The Korean House - 2.2 Formation of Ancient Society and House Patt erns

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Understanding Korea Series No.5
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1) Prehistoric Dwelling Sites of the Korean Peninsula 2) Formation of Ancient Society and House Patt erns 1) Ondol and Completion of the Traditional Hanok

The appearance of the ancient kingdoms coincided with the construction of megastructures such as the fortress walls and tombs. Around the first century BCE, Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla were established, and they began developing the ancient kingdom system around the third and fourth centuries. As the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), the ancient Chinese Kingdom, expanded its territory, the advanced architectural technique for building wooden structures was imported to the Korean peninsula.

UKS05 Korean House img 102.jpg

The wooden structures were formed by joining wooden pillars and beams to the frame of the roof, and then the roof was covered by roof tiles. Between the two columns, the wall was made of earth or wooden boards. Different windows and doors were installed depending on the local weather. This Chinese wooden structure had a great adaptability to climates and a quakeproof structure that was made from affordable construction materials such as stone, wood, and earth. Therefore, this structural method became widespread in mainland China, on the Korean peninsula, and in Japan. However, this advanced technique was only applied to certain facilities such as palaces and religious facilities. Commoners still dwelled in the pit-houses, similar to those of previous generations.

After the establishment of the ancient kingdoms during the Iron Age, the size of the pit-houses was expanded and the rectangular floor plan became more complex as well. Some such complex floor plans were in the shapes of Chinese characters 凸 (cheol) and 呂 (yeo). These shapes became the basis for floor plans that made it possible to extend the entrance area of the house or separate two interior spaces within the same house. Moreover, the floor level of the pit-houses built during this period became even shallower, only 10–20 centimeters below ground level. Also, the foundation stone was installed to hold pillars instead of placing posts directly on the ground, to block the pillars from sinking into the ground.

Sites of stilt houses from this period have also been found. These houses had one to three bays on the long side and one to two bays on the short side. These buildings were usually very small, with each bay being about two meters in width and length, and were generally used as a storage space. House-shaped earthenware discovered in the southern region of Korea is a great example that shows the general appearance of this stilt house. On the front side of the house was a ladder to enter the elevated floor, with the ladder being held up on the stakes. The gabled roof was installed with roof tiles. A description of this type of stilt house can be found in ancient Chinese literary records. For instance, in the Book of Wei, the records of the Wei Dynasty (220–265) during the Chinese Three Kingdoms period, there are chapters about people residing in the east of China and Goguryeo that confirm the widespread use of stilt houses as storage spaces.

In the pit-houses of the Iron Age, an early form of ondol was discovered fully intact. There was a furnace or a cooking stove called an agungi inside the house with an elongated yeondol (flue) on the floor that was connected to a simple chimney outside the house. In particular, some cases had different forms such as L-shaped yeondol and those installed alongside the walls. In China, this kind of ondol was called kang (炕) and was used as a bed. Kang were used from ancient times up until the Qing Dynasty in Manchuria and the northern Chinese regions. The biggest difference between an ondol and a kang is that an ondol is used to heat an entire floor space while a kang is only used to heat up a portion of a room.

This limited application of an advanced architectural technique used only in palaces and religious facilities gradually expanded to the upper-class homes and then to all houses. Detailed examples of upper-class housing have been found in the mural paintings in the tombs of Goguryeo, dating back to around the fourth century. These mural paintings depict the layout of the house of the person occupying the tomb. One upper-class house was composed of several buildings with each building serving different functions. The mural painting found in the antechamber of Anak Tomb No. 3 in Hwanghae-do (North Korea) is one such example. This shows various subsidiary buildings of a house, such as a kitchen, a meat storage unit, a stable, a barn, a rice mill, and a garage. The size of buildings was small, fitting one to three bays in each. All buildings were constructed with wooden pillars and beams with roof tiles. The main building for the person occupying the tomb was not described in the painting; instead, the burial chamber is speculated to have been the main structure. A similar layout was found in the recently excavated site in Gyeongju, the capital of Silla. At this site, a house was composed of seven to ten individual buildings that were constructed on a rectangular area surrounded by fences and a main gate. Each building had a maximum of three bays. There were even some sites with personal wells.

Excavation site in Gyeongju, which was the capital of Silla

A similar style of house from the same period—a residential structure composed of several small buildings—was also found in China. House-shaped pottery excavated in a tomb from the Han Dynasty showed that several small buildings had once been positioned around the courtyard to form a house. Called siheyuan (四合院), or Chinese quadrangle, this style continued to exist until the Ming and Qing Dynasties and became known as traditional Chinese housing. Korean houses, in contrast, transformed into having one building with more complex floor plans during the Middle Ages due to the use of ondol system.

The Samguk Sagi (c.1145)

In the Samguk Sagi (三國史記, History of the Three Kingdoms), a piece of historical literature written during the Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392), there is a section titled “Chapter on Houses (屋舍條)” that describes ancient houses in even more detail. This book also outlines the housing regulations of Silla, which were strictly defined for each social stratum since Silla had a rigid social hierarchy. Therefore, the size, construction materials, architectural decorations, and facilities available were limited by one’s social standing. For example, members of the royal family were allowed to decorate their houses using silk window blinds, tortoiseshell-decorated furniture, and decorative ridge-end tiles. Also they were allowed to construct buildings that were over 24 cheok (a unit of measure similar to a foot), or over seven meters, wide. Moreover, royal homes were also able to employ advanced architectural techniques, including wooden brackets called gongpo that were installed at the top of the columns for both decoration and structural reinforcement. The inclusion of such details means that advanced architectural techniques that were previously limited to the construction of palaces and religious facilities began to be applied to houses.

Understanding Korea Series No.5 A Cultural History of the Korean House

Foreword · Introduction

1. Nature & Culture of Korea

2. The Beginnings of the Korean House · 2.1 Prehistoric Dwelling Sites of the Korean Peninsula · 2.2 Formation of Ancient Society and House Patt erns

3. Hanok: The Formation of the Traditional Korean House · 3.1 Ondol and Completion of the Traditional Hanok · 3.2 Types of Hanok · ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES THAT REFLECT REGIONAL CHARACTERISTICS


5. Integration with Modern Culture · 5.1 New Housing Types aft er the Opening of Ports · EXPOSITIONS AND THE CULTURE HOUSE · 5.2 Transformation of Hanok in the City · AN EXAMPLE OF URBAN-TYPE HANOK: GAHOE-DONG · 5.3 The Emergence of Multifamily Housing · THE TERM APARTMENT|THE TERM APARTMENT|THE TERM APARTMENT

6. Modern Korean Housing · 6.1 Transformation in Korean Housing aft er Liberation · VARIOUS FEATURES OF THE URBAN DETACHED HOUSE · 6.2 The Popularization of the Apartment · SUPPLY OF APARTMENT COMPLEXES

7. The Present and Future of Korean Housing · CHANGES IN INTERIOR SPACES OF APARTMENTS

Glossary · About the Author