The architecture of ancient Korea


Laerke Andersen editor (Denmark)


If you’ve ever wandered the streets of South Korea, you may have come across some of their traditional buildings. A place where you can experience the architecture of ancient Korea is at the Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul. The first time I travelled to Korea, I visited the village along with a few temples and I was immediately stunned by the details and the hard work there’s been put into the buildings. If you’re like me and think that the traditional Korean architecture is interesting, and you want to know more - then this article is for you.


First of all, if you aren’t familiar with the term: “Hanok”, it’s simply a traditional Korean house. They were first designed and build in the 14th century, and the architecture is based on a combination of wood and stone. These days, most of the Hanoks that are still used for housing have modern facilities installed within. Originally a Hanok was used to refer to all traditional Korean buildings - such as Buddhist temples and royal palaces but today its generally limited to private houses.


What are Hanoks made from?


There are two things about the Hanok. The first is “ondol” which is a heating system that allows the fire in the furnace of a kitchen to pass under the floor. Some houses also have a layer of stones beneath the flooring to keep yourself warm during the cold Korean winters. Then there’s “maru” which is designed to keep the house cool during summer. The second attractive point to a Hanok house is that they’re environmentally friendly. The materials used for building a Hanok are free from chemicals and the window frames, doors, pillars etc. are wooden. Besides that, the walls are a mixture of natural building materials. Because a Hanok is built of mainly wood, the house is very vulnerable to fire and therefore not many architects would place these two elements together. But due the both hot and humid air in the summer and cold and dry air in the winter, the Korean people were forced to develop a method were both heating and cooling could coexist. This also makes the Hanok a very unique piece of architecture. 


The design of a Hanok


The architecture isn’t of sole importance in the design and construction. It’s more important how the Hanok relates to the environment around. Each Hanok has its own various features and is built according to regional environments - such as distance and direction of land, mountains etc. The ideal position for a Hanok is to be built with a mountain in the back and a river in the front. Physical and visual harmony between the architecture and the building is considered very important. This isn’t very common in Western countries where the architecture is usually designed to stand out from its surroundings.

The architecture of a Hanok is a beautiful sight to see but one of the things I’m stunned by is the details of the roof. The colorful patterns and the different shapes and sizes of the wood. The chosen colors aren’t actually coincidental - they’re following the “O-bang“ color which is a traditional combination of 5 colors. You can easily see how much work there’s been put into every detail of the buildings. Also, Infrastructure, public design and urban development has brought about tremendous changes in Korea’s infrastructure. Skyskrabers, modern architecture and busy city lives. Within all of that there’s the traditional side of Korea integrated with nature and culture which many tourists and also nationals find beautiful and worth a visit. 

Laerke Andersen editor (Denmark)