to the east. The layout of this palace is analogous with the way
Joseon was ruled not by a coercive absolute monarch but by processes that
Jongmyo Daeje underway in the plaza in front of Jeongjeon Hall, Jongmyo Shrine.
emphasized democratic procedures and gentle dialogue and compromise.
In fact, this style of layout was a legacy of the previous Goryeo dynasty,
but Joseon-era Changdeokgung took a much more active approach to its
embodiment, enhancing its functions and level of sophistication.
Huwon, an extensive wooded garden area, is located at the north of the
palace complex. The entire garden covers an area of 580,000 m2 and can
be divided into four different areas centered on ponds and pavilions. The
design of each subdivision reflects the tastes of the monarch that created
it. Buyongji Pond and Juhamnu Pavilion give a sense of the magnanimity
of King Jeongjo, while the small buildings in the vicinity of Aeryeonji Pond
offer a glimpse of Crown Prince Hyomyeong’s quiet, calm character. The
water channels and various pavilions around Ongnyucheon Stream share
a vision of the ideal world dreamed of by King Injo.
66 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 67
Jongmyo consists entirely of simple, restrained buildings. Jeongjeon
Hall, the most important building of the shrine, rests on a broad, twotier stylobate known as woldae, which measures 101 meters from left to
right. The building that stands on it consists of a very limited number of
forms, such as the sillo (a special path reserved for the souls of deceased
kings and queens whose tablets are enshrined in Jongmyo), panwi (square
tablets marking the key stopping points for the performing of rites) and
an extremely unadorned structure arranged in a simple composition that
clearly demonstrates the architectural intentions behind Jongmyo. The
use of color is also highly restrained. The shrine’s simple composition
and structure, which incorporate only essential spaces such as the sillo,
woldae, stylobate and walls, together with the extremely limited use of
color and decoration, bring a symbolic dimension to shrine architecture.
The wide stylobate, seemingly extending outward to the ends of the earth,
gives a sense of stability, while what appears to be an endless row of
columns brings to mind the unbroken reign of a dynasty through the ages.
The roof, apparently defying gravity as it stretches horizontally towards
Yangdong Village
Yangdong Village in Gyeongju, southeast Korea, is an example not only
of a 15th-century village that survives in unaltered form, but of one that
retains its original functions after 600 years of existence. The important
beliefs of its villagers in each era are reflected in its tangible and intangible
culture and it retains a diverse collection of buildings.
Yangdong is located at a point where two mountain peaks, one to the
northwest and one to the southeast, form a ridge, and where two rivers,
one flowing from west to north and one flowing from the south, meet and
flow east to the sea. The ridge forms three consecutive valleys, giving the
overall topography the shape of the Chinese character 勿 (pronounced
“mul” in Korean). Jonggajip (a head family descended from clan founders
or ancestors via the eldest son of each generation) houses are located at
important points along the ridge, while the houses of farmers of low social
A view of Yangdong Village
the ends of the sky, seems to speak of infinity.
The Jeongjeon is surrounded by a square wall. At the center of its
southern side is a front gate, while at its eastern and western sides are
an eastern gate through which officials participating in rites enter and
leave and a western gate used by court musicians and other employees.
Jongmyo Daeje, the state rite performed in memory of the ancestors of
the royal household, was the most important ancestral rite of the entire
dynasty. In 2001, it was inscribed on UNECSO’s list of Masterpieces of the
Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
68 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 69
of the people living there. They therefore did their best to refrain from
actions that were taboo and to preserve order in the state, the village
and the household. Traces of this attitude remain in each of the village’s
buildings at a microscopic level and in its changes over the ages at a
macroscopic level.
Seobaekdang, the oldest house in the village, takes the form of the
Korean letter ㅁ (mieum). The anchae, centered on the inner quarters
and kitchen, and sarangchae, centered on the reception room and study
of the head of the household, are arranged here in an elaborate fashion.
The house known as Gwangajeong, meanwhile, is also based on an ㅁ
shape, but features an excellent view created by extending one end of the
southern side of the square and adding a raised maru; this addition was
part of the sarangchae. Mucheomdang consists of separate buildings, one
in a ㅁ shape and one in a ㄱ (giyeok) shape. These comprise the anchae
and the sarangchae, respectively. The gradually increasing independence
and size of the sarangchae quarters and growing splendor of its external
appearance can be interpreted as a reflection of the increasingly superior
1 The sarangchae at Gwangajeong 2 The maru in the sarangchae at Mucheomdang
4 The kitchen attached to the outside of the inner quarters at Hyangdan
3 A view of Hyangdan
status are concentrated in lower parts and along the banks of the river,
giving Yangdong the layout of a typical Joseon-era yangban (aristocrats)
village. The character 勿 was believed to carry positive meaning in terms
of feng shui (pungsu in Korean). Feng shui, considered important when
deciding upon the location of a city or palace, was also an important factor
in selecting the position of a village.
Discovering and maintaining the positive aspects of feng shui, however,
was considered fundamentally dependent upon the efforts and sincerity
70 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
position of men in Joseon society with the passing of time.
Hyangdan is another of the village’s most brilliant structures. Its layout
differs to that of other houses in that its anchae faces south and its
sarangchae north. Features such as the maru floor space located in front
of the inner room in the anchae, the kitchen attached not to the inside but
to the outside of the inner quarters, and the extremely large, two-story
storage space beside the kitchen offer information about the layout of
houses at this time. Hyangdan’s sarangchae is presumed to demonstrate
the form of houses generally lived in by members of the ruling class in the
early Joseon period.
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 71
Soswaewon’s defining characteristic is its use of the natural valley in
which it is located, almost unaltered and with additional features installed
only where necessary, in such a way that each point in the garden has
its own distinctive feel. The process of passing through each point on
a walk through the entire garden constitutes a four-stage sequence of
introduction, development, turn and conclusion.
The introductory section reaches from the bamboo forest at the
entrance to the garden’s square pond. The tall, straight bamboo stems on
either side of the path provide both sound and fragrance, while the years
of growth visible in their gnarled roots also constitute a part of the garden.
The small, simple pavilion by the pond is a place for guests to wait.
The outer yard, blocked off by a wall, is at once empty and warm. The
Views of Soswaewon Garden
wall can be used to hang works of art, while also serving to block northerly
Soswaewon Garden
winds and collecting warm sunlight from the south.
The 16th century was a time of political turmoil in Korea. Scholars who
elements, centered on a small valley through which a stream flows. The
had previously spent their time studying in the provinces entered the
water of the stream, the variety of unplanted, naturally seeded plants
political world in the capital and attempted to realize their own ideals.
and flowers, the birds that fly in and settle wherever they please and the
Those already in positions of bureaucratic power, however, had no
people playing baduk (Korean go game), or sitting on rocks lost in thought
intention of letting go of their own privileges. This inevitably led to a
or splashing water on their necks to cool down, all become elements of the
power clash and to several purges. The building of Soswaewon Garden
garden itself. The only artificial additions here are a water conduit carved
was connected to one of these purges, which took place in 1519. Its
from a log, and a waterwheel.
The middle yard contains all of the garden’s changeable and dynamic
creator, Yang San-bo, was a disciple of Jo Gwang-jo, a figure caught at the
The inner yard contains a small building for sleeping, reading and
center of the political maelstrom at the time. When Yang saw Jo banished
meditating. The irregular steps leading up to it are not an inconvenience
from the capital to a place near his own hometown, and branded a
but a way of encouraging self-cultivation because of the way they force
traitor and forced to die by drinking poison, he began to feel the world
those ascending them to slow down and walk carefully, providing an
was meaningless, and in turn searched for a place to live in seclusion.
opportunity to shed meaningless thoughts.
Soswaewon was the result of this search.
72 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 73
Korean Gardens: Places for
Amusement and Meditation
King Munmu of Silla, who unified the Three Kingdoms in the 7th century, had a pond
dug in his palace grounds, created hills, planted flowers and kept strange birds and
animals. Anapji Pond, located in the southeastern city of Gyeongju, is the leading
extant example of a Silla garden. The entire complex covers an area of 15,638m2,
while its pond contains three artificial islands said to be inhabited by Taoist
The late Silla period saw the appearance of a garden that represented the
ultimate in hedonism: Poseokjeong is a garden designed for floating cups of wine
around an artificial waterway and reciting poetry. The waterway consists of a
winding, 17-meter channel through which water was sent flowing. The garden was
made famous by an incident in which the Silla king was killed by his enemies while
enjoying a party there.
The rulers of Goryeo took advantage of their power to build luxurious gardens.
They planted rare trees and flowers around buildings, decorating gardens with
eccentrically formed rocks and stones and erecting all manner of pavilions. They
dug ponds in various shapes in their gardens, sometimes diverting water from
a considerable distance away for use in artificial waterfalls or to send beneath
The most splendid gardens of the Joseon period were found in palaces.
Examples of this include Gyeonghoeru Pavilion and Amisan Garden in the grounds
of Gyeongbokgung Palace and Huwon Garden in the grounds of Changdeokgung
Anapji Pond in Gyeongju (left); Amisan Garden in Gyeongbokgung Palace (right)
Hwallaejeong Pavillion in Seongyojang House, Gangneung
Palace, which can be described as the most quintessentially Korean garden. It was
common for the gardens of noblemen, on the other hand, to be frugal in design.
Hermitage gardens, too, were popular as a means of emphasizing the Confucian
principle of introspection or as a result of going into seclusion after losing political
power struggles. Dongnakdang Hall is an example of the former, while Soswaewon
Garden reflects the latter. The design of Dongnakdang is an interesting one that
features an opening in the wall by the sarangchae (men’s quarters), bringing the
sound of a babbling brook and providing a visual sense of openness. Soswaewon
is not particularly large, at 4,060㎡, nor is it extensively decorative; there is nothing
rare or precious there, but it reflects the attitude which holds that all normal objects
in the world are beautiful if observed closely, and that there is nothing that cannot
achieve enlightenment. This is a defining characteristic of Korean gardens.
Wealthy individuals in the late-Joseon period began to build gardens more
frequently near their homes or within the walls of their residential compounds. They
sometimes dug square ponds adjoined by pavilions raised on tall foundation stones.
Examples of this include 19th-century Hwallaejeong Pavillion in Seongyojang House,
Gangneung, and Hayeopjeong House in Samgaheon, Daegu.
Although styles vary somewhat according to era and social class, Korean garden
styles can be clearly differentiated from those of neighboring countries and have
their own defining characteristics. The frequent positioning of houses on sloping
plots led to the development of rear terraced flower gardens. The feng shui-based
belief that trees should not be planted in front of houses was well observed. Ponds
created were square, with round islands in their centers, symbolizing the belief
in a round heaven above a square earth and reflecting a belief in the importance
of places that achieved harmony between yin and yang. Korean gardens are
characterized by the importance they place in the symbolic nature of the inner
qualities of their constituent objects, rather than in outward splendor or curiosity.
Korean Spirit Embodied
Korean Modernism
in Traditional
Its Legacies 75
Mandaeru at Byeongsan Seowon
Dosan Seowon
Dosan Seowon and Byeongsan Seowon
Confucian Academies
The history of seowon in Korea dates back to Baegundong Seowon, built
in 1542 in honor of An Hyang, the Goryeo Confucian scholar who brought
Neo-Confucianism to Korea. Their purpose was to reform society by
creating places dedicated to respecting ancient sages.
As described earlier, the 16th century was a time of extreme political
conflict between scholars educated in the countryside and the entrenched
bureaucratic powers of the capital. While the Confucian scholars from the
countryside sometimes experienced defeat, Joseon, a Confucian state,
was ultimately bound to take their side. In 1550, the king extended state
recognition to seowon by donating to Baegundong Seowon a signboard
in his own hand with the seowon’s new name of “Sosu Seowon,” along
with slaves and land. Seowon thus became both educational institutions
76 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
for teaching Neo-Confucianism and political strongholds for Confucian
scholars as they became power figures in their own right.
Because of their function of commemorating the Confucian scholars they
respected, seowon were built in places connected to the scholars themselves.
Sosu Seowon is located in An Hyang’s hometown, while Dosan Seowon was
built based on the grounds of the seodang (village schoolhouse) at which Yi
Hwang taught his students. Byeongsan Seowon, meanwhile, stands close to
Hahoe Village, the home of scholar Ryu Seong-ryong.
The lack of a clear system when seowon were first built means that Sosu
Seowon, the very earliest, has no clear central building, while its sadang
(ancestral shrine) and Myeongnyungdang Hall face in different directions.
None of its parts are distinct according to function, moreover, producing
an appearance not only of asymmetry but of disorder. After Yi Hwang
wrote Yisan Seowongyu, a set of rules for managing seowon, orderly
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 77
complexes began to appear. Dodong Seowon, for example, features a main
gate, assembly hall and shrine in an almost straight linear configuration,
producing a sense of order and solemnity.
Dosan Seowon was built in honor of Yi Hwang following his death,
under the leadership of his students. Dosan Seodang, the complex from
which it was developed, was built by Yi himself and offers a glimpse of Yi’s
character, with its combination of simplicity and strict adherence to the
principles of his own life. Unlike the assembly halls of most seowon, which
feature a central maru space with rooms for the masters to either side of
it, that of Dosan Seowon only has a master’s room on the opposite side to
that of the shrine. This is sometimes regarded as an expression of strong
respect on the part of Yi’s students, who considered him their eternal
master even after his death.
Byeongsan Seowon was originally built on the site of a seodang
Hwaseong Fortress
In 1789, King Jeongjo relocated the tomb of his father, Crown Prince Sado,
to Mt. Hwasan in Suwon. He moved the people living there to a site in the
vicinity of nearby Mt. Paldalsan and built a new city named Hwaseong. This
late-Joseon planned city was surrounded by Mt. Paldalsan to the west and
by largely flat land in every other direction, in contrast to previous cities,
which were surrounded by mountains to the north, south, east and west.
While early Joseon cities were built with an emphasis on administration,
the new city of Hwaseong was located at a major intersection of traffic
linking Seoul to the nearby provinces of Chungcheong-do, Jeolla-do and
Gyeongsang-do; Jeongjo expected it to become an economic hub. In order
to link Seoul and the southern provinces, the city’s roads were arranged in
the shape of a cross, with government offices arranged along each side.
relocated to its position from elsewhere when Joseon statesman Ryu
Seong-ryong served as a local government official. It is divided into three
Paldalmun Gate at Hwaseong Fortress
areas: one for study, one for holding ancestral rites and one where its
janitors lived. While each separate area is symmetrical in layout, the
seowon as a whole is asymmetrical. The dormitories on the left and right
in front of the assembly hall, in particular, are situated in such a way that
they converge slightly when seen from the front of the complex. In front of
them is a two-story pavilion that offers views of the surrounding scenery.
Named Mandaeru, this pavilion has no doors, windows or walls but only
columns, offering unobstructed views from all sides. Standing empty, it
appears to have no function; in fact, however, its role is that of a frame for
the outside vista. Framing the scenery of the riverbank and mountainside
beyond, Mandaeru is a boundary between the natural and the manmade.
78 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 79
Manchu invasion of 1636. The stones were cut into uniform square shapes
with raised points at their corners, so that each stone fitted into the next.
This was based on past experience gained from repairs to other Korean
fortresses such as Bukhansanseong, Namhansanseong and Hanyang
(Seoul)’s city walls. Jeong also designed a variety of defensive features for
the fortress and invented several machines, including cranes, in order to
reduce labor and construction costs.
Access to the walled city was provided by four main gates, in addition
to which the fortress featured five secret gates for use in wartime. It also
incorporated two sluice gates to allow water in and out. The northern
sluice gate consists of seven arches, forming a bridge over which a pavilion
was built, and is named Hwahongmun. This name means “beautiful
rainbow”; indeed, the sight of the water spray rising here is considered
one of the finest views in Suwon. Hwahongmun also features devices to
stop enemies attempting to violate the the fortress secretly via the stream
below. Another building that shows the same simultaneous pursuit of
function and beauty is Banghwa Suryujeong. Though its original function
was to keep watch on what went on outside the fortress, its shape as it
thrusts into the air from atop a small cliff known as Dragon’s Head and is
Banghwa Suryujeong (top) and Hwahongmun Gate (bottom) in Hwaseong Fortress
reflected in Dragon Pond below is that of the Chinese character 亞, which
was popular at the time. Viewing the moon from this pavilion is considered
Construction of Hwaseong’s fortress wall began in 1794, five years after
another of the most beautiful sights in Suwon.
the city itself was created. Jeong Yak-yong, a rising scholar at the time,
The construction process of Hwaseong, the highlight of civil engineering
was put in charge of the construction work. Jeong studied Chinese fortress
in the late Joseon period, is recorded in an official report that survives
wall-building systems and related Western technologies until 1792. He
today. Lists of materials used, the officials in charge and the technicians
planned a stone wall of 7.75 m in height and with a total circumference
involved are all recorded.
of 4.2 km. His intention was to build a strong fortress that could prevent
a repeat of past wars such as the Japanese invasions of 1592–8 and the
80 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 81
Seongyojang House
The 19th century was a time when rich individuals, not just in Seoul but
also in the provinces, as well as newly enriched landowners, became able
to build large, sophisticated residences by drawing on their own financial
resources. Seongyojang House, built in the city of Gangneung in Gangwondo, is the largest extant Joseon private residence today, almost palatial in
A view of Seonggyojang House
its scale and grandeur.
Seongyojang comprises a haengnangchae (servants’ quarters) that
windows of the central maru have their hinges at the top and can be lifted
includes its main gate, an anchae, a sarangchae, a byeoldangchae, a
upwards and outward to create a completely open space. This space has
sadang and a pond with pavilions. Among these, the anchae is said to
verandahs on three sides and an awning attached to the front, reflecting
have been built first. It features a central maru with an inner room and
the fact that the house always received large numbers of guests. Between
kitchen to the east and another room to the west. The inner room to the
the sarangchae and the room on the western side of the anchae was a
east and the room on the western side both feature large closets on their
building used as a study.
northern sides, allowing us to guess the affluence of the house’s former
A long haengnangchae stands in front of these buildings. On one side
occupants. A ㄱ-shaped separate building adjoins the anchae on one side
is a raised entrance gate leading to the sarangchae, while on the other
of its façade.
side is another gate with its roof at the same level as the rest of the
To the west of the anchae stands Yeolhwadang, the sarangchae of
haengnangchae, a form similar to that of Yeongyeongdang. The overall
the complex. Built in 1815, Yeolhwadang is a ㄱ-shaped building with a
layout of Seongyojang is that of a long, left-to-right complex with a
room at its corner and a central maru and raised maru to each side. This
mountain in the background. Nonetheless, the complex gives a sense of
type of raised maru, which sits atop a long foundation stone is a typical
depth thanks to its design, whereby none of its different areas reveals
feature of houses at this time
itself entirely upon entry. Those passing through the gate in order to reach
and is found in other well-
the sarangchae find their view blocked by the wall of the byeoldang and
known 19th-century buildings
turn naturally to the left, while those passing through the gate on the way
such as Yeongyeongdang and
to the courtyard of the anchae must change directions twice within the
Nakseonjae in Changdeokgung
two-kan guesthouse before arriving. In this way, Seongyojang produces a
Pa l a c e a n d U n h y e o n g u n g
dynamic feel, with free and natural connections between its spaces, based
Palace. The front and back
on an overall left-to-right layout.
82 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 83
Hanok—Combining Humanity,
Nature and Science
Hanok have always been built in a variety of forms according to the status and
gender of their occupants, and according to their use. The scale of a house (including
size of plot, number of kan and height of surrounding walls) differed according to the
status of its occupants, as did the form and permitted range of decoration (including
dancheong painting, tiles and columns). The use of square or round pillars was
determined by whether the space in question would be used by men or by women.
Heights of buildings, too, varied according to occupant status and location.
The large number of sloping plots in Korea meant that the carpenters who built
hanok were particularly skilled at controlling building heights. Kitchen floors were
built low and bang (heated room) floors were built higher up. Hot air from a fire lit
in a kitchen fireplace would rise up and pass below the stone bang floor; the smoke
was vented from a tall chimney on the far side. This design took advantage of the
thermal effect whereby cold air
entering a low space rises when
heated. Large, flat stones called
ondol were laid to form the floor
of the bang, creating a domestic
heating system observed the
basic health principle of keeping
the feet warm and the head cool.
The relatively low kitchen floor,
meanwhile, created higher ceilings
in the kitchen without increasing the
overall height of the building, thus
allowing the creation of a second
story there. The resulting upper
space was a kind of attic used for
storing various items.
The doors and windows of a
hanok, too, are extremely scientific
in their design. The wooden lattices
forming them were coated on the
inside with traditional paper; their
outer surfaces were therefore
thicker than the outer ones. The
thinner outer surfaces admitted
greater amounts of outside
daylight, while the thicker inner
surfaces provided a greater
area for the paper to adhere to,
increasing the surface tension of
the paper and making the doors
and windows stronger. Traditional
Korean doors and windows
feature a unique form known as
angojigi. This design allows them
to be opened up and outwards
when hung by an upper hinge,
or to be opened by sliding to the
left or right along a horizontal
axis. They were opened up and
outwards when large objects
needed to be carried through
them and from side to side
Top: Angojigi doors
during normal use, when only a
Bottom: Wooden lattice windows at Dongnakdang Hall
maximum of half their total width
could be open at a time.
Some traditional Korean doors and windows, however, go beyond such
functionality to possess aesthetic and even emotional qualities. Dongnakdang Hall
in Gyeongju features a stone wall with wooden lattice windows: more than mere
functional devices for providing ventilation,
these play an active role in bringing the nature
outside the wall inside so that the hall suddenly
becomes one with nature.
Hanok is a residential form that synthesizes
many time-honored observations about
nature. The depth of its eaves, for example, is
determined in such a way as to block powerful
summer sunlight that falls from a steep angle,
while admitting the low-angle, warm sunlight of
winter. This is what makes it a uniquely Korean,
scientific yet beautiful application of wisdom
gleaned through the observation of nature.
Kitchen fireplace called agungi
84 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Spirit Embodied in Traditional Architecture 85
The language center (formerly the library) at Konkuk University in Seoul, built in 1956
Chapter Four
Korean Modernism
and Its Legacies
In the period after Korea’s liberation from Japan and the Korean War,
Korean architects began experimenting. To some extent, they were
absorbing the ideas of modernism, despite their technical constraints
and lack of experience. Architects who had come of age in Korea were
beginning to set up offices such as the Synthetic Architecture Institute
and the Institute of New Architectural Culture. It was still a fairly bleak
environment, but an architectural culture was slowly beginning to blossom.
This was also the time when Korean architects began to have personal
encounters with the greats of modernism, part of a burgeoning climate
of overseas interchange. Lee Kwang-no worked for a year at the offices of
I. M. Pei before coming back home to found the firm Muae Architecture.
Kim Jong-seong enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Technology and was
influenced by the legendary German architect Mies van der Rohe, who was
a member of the faculty there. Kim Tai Soo graduated from Yale University
86 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies 87
The shrine itself sits atop a bluff overlooking the Hangang River, but the
architecture does not defy the terrain. The sense of comfort that emerges
from this natural positioning, the strict proportions, and an appropriate
use of outside space is unquestionably a supreme architectural achievement.
Kim Jung-up and Kim Swoo Geun are two of the architects who arrived
in this period to open up new horizons in modernism. Both were directly
and indirectly exposed to Western modernism during their early years
overseas; both would return to produce works of masterly and unique
architectural style. Their contributions would prove pivotal in the process
that unfolded from the 1960s and 1980s as Korea cast off its technical and
conceptual limitations and acquired greater depth and artistic range.
Two Giants of Korean Modernism
Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine, built in 1967
Kim Jung-up spent three and a half years working in the office of Le
Corbusier. Returning to Korea, Kim began producing work that combined
and worked in the office of Philip Johnson. These were attempts—however
the formal qualities of the Swiss architect’s latest work with a uniquely
few in number—to gain personal experience with the currents of world
Korean sentiment—but with a modern twist. One of his most famous
architecture, and they would have a major impact on Korean modernism.
works today is the Seo Obstetrical Clinic, a bold curved structure in
Lee Hui-tae is considered one of Korea’s prominent architects. Lacking
exposed mass concrete. Fittingly enough for the building’s function, its
any experience with overseas architecture, he nevertheless succeeded
shape boasts a number of sexual metaphors, its images representing
in developing a style uniquely his own while working in the Korean
the uterus and phallus. Adding to its significance was its use of free,
environment. His masterwork, the Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine in Seoul,
organic curves at a time when box-like structures were the norm in Korea.
draws on traditional forms without resorting to exaggeration, creating
The design principle that informed its surfaces and shapes was that of
a spatial composition that conveys a sense of comfort. An indigenous
“reproducing circles,” and the result was a gorgeous use of curves that
Korean sensibility and aesthetic emanates from the columns in the
connect over the entire structure. This formal beauty is especially visible
gallery—reminiscent of the pillars in Korea’s old palaces—and from the
with the meandering inner spaces and the outer curves that overlap along
eave corners that arc downward like the slope of a thatched roof house.
the ramp.
88 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies 89
Left: Exterior and interior of Seo
Obstetrical Clinic
Right: French Embassy in Korea
Another of Kim’s great accomplishments was the main building at Jeju
building. But while the forms may draw upon Korea’s lyrical traditions, they
National University. This, too, was an example of Kim giving full expression
are also a highly accomplished reinterpretation of them. This is especially
to his poetic sensibilities through an aesthetic of abundance. Round
visible in the arrangement of the buildings so that the roofs and outer
mushroom-like columns wrapped around three freely curving ramps,
structures seem to change from one second to the next as one moves along
create powerful shapes. The lower level was divided into several blocks,
the entrance road—an effect that has been described by some as echoing
while the top portion occupied a single block at the center; the roof called
the characteristics of Korea’s Buddhist temples. Kim’s work on the embassy
to mind a spaceship surging up toward the heavens. The abundance
would earn him the French National Order of Merit, Chevalier.
extended to the façade—eclectic mixtures of concrete, glass, metal, brick,
Kim Swoo Geun pioneered modernism in Korean architecture from the
and basalt. When it was built, it was called “21st century” architecture
1960s through the 1980s. He studied in Japan before returning home in
for the way it defied technical obstacles in its experimental design and
1961 and immediately making his presence felt with his designs for the
construction. Sadly, the building was torn down in 1996.
Freedom Center and the Walkerhill Hilltop Bar. The Freedom Center is a
Kim’s tour de force may be the French Embassy in Seoul, which was
monument of a structure, an architectural expression of the day’s national
completed in 1962. It actually consists of two buildings, the embassy
philosophy supporting liberty and opposing Communism. Kim’s powerful
proper and the ambassador’s residence, the bodies of the structures
architectural language is felt in the colonnade, the massive, boldly hoisted
topped with sleek roofs recalling the kinds used in traditional Korean
concrete eaves, the independent sculptural elements. It is, after all, a
architecture. The embassy roof is high, seemingly taking flight; the roof
monument, and the forms and scale are suitably exaggerated. But it also
of the ambassador’s home is low and more organically connected to the
boasts a capacious indoor space, with 70 percent of the floor area given
90 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies 91
over to galleries, walkways, and lobbies. Inside are three open “street”
spaces, helping to create a feeling of continuous flow.
The structure where Kim’s architecture reached its fullest maturity was
the SPACE Group building. It was first built in 1971 and took seven years
to expand. The result is perhaps the greatest representation of Kim’s chief
themes: continuity in space, human scale, and a reinterpretation of the
traditional Korean courtyard. The long buildings, positioned along slender
slivers of ground, are designed to be entered from the side; at the center,
a courtyard space becomes the focal point for all activity. The interior
spaces are made diverse by contrasts of narrow and broad, high and
low, closed and open. Outside and in, the texture of brick is left exposed,
adding to the sense of familiarity. Kim often used brick in his structures,
seeing it not just as an familiar material but also representative of the
Old and new SPACE Group buildings (left, © Chung Kwangsik), brick façade of old SPACE Group building
(right, © Osamu Murai) Source: Kim Swoo Geun Foundation
Kyungdong Presbyterian Church
© Osamu Murai (top) (Source: Kim Swoo Geun Foundation)
sort of hand-crafted technique best suited to a human scale.
Kim’s spatial characteristics find perhaps their best representation
in a series of religious buildings he designed. Kyungdong Presbyterian
Church, Masan Yangduk Cathedral, and Bulgwangdong Catholic Church
are widely seen as his three greatest ecclesiastical buildings. The first
two are entered by way of a narrow staircase that turns toward the back
of the main building, functioning as a sort of mechanism for the visitor to
enter a spiritual space. Inside, the sense of mystery is heightened as light
shines through the windows onto dark and powerful concrete shapes.
Outside of all three buildings, a sense of artistry is emphasized with a
structure that resembles hands folded in prayer.
Kim Swoo Geun’s technical experiments continued with his designs
for the track and field and gymnastics stadiums for the 1988 Summer
92 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies 93
Olympics in Seoul. He also experimented with traditional forms and
foreground . Tile roofs, pillars, and other traditional motifs found their way
organic arrangement of elements in his designs for the national museums
into concrete structures. This was perhaps the zenith of the construction
in Cheongju and Jinju. His significance lies first and foremost in the way he
drive, buoyed by rapid economic development. But it was in the following
ushered in an artistic revival—not just in architecture but in Korean culture
decade, the 1980s, that architecture really began to diversify. The arrival
in general—through his work with the magazine SPACE and through art
of postmodernism sparked attempts at freedom of form and expression.
theater The Love of Space. In a May 1977 article, Time magazine called him
The generational changing of the guard was hastened in the later part of
Seoul’s Lorenzo de’ Medici, comparing him to a figure that led the artistic
the decade, as first-generation architects like Lee Hui-tae, Kim Swoo Geun,
flourishing of Renaissance-era Florence.
and Kim Joong-up began to pass away one by one. By the early 1990s, a
Right around the time Western modernism was making its way into Asia
new group had emerged, and its members—most of them architects in
and the Third World, the movement was beginning to blend with regional
their thirties to forties—were posing very different questions from those
characteristics and assume a more indigenous, localized aspects. Kim
of the previous generation.
Jung-up and Kim Swoo Geun are significant in the way that they neither
The 4.3 Group Exhibition was staged in 1992 in a tiny gallery in Seoul’s
blindly adopted Western modernism nor uncritically followed the formal
Dongsung neighborhood. Fourteen architects participated, all of them
traditions of Korean architecture, but offered a new interpretation of
under the age of 50. They wanted to reform architecture, to introduce
the two. They were also masters of their craft who sought to show their
new methods of thinking into it. Where the allegiances of the previous
nation’s cultural potential through their work. Their rich body of work is
generation had been with function and design, the 4.3 Group adhered to a
both an important standard for the architects of the next generation, and a
more auteurist approach. They saw architecture as a form of culture, and
mountain they will have to scale.
approached it from the perspective of the humanities. Their interest was
less in regional identity and more in the inherent value of the architecture,
The 4.3 Group and Architectural Humanities
As Korea moved into the 1970s, it was experiencing unprecedented
economic growth, but it was also facing a jarring transformation into
an industrial society. A building boom in the Middle East helped spur
improvements in construction technology, and corporate-funded
companies began taking off. At the same time, the national government
was spearheading projects to give direct form to the country’s traditions
—part of a state policy to push elements of indigenous culture to the
94 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
its materiality and space. As far as traditional architecture was concerned,
they favored a spiritual, conceptual approach over a formalist one. After
the exhibition was over, they set about creating a culture of self-criticism,
organizing research and seminars on Korean identity and traditional
architecture. With the subsequent founding of the Seoul Institute of
Architecture (SA), they began forging a new discourse, sharing their own
ideals about what constituted architectural education.
The group, like most architects of this period, was concerned about
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies 95
Architects from the 4.3 Group participated in designing Paju Book City (left) and Heyri Art Valley (right)
spatiality and the relationship with the city. Buildings at the time were
perspective, but its members carried on with their experiments in
functional, insular with regard to the city they occupied, and the architects
architectural education at SA. By the 2000s, another turning point had
set about forging a more active relationship, one where the buildings were
arrived with the building of the Paju Book City and Heyri Art Valley. Built
part of the city structure. Yangjae 287.3, from a design by Joh Sung-yong,
in conjunction with the publishers, the Book City followed a master plan
is an example of this emphasis on presence with the urban structure,
drafted by the architect group that shared the same ideals and community
the creation of various intermediate spaces where building meets city.
values—the city as a way of restoring humanity. The designs were the work
They also tried to mine the rich vein of spatial concepts in traditional
of individual architects following these guidelines, representing their own
architecture and offer a more modern take on them. Seung H-Sang’s
attempts to achieve an ideal city. Despite the use of master plans, both the
Sujoldang Residence, for example, adhered to a “pauper’s aesthetic,”
Paju Book City and Heyri Art Valley today boast fascinating structures that
emphasizing the traditional virtue of spatial restraint. Min Hyun-shik’s
put the idiosyncrasies of the individual architects on full display. In 2010,
designs for the Gugak National Middle School and Korea National
the Book City was introduced to an international audience at the Venice
University of Cultural Heritage use the courtyard of the traditional hanok
Biennale’s Korea Pavilion.
house as a starting point for exploring the theme of emptiness.
The 4.3 Group itself did not last long after introducing its new
96 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies 97
Standing at the Boundary of Korean and Global
Korea liberalized its overseas travel policies in 1987, and the period
from the late 1990s to the early 2000s saw the first major activity from
a generation that had been allowed to travel abroad. Most were in their
thirties at the time. Having been exposed to overseas education in
architecture and gained experience with the practical side of the field,
they came home to design work that showed a powerful identity. Inwardly,
they contemplated the idea of “Koreanness,” and their architecture had
an original grammar to it. Together, they signaled the arrival of a new
contingent of auteurist architects in Korea.
Penumbra, a villa which has primeval and striking spaces, is the work
of Kim Hun. Positioned naturally on a slope facing Cheongpyeong Lake,
Photo courtesy of Studio Asylum
Public health centers
in Mungyeong
and Jeongseon
© Kang Il-min (top),
Kim Jae-kyeong
it boasts powerful diagonals both inside and out. The interior, flowing
in blocks along the slope, highlights the coarseness of concrete and
stone; coupled with the dynamism of the oblique lines, it evokes a cave,
or perhaps an old ruin. Indeed, Kim’s fascination with ruins is one of his
chief sources of inspiration. He feeds the tension and vitality by adding
elements that create a sense of unfamiliarity: the dynamic lines, welllike caverns, bridges, grades, exterior spaces, skylights, and a double
shell. This is what gives his architecture work its primeval, raw quality—a
metaphor for the experience of nature.
Kim Seung-hoy, creator of a series of public health centers, has an
architectural firm called KYWC. Its name is short for kyeong yeong wi
chi, a term that refers to the composition of Eastern painting; it means
that the artist should be focused not on individual objects, but on the
relationships between them. Like other architects of his generation, he
98 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies 99
learned about postmodernism and deconstruction overseas, but the real
starting point for his work has been modernism and its fidelity to the
structure’s fundamentals and functions. Kim’s work has the order and
polish of modernism, but with a Korean sense of negative space. Over
a 12-year period, he built public health centers in various small Korean
cities, a series that suggested a way for public buildings to respond to the
urban context. His other work includes a residence series in Yangpyeong
and Gwacheon, the result of a process of analyzing Korea’s old residential
forms and using them as a basis for exploring new forms for a new age.
Moon Hoon, designer of Rock It Suda, Lollipop House, Sangsang
Museum, and S_Mahal House, fancies himself something of a “heretic.”
His approach is to imagine structures through a form of eroticism,
analyzing the female form and linking it to architecture. He connects
architecture with fantasy. Atop the Sangsang Museum is a form
reminiscent of a spaceship and driver’s seat. The S_Mahal House is
given flexible contours by a sheath of billowing red curtains that encircle
S_Mahal House
© Kim Yong-kwan
100 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies 101
Sangsang Museum
© Kim Yong-kwan
its courtyard. Blurring the boundaries of reality and fantasy, Moon’s
is run and reflected this process in the building. By making the front of
architecture piques curiosity with an exterior that seems covered in
the building transparent, he showed a tangyakgi, an apparatus used to
netting, while forging emotional connections with impish imaginations
prepare medicine, as if it was the building’s heart. Castle of Skywalkers,
and “soft” architectural elements. He doesn’t mind being called a sort of
a dormitory and training facility for a professional volleyball team, is a
architectural shaman—someone who discovers and expresses the energy
building that illustrates Hwang’s interest in tradition and geometric order.
of Korea’s indigenous faith lurking in the latent unconscious. In that sense,
The circular running track touches the four sides of the square building,
he may be the most undeniably “Korean” of Korean architects.
and each of the spaces inside the building adheres to a strict geometric
Architect Hwang Doojin took on existing urban context in complicated
code comprising rectangles, circles and diagonal lines. The building’s
downtown Seoul by exploring geometric order and a constructive
structure reflects the structure of
mentality. At the former company headquarters of Open Books, which
a hanok, which is focused on a
faces the stone wall of Gyeongbokgung Palace, he attempted to connect
madang (inner courtyard). The
a building in the context of the old city. By creating a passageway that
building was also designed as an
links the inside of the building with the road behind it and by exposing
open structure to allow people in
the staircase on the side of the building to the exterior, he connected
each space to see each other.
the building to a city road. With Choonwondang Hospital of Korean
Medicine, Hwang observed how the Korean traditional medicine center
Choonwondang Hospital of Korean Medicine
© Park Youngchae
Castle of Skywalkers
© Park Youngchae (top),
Yun Suyeon (bottom)
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies 103
Skyscrapers like Boutique Monaco: Bundle Matrix, Nature
Poem: Skipped Matrix, and S-Trenue: Bundle Matrix are
drawing attention as attempts to inject a bit of irregularity
into Korea’s monotonous urban environments. They leave
empty or disjointed spaces between floors; in some cases, the
building’s seams are opened up to create gardens, bridges,
and other leisure spaces. These are the works of Cho Minsuk,
an architecture who has forced one of the major dividing lines
between his generation and the one that came before.
After studying in New York, Cho broadened his experience
with different projects around the world. Where his
predecessors had been focused on learning and appropriating
the trends of global
architecture, he
is someone who
actually worked on
the ground with his international
Daum Space.1 on Jejudo Island, which was built to be the company headquarters of Daum
Communications © Kyungsub Shin
contemporaries. Upon his
r e t u r n t o Ko r e a , h e b e g a n
to ideas about “Korean sentiments” or “tradition.” Bold works like Dalki
presenting work that highlighted
Theme Park: I Like Dalki, the aforementioned Boutique Monaco, the Ann
and trenchantly dissected the
Demeulemeester Shop in Seoul, and the Daum Space.1 building have
dynamism of Korean society and
drawn major attention on the pages of such noted overseas journals as
cities. He has responded keenly
to present-day Korea without
This latest generation of prominent architects has formed a strong
letting himself become shackled
backbone for the field, adding to the qualitative richness of Korean
architecture and the diversity of architectural culture.
S-Trenue: Bundle Matrix in Seoul’s Yeouido
district © Kim Yong-kwan
104 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies 105
14 Whanki Museum
Whanki Museum is dedicated to the work
of painter Kim Whanki, one of Korea’s
first generation abstract artists. It offers
a mixture of both modern and traditional
aesthetics—the former in the rectangular
steel roof with rounded edges, the latter in
a stone wall reminiscent of the rear garden
at Gyeongbokgung Palace.
A Guide to Seoul’s Best
Gyeongbokgung Palace (see p40)
Changdeokgung Palace (see p64)
Deoksugung Palace (see p46)
Jongmyo Shrine (see p67)
Old Seoul National University
Campus (see p51)
6 SPACE Group Building (see p92)
7 French Embassy in Korea (see p90)
8 Kyungdong Presbyterian Church (see p93)
9 Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine (see p88)
10 Seonyudo Park (see p122)
11 Urban Hive (see p123)
12 Boutique Monaco (see p123)
2 5
1 6
13 Bukchon Hanok Village
Painstakingly preserved example
of the old hanok cityscape, just
paces away from the skyscrapers
of downtown Seoul. In the past,
its position near the royal palace
meant that it was primarily home
to powerful aristocrats and
government officials. Today, it is
occupied by around 900 traditional
hanok buildings, which remain very
much inhabited.
106 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
15 Ssamziegil
This intriguingly structured
shopping mall is located in Seoul’s
Insa-dong neighborhood, a top
tourist draw. The use of the word
“gil,” or road, in the building’s
name reflects the fact that the
entire structure—a four-story
complex encircling a diamondshaped courtyard—is linked into
one road.
16 Ewha Campus Complex (ECC)
Originality goes underground with this design by
world-renowned architect Dominique Perrault,
boasting 66,000 m2 of floor space. Perrault’s
artificial valley extends from the road outside the
campus through the university gate, offering a
pedestrian walkway, plaza, and park all in one.
Korean Modernism and Its Legacies 107
Chapter Five
the Envelope:
New Ideas and
Beyond the “City of Rooms”
The Korea pavilion at the 2004 Venice Architecture Biennale was a house
of rooms. Titled City of Bang (after the Korean word for “room”), the
exhibition drew international notice with its clever analysis of Korea’s
“room culture,” spotlighting the proliferation of businesses billing
themselves to the public as “rooms”: singing rooms, steam rooms,
video rooms, play rooms, drinking rooms. The room-filled landscape was
monotonous, lacking any of the layers of the city. The exhibition examined
a society of urbanization and the culture of high-rise apartment buildings,
where urban spaces were simply and unsparingly used according to the
need. City of Bang was later listed as one of the Biennale’s five most
noteworthy exhibitions.
As the 2000s dawned, Korean architecture was beginning to extend
its scope beyond single structures and into city spaces. Architects began
108 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Boutique Monaco: Missing Matrix in Gangnam
Pushing the Envelope: New Ideas and Experiments 109
© Kim Yong-kwan
Pedestrian facilities with a bus stop, elevator and elevated café on Hannamdaegyo Bridge
© Yun Suyeon
Renovated Cheonggyecheon Stream
imposing themselves on the fissures in these unplanned, uncertain cities,
it became less a part of people’s lives. Eventually, things reached the point
and worked to create richer landscapes. Policies were implemented to
where those hoping to visit the river had to travel through tiny concrete
create more pedestrian-friendly cities. Plans were created to rework the
tunnels underneath the highways. Seeking to improve the situation, the
areas surrounding major cultural attractions like Seoul’s Gyeongbokgung
city has since 2007 enlisted the young architects of renovation. One of
and Changdeokgung palaces, which had hitherto been disconnected from
them, Hwang Doojin, designed a structure that not only connected the
their urban environments. Plaza design was another focus, particularly
river’s bridges and the riverside with staircases and elevators but also
with the squares in front of Seoul City Hall and at the centrally located
integrated them with a café. This new infrastructure helped to once again
Gwanghwamun Gate. Architects began coming up with public designs that
turn the river bisecting the city into a popular attraction.
reconfigured these fragmented city settings.
Another example of rediscovering a waterway in the city center came
Another set of efforts focused on the neglected public spaces alongside
with the restoration of Cheonggyecheon Stream. Once, the stream
the Hangang River in Seoul. This was the “Hangang River Renaissance,”
had been called the “sewer of Seoul.” Like the Hangang River, it had
part of which involved making the river more accessible to pedestrians
been buried in the 1970s and paved over with an elevated roadway. In
through improvements in interchanges and bridges. Its sandy banks had
2003, amid growing demand for its restoration, the Seoul Metropolitan
once been a popular site for people fleeing the city’s heat, but frequent
Government decided to turn the project into one of its signature efforts.
flooding had caused serious problems. In the 1970s, they were covered in
The actual restoration took only a short time, and critics said the result was
concrete in the name of water management. Expressways and high-rise
more of an artificial waterway than a true recovery of the buried stream.
apartment blocks erected alongside the river further impeded access, and
But the change in the urban environment as the highway was removed
110 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Pushing the Envelope: New Ideas and Experiments 111
and the waterway arose in the city center was nothing short of dramatic,
to revive the forms of the traditional Korean residence in a more modern
and the people who experienced it came away with a new perspective. A
context. The result summons memories of the urban hanok structures
focus on development and convenience had been abandoned in favor of
found in Seoul’s historic Gahoe-dong. Kim Hun’s residence, named
an experience with emptiness and nature in the city environment.
Serendipity, may seem insular from the outside, but the interior adds a
sense of tension to the diurnal with a three-dimensionality generated by
A New Housing Culture between the Beehives
High-rise apartment blocks are a defining part of Korean residential
culture. As a part of modern architecture, such blocks were conceived as
a high-density mode of living, a way of improving the workers’ residential
environment. As Korea’s population density increased during the 1960s and
the 1970s, apartments became commonplace, becoming the single most
popular and representative form of living environment. By the 1980s, some
a bold use of diagonals. At the time it was built, this structure drew major
attention for the unusual quality of its shape and spaces. An L-shaped
residence by Cho Byoung Soo makes use of arrangements characteristic of
traditional Korean architecture, while Kim Hyo Man’s Limgeodang building
uses “skip floors” (offset half-stories) to create a three-dimensional
quality in its interior, which is naturally linked to the exterior and given an
interactive quality with various courtyards.
new alternatives were being introduced among the submissions for the
athletes’ and journalists’ villages at the 1986 Asian Games
Houses in Ilsan built by Kim Hun (left, photo courtesy of Studio Asylum) and Kim Seung-hoy (right, © Kang Il-min)
and the 1988 Olympics. But large-scale blocks remained the
norm, and as construction companies pushed to build big,
the apartments evolved into a residential product that was
less about diversity and more about optimal convenience and
rationality. Architects were relegated to a small handful of
standalone houses. With their emphasis on diversity, quality
of life, and design, they worked to carve out an ever larger
niche in the residential culture.
Built in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the residential
complexes of the satellite city of Ilsan became a test bed
for young architects returning home from their studies
overseas. Kim Seung-hoy designed a residence connecting
two structures shaped like semicircular bolts, an attempt
112 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Pushing the Envelope: New Ideas and Experiments 113
Yang Soo-in, Sosoljip is an attempt at a “net zero
energy” house, a solution to the use of energy for
power, water heating, and ventilation. Occupying a
stunning location in Namhae, the house is designed to
keep fossil fuel use to a minimum while harmonizing
with the surrounding environment. Another architect,
Left: Yongin Residence © Park Wan-soon
Right: Sosoljip
Bottom: The hallway in NBS71510
© Kyungsub Shin
Chung Hyuna, aims to design simply built houses that
fully integrate spatial order and expression with structural methods and
materials. This is especially true for Yongin Residence which integrates
its interior and exterior while retaining an open courtyard. NBS71510, an
The Ilsan residential complexes
offered a range of takes on Korean
residential culture, each boasting its
urban residential unit designed by the OBBA, creates a practical yet striking
public space in a public housing unit designed for affordable living.
own modern architectural grammar.
Evolution of Korean Modernism
Toward the later part of the decade,
By the 2000s, the focus of discourse was less on “Koreanness” and more
the new complexes of Pangyo began
on an evolved form of Korean modernism, as architects came to focus
taking on the same role. Today, the
more on the architectural artistry and identity of individual buildings.
next generation of thirty- and forty-
Cho Byoung Soo has been recognized for linking modernism with
something architects can be found
Eastern ways of thinking. His most famous works, including the Camerata
experimenting actively with new
Music Studio, Concrete Box House, and Earth House, exemplify his
approaches. This is especially visible
architectural interests over the years. All three begin from a restrained box-
in the diversity of structures and
like frame. In the case of Camerata, the interior of the simple box uses only
materials, including brick, concrete,
minimal materials—concrete, wood, and glass. The changing light of day
and copper plating.
produces an inner space that is rich and powerful. This is a characteristic of
There are also different attempts
Cho’s work: extreme restraint of shape, coarse yet somehow sophisticated
to vary the spaces where individuals
mass that introduces an experience of nature’s different qualities within.
go about their lives. Designed by
He is especially keen to exploit the qualities of his materials, involving
114 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Pushing the Envelope: New Ideas and Experiments 115
himself deeply in details and construction like a true artisan. At the
Concrete Box House, a large square has been removed from the middle of
a 30 cm-thick roof without parapets. The structure was the result of a long
process of experimentation and research. The thin sheet roof is irregularly
supported by wood from old hanok structures; the interior is open to the
sky, creating a building as backdrop for experiencing wind and sun, rain
and snow, heat and cold. Next door to the Concrete Box House is the Earth
House. As its name suggests, it is built as an open-roofed box that digs
naturally into the earth. For this structure, Cho adopted the techniques of
traditional mud huts.
The architecture of Cho Byoung Soo retains a modernist sensibility
without sacrificing the characteristics of Korea’s spaces. Today, it continues
gaining international recognition as an example of work that possesses
both a Korean feel and universal appeal. Cho himself has won many
awards overseas and was introduced in the U.S. journal dwell in 2005 as
one of three distinctive contemporary designers.
The late Korean-Japanese architect Itami Jun was a man between
countries during his lifetime. Ironically, he is today seen as one of the
most powerful examples of a “modern Korean architect.” He is best
remembered for a series of works on the island of Jejudo, including the
Podo Hotel, the Water, Wind, Stone art museum series, and the Bangju
Church (“Church of Sky”). His work with the art museum series in
particular shows architecture that responds to nature: the Water museum
with its simple concrete squares and circles filled with placid water,
the Wind museum with thin wooden boards that allow breezes to pass
between them, and the Stone museum, finished with Cor-ten steel, where
rays of sunlight break through to create a space that changes with the
116 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
1 Camerata Music Studio
2 Concrete Box House
© Kim Jongoh
3 Earth House
© Kim Yong-kwan
The Wind, Water and Stone art museums
© Kim Yong-kwan
rhythm of the day. They are attempts to convey the essential emotions
both indigenous materials and construction methods, and the result is a
of architecture through unpolished beauty, abstraction, solemnity and
successful example of modernizing the local. The radio station, situated in
tranquility. In this sense, Jejudo—with its beautiful scenery coupled with
a Himalayan corner, also produces a modern space using local materials
an often harsh environment and distinctively powerful terrain—may be the
and methods, unaided by construction equipment. Cases like these
best showcase for Itami’s work. In his search for purity of form, he rooted
exemplify the way Korean architects venture beyond their borders and
himself in the land’s tradition while striving to distill the currents of its
summon local color and identity in the broader world.
culture, dedicating himself to the pursuit of a tenacious artistic sensibility
and free-spirited zeitgeist. “Modern Korea,” one critic called it, saying, “His
architecture itself is modern art, using indigenous materials to achieve
Khmeresque, Won-Buddhist temple in Cambodia
© Park Youngchae
abstract beauty.” Itami eventually received a Chevalier medal from the
French government for a lifetime of achievements in Korean modernism.
Meanwhile, the Korean architect Kim In-cheurl was busy overseas with
designing a Won-Buddhist temple, called Khmeresque, in Battambang,
Cambodia, and a radio station for MBC in Jomsom, Nepal. Both were
examples of making full use of local geography, part of a more general
movement of Asian architects building in other Asian countries. In
the Cambodian case, Kim achieved both artistry and more practical
ventilation goals by revealing cross sections of the perforated bricks
(the most suitable kind for the local climate). His goal had been to use
118 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Pushing the Envelope: New Ideas and Experiments 119
Landscape Architecture and the Transforming
A 1996 design competition to honor the 100th anniversary of Seoul’s
Myeongdong Cathedral ended up by suggesting a striking new plan for the
cityscape. The concept involved breaking down the boundaries between
the building and the land surrounding it, creating a relationship between
the two where the city terrain was part of the building and the building part
of the urban landscape. Its creator was Kim Jong-kyu, someone had already
forged his own style with a “landscape architecture” approach at Britain’s
AA School in the late 1980s. The roots of this were “an inborn affinity for the
land that he brought with him from Korea.” The competition was eventually
abandoned, but Kim’s design helped launch the concept of landscape
architecture in Korea. Increasingly, architecture has been focusing not only
Welcome City
© Osamu Murai
on individual structures, but also on their organic connection with cityscape
Welcome City, a design by Seung H-Sang, is an example of architecture
and land. The movement started at a time when the idea of landscape
being actively incorporated into a cityscape. Situated by the roadside, the
architecture was only just emerging around the world.
large building is divided into four large blocks to prevent it from obscuring
the sightline of the residential area behind. The result is a structure that
Kim Jong-kyu’s submission to a design competition marking the centennial anniversary of
Myeong-dong Cathedral Photo courtesy of M.A.R.U.
both shapes the landscape and facilitates visual interaction. It is not so
much a free-standing object as an active participant in its own landscape—
suggesting in the process the possibilities of a better environment. At its
base is a bulky concrete stylobate; above are four blocks finished in Corten steel, the spaces between them lending themselves naturally to use
as outdoor lounges. Simple and clean-cut though it may appear on the
outside, the interior boasts an eclectic mixture of lines of movement.
Some projects provide more active examples of landscaping and
architecture that focuse on using the land. When the water purification
center on Seonyudo Island in the Hangang River outlived its usefulness in
120 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Pushing the Envelope: New Ideas and Experiments 121
Top: Urban Hive © Park Youngchae
Bottom: Boutique Monaco: Missing Matrix
© Kim Yong-kwan
Completed in 2008, Cho Minsuk’s
Boutique Monaco: Missing Matrix
is another break with the traditional
tower and its paramount emphasis
on floor area and building-to-land
ratios. In this towering structure, the
excess floor area is offset with empty
spaces burrowed throughout the
Seonyudo Park
building. Designed for commercial
the early 2000s, a plan was set to rid it of its vestiges of industrial use and
and residential use, it boasts a variety
turn it into a park. But the creators of the winning entry, Jeong Yeong-seon
of parks and bridges embedded in
and Joh Sung-yong, opted not to remove the old facilities. Rather, they
these spaces. Inside the building, an
redesigned the land to incorporate the remains. Today, Seonyudo Park is
eclectic mixture of 49 different types
beloved by Seoul citizens for its scenic beauty.
of units is in place of the one-size-
Towers have also been used to transform cityscapes. Pinnacles of
fits-all “domino system.” Cho has
efficiency and rationality, these uniformly surfaced structures create
continued his “mass matrix studies”
skylines, but also bear much of the blame for their monotony. Seoul’s
over the years, injecting space into
Gangnam district is a veritable forest of skyscrapers, creating a kind of “gray
the monotony of the domino system
city” with their curtain walls and identical façades. Kim In-cheurl’s Urban
with new tower concepts like Nature
Hive suggests a new concept for the tower. Nicknamed “the Clacker” for its
Poem: Skipped Matrix, GWell Tower:
circle pattern, it has an exterior that is both a regularly patterned structure
Eroded Matrix, and S-Trenue: Bundle
and a window to the outside. The interior is finished with glass, giving
Matrix. Where efficiency was once
the structure depth with its double skin. It is unique and bold experiment
priority one, these are new structures
with form, material, and structure, and the contrast with the surrounding
that actively respond to the Korean
Gangnam curtain walls could not be clearer.
122 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Pushing the Envelope: New Ideas and Experiments 123
Reinterpretation of Hanok
The modern era brought rapid urbanization to Korea, and with it a rise in
population density. The traditional hanok building became part of this
urbanization trend. In urban hanok neighborhoods, smaller “C”-shaped
and square-shaped models with central courtyards began to appear, many
of them occupying small parcels of larger plots where they butted up
against their neighbors. But these urban hanok buildings failed to establish
a market in their productivity or technology. Increasingly they were
shunted to the periphery of Korean architecture. For a while, architects
had neither the leisure nor the inclination to work in the hanok style. But
Clubhouse at the Lake Hills Suncheon Country Club
in the early 21st century, the situation began to change. Architects began
experimenting with new ways of configuring the structures.
Cho Jung-goo, designer of the hanok hotel Ragung, has tried to
standardize and commercialize the style’s frame material. This is part of
© Kim Yong-kwan
to deal with the hurdles of high material and construction costs. He has
also made various attempts to combine the hanok style with modern
a strategy to enable mass production that would lower material prices
Cho Nam-ho makes active use of Western-style wood structures. His
and help boost the hanok’s popular appeal. Some difficulties remain: as
design for the Guest House of Kyowon Group Training Center, built in
the frame lengths became shorter, the kan—the space between pillars—
2000, was an example of him experimenting with new possibilities for
became somewhat small. But Cho’s work is very significant as an attempt
wooden buildings using a light-frame construction method called the
Hanok hotel Ragung in Gyeongju
“2 x 4 technique.” He also made active use of hanok-style wood frames
with modern materials like copper plating in his Gangchon Training Center
design at the University of Seoul. Cho’s experiments with the inherent
structural aesthetic of wood have not been confined to hanok buildings.
Even now, he continues working to expand the range of possibilities for
building in wood.
An accurate study of the wood timber structure lays the groundwork
for understanding the space of Korean traditional architecture like hanok,
and interpreting under a modern perspective. The clubhouse of Lake
124 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Pushing the Envelope: New Ideas and Experiments 125
Gahoeheon, a hanok in Gahoe-dong designed by Hwang Doojin (top);
Fazio House at the Phoenix Springs Country Club (left); Tongin Market Art Gate (right)
© Park Youngchae
Hills Suncheon Country Club is an excellent example of a reinterpretation
of hanok. The client asked, “What is the essential quality of Korean
traditional architecture and its structure,” and architect Ken Min Sungjin
did formal and structural experimentation instead of directly mimicking
the traditional style. The intended design to express the curve of the
hanok’s eave is made into an inverted arch-shaped structure. As a result,
not only is the clubhouse able to have a long-spanned, large open space
but also displays an excellent example in reinterpreting lines and shapes
of traditional architecture in a modern way.
The architect who truly began the reinterpretation vogue was Hwang
Doojin. Hwang designed a number of buildings in the hanok village of
Gahoe-dong in Seoul, an experience that saw him analyzing the system
of wooden structures and reconstructing them in spatial terms. While his
earlier work was mainly about improving on the spatial limitations of the old
hanok, eventually he began to experiment with more modern materials and
methods in the hanok system. For the hanok banquet hall of the Phoenix
Springs Country Club in Icheon, named Fazio House, he developed a model
with a glass roof above a wooden frame; for the Tongin Market Art Gate,
he attempted a lighter structure using steel and glass. Seeing hanok as a
system rather than a simple tradition, Hwang has focused on building it into
a new kind of space, demonstrating further possibilities for the evolution of
the form. Based on this, Hwang continued to design contemporary buildings
that still retain the essence of hanok like Castle of Skywalkers.
A new tradition is taking shape: instead of simply echoing the
traditions of Korean architecture, architects are analyzing it, breaking it
down, experimenting with building a new system. It is an evolution for
modern and traditional methods alike—and an example of a style that
is uniquely Korean.
126 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Pushing the Envelope: New Ideas and Experiments 127
Peter Bartholomew:
A Passion for Hanok
Hanok preservationist Peter Bartholomew came to Korea with the U.S. Peace Corps in
1968, bringing with him his love for historic architecture. “From primary school, I had
an avid interest in old buildings,” he says. “They were made by hand and had a style
to them, and that style represented the period they were built.” Naturally enough, this
interest transferred to Korean architecture after he came to Korea. “Like everywhere in
the world, [Korean architecture] speaks of its region, of its climate, of its people, of its
economy, of its society, of family, of personal relationships, of art,” he says. “Everything
you can read through architecture.”
While Bartholomew has a keen interest in all forms of Korean traditional architecture,
he’s particularly known for his enthusiasm for hanok. “First and foremost, it’s a very
human building,” he says. “The materials are all natural, as in the case of all pre-modern
architecture. Wood, stone, clay, roof tiles and paper. So everything is very human.”
He also lauds the execution of its woodwork, resulting in a space where everything
is in perfect balance. “There’s no length, width, depth or height that is too long, wide,
deep or high in proportion to the others around it. Everything is in beautiful and perfect
balance.” The same goes for finishing of the wood. “Grooving the wood in a very
discrete, not garish way, is absolutely exquisite in terms of style as well as in execution.”
He reserves particular praise for the artistic elements of hanok. “For example, in the
sliding doors of very fine houses, the latticework on the doors is the development of a
Chinese character, which has a philosophical and poetic meaning behind it,” he says. “It
usually represents
the atmosphere or
environment the
owner wants in the
home.” Throughout
hanok you’ll also find
placards built into
the architecture with
Chinese characters,
some representing a
desired atmosphere,
and others simply
lofty ideals.
128 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Rakkojae, hanok boutique hotel in Gahoe-dong, Seoul
“Everywhere you look, there is artisan work, there is art work, there is balance and
harmony from one section of the building to the next.”
Not simply artistic, hanok is also a piece of scientific engineering. “The sunlight
pours into the building in the cold weather, and stops coming into the building in the
summertime when the sun is high,” he explains. “The way the air moves through the
building is cooling in the summer. The heating system under the floor is unique. Similar
things exist, but nothing to the extent that Korea has done it where every centimeter of
the house is heated by a wood fire you have to light only once every one to two days.”
The merging of art and science produces a house that is quite extraordinary.
Pushing the Envelope: New Ideas and Experiments 129
Further Reading
Books on K-Architecture
Websites on K-Architecture
Iwatate, Marcia et al. (2006) Korea Style. Tuttle Publishing
Korean Institute of Architects
Jackson, Ben (2012) Korean Architecture: Breathing with Nature. Seoul Selection
Korea Architects Institute
SPACE Magazine
Jung, Inha (2013) Architecture and Urbanism in Modern Korea. University of
Hawaii Press
Kim, Bongryol (2007) The Secret Spirit of Korean Architecture. Saffron Books
Kim, Dong-uk (2006) Palaces of Korea. Hollym International Corporation
Kim, Sunghong and Schmal, Peter (Eds.) (2008) Contemporary Korean
Architecture: Megacity Network. Jovis
Kim, Sunghong et al. (2012) New Horizon in Korean Architecture. Usd.
Korean Institute of Trad'l Landscape Arc (2008) Korean Traditional Landscape
Architecture. Hollym International Corporation
Lee, Sang-hae (2005) Seowon: The Architecture of Korea's Private Academies.
Hollym International Corporation
Yim, Seok-jae (2011) City as Art: 100 Notable Works of Architecture in Seoul.
Hollym International Corporation
130 K- Architecture: Tradition Meets Modernity
Further Reading 131
About the Author
Lim Jinyoung
Lim completed her bachelor’s and master’s in architecture at Sungkyunkwan
University in Seoul. Having headed the editorial team for SPACE magazine, she is
now a freelance writer, submitting pieces on Korean architecture to publications in
and out of Korea, such as MARK and AR Asian Pacific . Lim planned and edited
Faster and Bigger , a collection of architecture essays; supervised the +architect
series, editing monographs in the series for Mass Studies, Cho Byoung Soo, Woo
Kyu Sung, and Yoo Kerl. She has also edited monographs of global architects such
as HHF Architects of Switzerland and 3XN of Denmark.
Ryoo Seong Lyong
A traditional architecture professor at Keimyung University, Ryoo earned his
bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate at Korea University. He completed an
academic report for restoring Sungnyemun Gate, and helped build a modern
hanok in Dorae Hanok Village in Naju as part of a civic cultural legacy project for
the National Trust. Ryoo won a prize for academic writing from the Architectural
Institute of Korea, and jointly authored Dictionary of Concepts in Korean
Architecture (2013) and Architectural Guidebook to Seoul (2013).
Korean Culture and Information Service
Lim Jinyoung, Ryoo Seong Lyong
Colin Mouat, Ben Jackson
Edited & Designed by Seoul Selection
Front cover Daum Space.1 © Kyungsub Shin, Gyeonghuigung Palace © Robert Koehler
Back cover The former library at Konkuk University © Robert Koehler
Korea Tourism Organization 28, 29, 34, 36, 39, 45, 59, 60, 69, 72, 74, 75, 80, 82, 83, 85
Robert Koehler 4, 10, 12, 18, 26, 31, 38, 42, 47, 49, 54, 55, 62, 65, 67, 74, 76, 77, 79,
80, 86, 88, 90, 91, 93, 106, 107, 111
Ryu Seung-hoo 8, 96, 97, 122, 107, 122, 129
Yonhap Photp 20, 24, 25, 28, 37, 50, 52, 85, 124
Image Today 30, 32, 44, 53, 56, 62, 72, 84, 85

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