Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hanok: A Sociological Perspective

The Korea Foundation hosted a series of lectures on Korean architecture for 50 or so foreigners who expressed interest. Of course I jumped at the chance. This lecture is specific to the hanok and some sociological factors in the construction of that building style.  Professor Han Jae-su, professor of architectural engineering at Halla University, was the presenter. He gave us a handout that he used as the backbone of his presentation (written in full below), and on his abbreviated resume which he also gave to us, he listed one of his books, which might prove rather interesting for someone interested in the Joseon architecture and can also read Korean:  "Secret of the Capital of Goryeo, Gaekyung".

Joseon Society and Lifestyle Reflected in Hanok

The Korean people have long placed an emphasis on discipline, which serves as a cornerstone of Confucian practices. During the Joseon Dynasty, this respect for discipline came to be reflected in the living space of people. The Joseon Dynasty social order included the king and royal family at the top, followed by five social classes: yangban, joong-in, yigyo, yangin and cheonin, in addition to Buddhist monks.

The yangban elite class included dongban, government officials, and seoban, military officers, who were classified into nine ranks. The yangban resided in houses known as ban-ga.

Below the yangban was the joong-in class of professionals that included physicians and technical specialists who did not maintain an official position. The yigyo class, which included people engaged in certain occupations, was lower than the classes of officials and professionals. The yang-in class included the common people, while the cheon-in class was at the bottom of the social order and enjoyed little opportunity for any kind of social advancement.

The royal compounds, known as gung (palace - of which there are only five total), have a similar construction style as the yangban residences and its women's quarters, but with a larger scale in order to house members of the royal family and their servants. As compared to minor palaces, the major palaces feature a prominent throne hall to signify the king's authority.

The layout of temple grounds has been based on the design of royal palace compounds since the Three Kingdoms Period, with Daewoongjeon, the temple's main building, being surrounded by living quarters. However, the halls where Buddhist services are conducted are noticeably different from the buildings within the palace grounds.

Homes of the yangban upper class featured a soseuldaemun main gate that was high enough for a palanquin to pass through. The upper class had the financial means to build large-size houses which included great attention to functionality as well as aesthetic considerations. A lower-class household, regardless of its accumulated wealth, lived in a middle-class home, but those of the upper class without financial means might live in humble house. [Size of home specific to social class was tightly regulated.]

Min-ga refers to the homes of the people, but the term was generally used to describe the house of a commoner of the middle and lower classes. A straw-thatched roof was the representative characteristic of a commoner's house. The houses of commoners came in various sizes and layouts according to the local topography, climate, and economic status of a region. Especially climate was a major factor. Commoners were not affluent enough to decorate their houses so attention was paid to functionality and simplicity. Nevertheless, the basic structure for a hanok includes three kan, the square area formed by four support posts, which served as kitchen, living room, and daechung, a wood-floor veranda.

Rooms were secluded and regarded as private areas, in contrast to the daechung's function as a reception area for guests. Traditionally, the living room was a multipurpose space where people ate meals and slept on a floor paved with flat stones, rather than a bed. People sat on cushions rather than chairs so the floor needed to always be swept clean and people would remove their shoes before entering the room.

The hanok includes distinctive features, which resulted form efforts to adapt to the natural environment and social conditions. Even for a house built on a hillside, the ground would be left in its original state. Natural stone blocks were used for the foundation. The hanok's construction materials mainly included wood and earth. The most unique features of the hanok are its innovative ondol, an under-floor heating system, maru, a wooden floor area that helped to regulate the interior temperature all year around, and overhanging eaves.

Houses are positioned to face south for temperature and lighting considerations. Overhanging eaves reduce exposure to direct sunlight during summer and the upward curved rafters provide an aesthetic harmony to the overall construction. Arrangement of buildings was asymmetric with a courtyard area in between structures. Even when building on a sloping ground, the land would not be leveled off. Main buildings would be placed on the higher ground and the other structures on the lower level. Rooms as well included upper and lower sides.

Some of my quickie notes:

  • The prototype of the Korean house has three parts: (1) kitchen, (2) private room, (3) maru (unheated wooden floor where people take a rest).
  • The Korean traditional house is classified by the type of material that is used:
  • rice straw for the roof - 조가 
  • pine tree - 노와 
  • tile - 기와 
  • They are also classified by the building patterns employed in their construction: ㄱ ... ㅁ ... ㅂ ... ㄷ ...ㄹ - These are the patterns traditionally used in constructing hanok.
  • The royal palace (궁) was the venue where the king, his mother, grandmother and his wife lived. The 궁궐 or 궐 was where the king carried out his official affairs and was the core building of the palace ground. The living quarters in the 궁  and the official compartments (궐) were dissimilar in construction reflecting their intended purpose.
  • Bureaucrats lived in ㄷ ... ㅂ ... ㅁ ... shaped houses.
  • Middle-class, like those in 북천 lived in ㅁ-shaped houses. Houses constructed in the 1920s for the middle-class were ㅁ ... ㄷ ... ㅂ shaped.

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