Thursday, November 5, 2015

A History of Korean Housing

The Korea Foundation offered a series of lectures on Korean architecture, and I jumped at the opportunity to take be a participant in the five lectures. Tonight the speaker was Professor Jeong BongHee, Phd in Architecture working at Seoul National University. I've heard many western presenters on the topic of the hanok, but here was a chance to hear an entire lecture series on Korean architecture, and this lecture targeted the development of the hanok. Of particular interest on Professor Jeong's professional career printout, I was particularly fascinated to see his recent research interests on Korean architecture:

  • The Usage of Traditional Roof Frame and Fire Prevention Design in the Deajojeon Complex Reconstruction in Changdeokgung during the 1917 to 1921 period (2004)
  • The Time of the Effect of Neighborhood Unit Principle to the Planning of Residential Areas in Seoul in the Japanese Colonial Times (2011)
  • A Study on the Transformation of the Old Palatial Buildings into Hospitals (2012)
  • characteristics of Communalization of Government Managing Apartment Houses Built in Korean from the 1960's to the Early 1970's (2012)
  • A Parametric Modeling Methodology Optimized for Korean Traditional House (2012)

He also listed five books as being authored by himself, and the content of this lecture on the history of the hanok comes from his 2012 book, Hanok and the History of Korean House.

Definition of the hanok

Against the expectations, the term hanok was not coined so long ago. With the opening of ports to outside influences, the term was coined to separate Korean traditional housing structures from foreign modern architecture. Similarly, hanbok and hansik were coined to specify the difference between the indigenous and that of the outside. The terms hanok and yangok -- western-style house -- were first shown together in "Papers about Houses" written in 1908.

So, what is the most distinctive difference between hanok and yangok? Hanok adopts Chinese wooden architecture, which separates it from western and other architectural styles that tend to incorporate bricks, masonry, logs and styles employing iron elements. In Chinese wooden architecture which was used in Korea, China and Japan, wooden brackets and beams were fitted together only through the use of 90-degree angles in order to support the weight of a roof. These structures were supported by wooden columns and regimented distances denoting the khan, a measurement used in sizing buildings and ultimately gathering rooms.

Hanok architecture in a government office or a house are shoe-less gathering places, that is, they must be maintained as clean spaces separate from the outdoors and places of comfort and relaxation. Hanok use both ondol and maru to acclimate to summer and winter. The evolution of the hanok to incorporate the economical heating system has taken hundreds, if not, thousands of years.

Development of hanok in prehistoric and ancient excavation sites

The first ancient homes in Korea are presumed to be those of partially dugout spaces covered by grass roofs. In ancient times, semi-permanent houses were constructed with columns and walls built on the hard-packed earth and having thick, hard tiled roofs.

The early ondol were seen in Manchuria and the Maritime Province of Siberia, and covered only a portion of the ground, much like the heating in today's Kang of Northeast China. It is assumed that by the middle of the Goryeo dynasty, ondol encompassed the entire floor of the typical dwelling. An example of this has been excavated at the Hoeamsa Temple constructed during the Goryeo dynasty.

Maru has two origin stories. The first is, the maru has its roots in a raised cottage which can be built on slanted ground or over a body of water. Such examples of maru appear in Southeastern China, Japan, and South-east Asia. The raised floors were essential for keeping pests and vermin out while provided some circulation of air to ease the effects of humidity. In the second story, the maru is a cognate of marae, maru, mari and meori, which have meanings as being high and noble. In this sense, the maru is assumed to originate from a sanctum, the venue where people pray and perform ancestral rites.

Development of hanok in medieval times

Ondol, maru and 'kitchen' have different forms of floor. Ondol have hard, warm, clean and smooth floors using plaster over flat stones laid on gas ducts. Maru have rough and dry wooden floors, and 'kitchen' have unclean earthen floor on which a furnace is built and water and possibly waste flow. Therefore, combining all three floor structures in the larger building structure took development.

Putting the ondol and maru together was the conventional tradition. The Maeng clan house following the house styles of Goryeo dynasty and that of the royal bedchamber show a good example of this combination.

In houses for commoners, however, combining ondol and 'kitchen' -- that is, living and cooking -- became the established trend. 'A three-room house with a straw-thatched roof' was the representative house style in Joseon dynasty; it had the lower-floored kitchen and the uniquely efficient wood-burning stove, the buttumak, which was used for both cooking and heating of rooms. The buttumak was instrumental in heating the ondol floor in the two rooms of the typical peasant house. Peasant houses did not have maru as a house needed at least four bays (?) in order to have such a construction.

By the middle of the Joseon dynasty, the hanok with the minimum of four bays had become the established norm. The typical layout of the minimal four-bay hanok was 'kitchen-room-maru-room', but this arrangement differed by region as the hanok were built to best suit the climate and topographical differences in the various Korean regions.

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Development of social features affecting architectural styles

In the latter part of the Joseon dynasty harsh policies and clannishness brought about distinctive changes in the hanok architectural structure. Hanok structures were affected by clan communities where people having the same surname and place of family origin lived together and established clan tell-tale architecture markings. Tile roofs, symbols of elevated society, were replacing straw roofs, but the additional weight meant roof extensions had to be shortened. Lengthier roofs protected walls from the ravaging effects of rain and space outside of rooms with heated ondol floors, particularly in summer, were desired, so the toenmaru, the attached floor or rather the space around the house, was added and overhead the roof was extended to protect this outside living space.

The toenmaru extended the hanok and strengthened its function as living space. Thus, the toenmaru allowed the family to move its work space, shrine and communal facilities outside of the house. Clan villages shared its communal functions also, and a shrine for the same ancestor, a school, monuments, a well, a washing place and a square were constructed in a village having the head family house at the nucleus. Of course the head family had a higher floor and/or larger structure than other hanok to give physical credence to the elevated status of the clan head.

Urban hanok, modern times

With port openings, even in the early days, foreigners -- diplomats, missionaries, soldiers -- engaged in commerce or light industry, and to meet their needs they created and introduced a new style of architecture, which gradually transformed the traditional cityscape.

Since Seoul was over-populated even before the opening of the port, and urban dwellers didn't farm, they didn't have spacious yards. To best fit in the confined city spaces, the hanok were built with ㄱ ㄷ shaped structures and rarely had fences. Most Seoul hanok in those modern times consisted of the centralized main building and to the side the servants' quarter, which was built against the wall surrounding the main building and the garden.

With the industrialization and urbanization in the mid 1920's, the population of Seoul grew substantially, causing a housing shortage. In effect, houses were built by the dozens and were started to be traded as a ready-made commodity.

The ready-made urban hanok had several particular features. First, the standard living-plan type of house was created by forecasting prospective buyers, and accordingly, living styles of urban residents became stereotyped. The second, framework in mass production became standardized, not to mention extravagant architectural decorations and materials -- e.g. foreign materials like glass and zinc -- were frequently used. These houses had ㄷ-shape with several such housing constructions stood side by side.

Western style houses, the yangok

After the Korean War the mass construction of western-style houses began. Typically Western-style houses were built with concrete blocks and bricks. As yet, Korean people preferred the hanok, and the construction of hanok continued till the 1960s in provincial cities.

With the enactment of the Act on Comprehensive Plan of National Land Construction in the early 1960s, the construction of wooden buildings was restricted, yet the balance between supply and demand for timber became increasingly disrupted. In result, construction of the hanok was halted in Seoul and other regions and the yangok -- built primarily with bricks and concrete with only small pieces of wood used in the framing of windows -- became the housing construction of choice.

By this time, indoor revisions were altering the traditional structure inside the house -- indoor flush toilets and shared living room-dining room-kitchen (LDK, combination of kitchen and living room) appeared. With the indoor kitchen, gas or oil, separated from fuel for heating, was used for cooking. The new style of house had a centralized layout with the living room at the center of the other rooms. This layout was adopted by apartment constructions which became widely popularized after the mid-1970's. In the centralized layout, the living room formed the central space and inherited the role and status of the rural hanok courtyard.

The apartment continued to change the inner living space. Since the mid-1990's, a unique wooden floor called ondol-maru has been used for bedrooms, the living room and the kitchen. Ondol-maru is a new floor type having the same surface as the maru while having the same heating system as the ondol in hanok. Therefore, the apartment of today inherits space organization of the traditional hanok and integrates the three types of floor by constructing a living room at the center (a replacement for the courtyard), and the ondol-maru as the single-leveled floor space which includes the kitchen.

New trend of hanok

In the end of the 1990's, the number of apartment units started to exceed that of detached houses. In 2007, the apartment became the largest housing unit, accounting for more than half of the total number of housing units, especially as high-rise apartments efficiently use small earth spaces. Despite the need for earth space to create hanok, their eco-friendly structure with elements of green spaces around are now desirable, and therefore, projects are set in motion to recreate hanok in commercial and public spaces along with the movement to preserve or construct hanok villages, like that of Bukchon Hanok Village.

Such new created hanok can be classified as follows:

"Authentic hanok" which recreates the appearance and configuration of traditional hanok while adopting aspects of modern facilities and materials. "Authentic hanok" are constructed by carpenters who carry on the legacy of artisans from traditional times.

"Modern hanok" are designed by architects. "Modern hanok" combine traditional forms of hanok with the modern architect's interpretation. The function of the "modern hanok" is not limited to a residence but accommodates diverse usage.

"Korean traditional room" in a modern building, that is, for example, an ondol room that a hotel might offer to extend the usage beyond sleeping facility to a floor or space with multi-purposes.

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