Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Catastrophic Losses of Korean Architecture

Peter Bartholomew shares "Untold Story" about what has tragically happened to old architectural structures in Korea. The Untold Story: 1,800 Years of Korean Architectural Heritage & History Demolished in the 20th Century (Today, Out of Sight & Out of Mind!)

The lecture at the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch was given by Peter Bartholomew, long-term resident of Korea, and one who has a passion for Korea's old architecture. His passion is so large and his interest so great that he has lived in a hanok that he has repaired and maintained. As I understand it, his hanok is actually two hanoks renovated to create a single larger structure. His floor heats the traditional way with just a few sticks of wood in the very economically functioning ondol clay-constructed floor. His passion extends beyond his own hanok and to the history and structure, and sadly, the disappearance of the hanoks throughout the Koreas. Three times he has lodged lawsuits against the Korean government in order to be allowed to remain living in one of Korea's very very few remaining hanoks still remaining in Seoul (his own house!) and three times he has won. The last time he won it seems that the Korean government is finally seeing a glimmer of importance in retaining the tiny few hanoks that still remain. What wasn't destroyed by the Japanese, and this was a considerable number, has been destroyed by the Korean government in the name of modernizing their great cities ... and country sides ... and in general, not placing value on their own rich history. 

The following is a write-up of the lecture presented by Peter and as written on the RASKB web page.

♣ Illustrated with maps, drawings (Royal Archives) & photos of sites today and during late Choseon Period to early Japanese occupation period.

Korea’s countryside in the early 20th Century - Korea was dominated everywhere by impressive walled cities, towns & villages, palatial provincial administrative centers resembling small palaces and royal palaces in the Kyongki Province region. The architecture was of palatial scale and style, similar to palaces in Seoul today.

Regrettably very little of this remains today. Most foreigners assume that Korea is a country without a significant architectural history beyond the palaces in Seoul and Buddhist temple compounds. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

During their occupation from 1910 to 1945, the Japanese authorities ordered and carried out the demolition of over 15,000 buildings in these royal compounds throughout Korea from the Manchurian border to Jeju Island, as part of their program to erase the magnificent architectural evidence of Korean independence and the authority and grandeur of the Korean royal (imperial) authority and sophistication and replace it with Japanese models.

Suwon Walled City ~ West Gate and Watch Tower
Haemi Town Walls, Gate and Defense Tower
Until very recently Korean people themselves were unaware that these royal palace and administrative compounds existed, with their magnificent walls, pavilions and monumental buildings. Fortunately, during the past 10 years there has been a movement to recover part of what has been lost. Archeological excavations are taking place nation-wide to find the remains of buildings demolished by the Japanese. Town walls and pavilions are being restored / rebuilt and some of the major buildings reconstructed, following drawings and descriptions in the Chosun Royal Archives (Kyujanggak).

This lecture introduces to the audience the vast scale of Korea’s provincial monumental architectural heritage pre-Japanese occupation using photos before demolitions and of the sites today, with explanations of the cultural, historical and architectural importance of this vast body of destroyed heritage.
The King’s chambers in Suwon Palace (“Haeng Kung”)
Peter Bartholomew has lived in Korea continuously since 1968 and has engaged in the study of Korean history, culture and architecture during most of that time. During the late 1960’s to early 70’s he lived in Kangnung on the estate of a branch of the Chosun Dynasty royal family and was privileged to learn in depth about Chosun period culture from the owner, a lady born in the late 1890’s. Since that time Peter has continued his research in the field and now is well known as an activist for heritage architecture preservation. In 2011 he received the Sejong Citation for Contributions to Korean Culture (from the Lee Myung Bak government) and now serves on the President Committee for Cultural Enrichment (문화융성위원회), working for improvement of better understanding of Korea’s traditional cultural attributes.

1870 Royal Archives Administrative Drawing: Anju Royal Provincial Government Center
Jeju Royal Administration Centre
Remaining buildings of the Songchon Royal Administrative Compound ~ 1930s
The content Peter Bartholomew shared is phenomenal and I think I can fairly say that no other person is more passionate about traditional Korean architecture. Peter's wealth of knowledge on the subject is daunting, as can be seen from the detail in numbers and organization in the following slides from his presentation. (Actually this presentation was Part II. I'm sorry to miss Part I. Where was I that I would miss such information?!?) 
[click on pictures to enlarge]

Images and Maps: Monumental Architecture (circa 1910 - 1930s)

There are no original Haeng Kung remaining in Korea. All 15 palaces were demolished.
The only example standing is the recently reconstructed "Hwaseong Haeng Gung" in Suwon.

Kyeongbokgung - In 1945 after the Japanese occupation and prior to the Korean War only 12 structures remained out of 300+.

Demolitions in Seoul after 1954:
  • All "Pyeol Gung" except Unhyeon Kung
  • Sungrye Mun (South Gate in 1962 and recently rebuilt)
  • Stone structures: bridges and city wall, especially Cheonggye Stream
  • Chong Chin Bu (Office of Royal Household)
  • Kum Ui Yeong (built early 1600s)
  • Vernacular buildings (residences and commercial bridges)

Cheonggye Stream's 10 stone bridges, retaining walls and stream bed paving
  • The stream - first constructed during 1400s
  • Demolition starting from late 1950s
  • Major destruction during 1969-1970
  • 2005-2006 final remains removed from the current Cheonggye Stream "restoration"

a stone bridge of Cheonggye Stream before demolition/removal

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