The Korean House - 3.1 Ondol and Completion of the Traditional Hanok
|Understanding Korea Series No.5|
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|2) Formation of Ancient Society and House Patt erns||1) Ondol and Completion of the Traditional Hanok||2) Types of Hanok|
The most impressive spatial feature of the Korean house, the ondol, is thought to to have been invented around the twelfth century in the middle of the Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392). The oldest ondol ever discovered is from the thirteenth century. There are, however, historical documents from the twelfth century that make mention of rooms that experts assume to have had ondol systems, therefore there is still a possibility of finding even older evidence of ondol use in the future.
At first, the ondol was mainly used by the elderly and the sick from the upper class. According to many different historical documents of the Joseon Dynasty, there were debates about the proper use of ondol systems. Another historical document from the seventeenth century states that the ondol was not widely used on Jeju Island, the southernmost region of Korea. For this reason, it can be concluded that ondol technology had spread throughout the Korean peninsula by the seventeenth century.
Once the ondol system was adopted for rooms, the interior floors were replaced with clean heated stone surfaces that would be raised above the ground level of the courtyard. An ondol floor not only brought about changes in the spatial composition of the room but also influenced the overall characteristics and spatial features of the house. For example, an ondol room and the kitchen needed to be located next to each other because, in order to save fuel, a single fire was used to both heat the ondol and cook for the family. To serve this dual purpose, the buttumak, a cooking pit over a fireplace, was created. A fire lit in the agungi would then heat up a pot held directly above it. While the fire heated the pot, the hot air it generated would pass through the horizontal flue that ran beneath the room’s floor, warming up the ondol room above it. Finally, the heated air would escape outside through a chimney located outside the house. Because of this system, the floor of an ondol room is typically at least 90 centimeters above the earthen floor of the kitchen and the agungi. Thus, unless the earthen floor of the kitchen has been positioned below ground level, the floor of the ondol room is always positioned much higher than ground level.
To get on the raised ondol room floor from the ground level, one should take off one’s shoes and step on to the raised floor. To facilitate this process, a stylobate and a stepping stone would generally not be sufficient unless the additional maru was installed. As a result, either a toenmaru (a narrow wooden porch) or a marubang (wooden-floored room) would be constructed next to the ondol room. Therefore, people would step on the stylobate first, leave their shoes on the stepping stone, and enter an ondol room by passing through the maru.
Once people entered the level of the ondol room, they preferred not to climb more stairs or put on their shoes again, which is why all interior living spaces in Korean houses were designed to be on the same level, with the exception of the kitchen, and why every function was put into one megastructure as much as possible, instead of separated into several buildings.
The three fundamental spaces that make up a house are the ondol rooms, the maru, and the kitchen. In such a home, the ondol rooms would constitute the private living space, the maru would be the communal space for the family, and the kitchen would be a necessary space for the preparation of meals. Although these three spaces were the requisites for every house, not all houses had these three features in one building at the earlier stage. This is because only houses over a certain size could feasibly have all three spaces. In addition, there were technical difficulties associated with trying to incorporate these three distinctive spaces into one building.
The first spatial integration can be seen in the houses composed of ondol rooms and maru only. As seen in the House of the Maeng Clan in Asan, one of the oldest Korean traditional houses that still exists today, many pavilions from the early Joseon Dynasty consisted of only ondol rooms and maru. The king’s residence in the palace and the sarangchae, a detached quarters for upper-class men, were usually built using this style because it was unnecessary to place a kitchen within the building of upper-class men. Given that kitchens were typically the workplace of servants or women, they were generally constructed separately.
From the perspective of commoners, however, the integration of ondol rooms and a kitchen was much more practical. The best-known housing layout for commoners of the Joseon Dynasty, called a “three-bay thatched house” (choga samgan, 草家三間), included a kitchen and two ondol rooms. There also existed smaller houses with one kitchen and one ondol room. These types of houses were too small to have maru, and instead would typically only have small toenmaru at the front of the ondol room.
In order to have a house with all three fundamental spatial requisites of ondol room, maru and kitchen, a minimum of four bays were required. These houses are found in middle-class housing of the Joseon Dynasty. The layout of these four bays was as follows: a kitchen was located on one end of the house, with the ondol room, maru, and another ondol room placed beside it, in this order. Other facilities such as a toilet, a barn, and a storage space were built separately.
While ondol rooms and a kitchen are basic necessities for living, a maru is a luxury that is only constructed in houses with more than four bays. A maru is a hardwood-floored room without a heating system, so it is hardly used during the wintertime. It is, however, an honorable place where ancestral tablets are kept and the ancestral rites are performed. A maru located at the center of the house, called a daecheong, is especially significant. This space is used for holding important family events such as weddings, and also serves as a dining room or a reception room for guests, with some families storing a wooden rice chest in this space. In large houses, there are more maru rooms than ondol rooms, and they are used for storage and relaxation.
These characteristics of maru are derived from two origins. One is the stilt house. For the most part, the primitive stilt house—a space with its floor resting on top of four posts driven directly into the ground—was originally used as a grain warehouse. Over time, however, its function transformed into that of a lookout shed called wondumak and a summer pavilion called jeongja. A watchtower that was constructed for military purposes can also be traced to this same origin. These watchtowers had raised floors to prevent them from facing any direct threat while their occupants searched for approaching enemies or just took in the scenery. Traditional stilt-style houses were not limited to Korea but can also be found all over the world, especially in the coastal and mountainous regions of Southeast Asia.
Another origin of the maru is a low wooden bench called pyeongsang (榻 or 床) which can be easily seen in the Goguryeo mural paintings. Pyeongsang is a low raised maru to sit on without shoes. Even though the height of the floor is not that much higher than the ground, people who could sit on the pyeongsang were of the upper class. So semantically, low maru is similar to the platform. Adding to this, linguistically, the word “maru” has a common etymological origin with some words such as sanmaru (ridge of the mountain), meori (person’s head), and mari (head of animal). Therefore, maru has a connotation of being a high and noble space compared to its surroundings. It carries both practical value and symbolic significance, as explained above.
Expanding the size of the house meant an expansion of room size as well as an increase in the number of ondol rooms, maru, and kitchens within the house. If the house had five bays, then this meant that the maru or ondol room would become two bays wide. Moreover, any houses with four to seven bays would be designed with their rooms in a straight line, while larger houses would have complex floor plans. During the Joseon Dynasty, the upper-class houses usually had thirty to sixty bays, while members of the royal family had mansions with over one hundred bays. In these large-scale houses, it was nearly impossible to place everything in a single building, so various other spaces were built separately according to different functions. The anchae, for example, was the main quarters for the family and where women usually stayed. The sarangchae was where men would typically receive guests and supervise all of the housework. Other buildings included a shrine where ancestral tablets were kept and ancestral rites were performed, a storage space, a stable, and servants’ quarters. As the overall size of a house grew, every other space, including the ondol rooms, maru, and kitchens, would also become bigger. Accordingly, large maru sized between six and eight bays wide and kitchens and ondol rooms sized four to six bays wide started to appear during this period.