The Korean House - Introduction
|Understanding Korea Series No.5|
|← Previous||A Cultural History of the Korean House||Next →|
|Foreword||Introduction||1. Nature & Culture of Korea|
Located on the edge of Eurasia, the Korean Peninsula is located next to mainland China and faces Japan across the Korea Strait. Korea and Japan developed their own architecture under the influence of ancient Chinese architectural culture, occupying wooden post-lintel structures in general. Especially, houses of Korea, Japan, and China show distinctive traits in terms of site plans, interior spaces, and space usage.
The most distinctive feature that differentiates Korean houses from those of other countries would be ondol and its derivatives. Ondol is a floor heating system consisting of underfloor flues connected to the furnace. It was invented around the twelfth century at the latest and came into wide use for the next several centuries in the whole Korean Peninsula. Ondol is a unique feature of Korean houses as it can be found all over Korea, but not in other countries.
Ondol played a significant role in the spatial layout and unit formation of Korean houses. First, ondol ensured a clean interior space in which Koreans could take off their shoes and cultivated the floor-sitting culture. Also, all interior spaces were wisely connected to each other to allow convenient passage without shoes.
Therefore, it is possible to categorize the history of the Korean house into two periods: before and after the invention of ondol. Even the modern alterations of Korean housing are highly influenced by the improvement of ondol. Western-style houses were introduced in the early twentieth century, but due to the preference for ondol, traditional Korean houses were more commonly built until the 1960s. However, as the modern floor-heating system with hot water pipes coiled underfloor was developed in the mid-1970s, Koreans could keep their unique living style of taking off shoes inside and warm floors, even in high-rise apartments. This Korean apartment has diffused rapidly since the 1980s, and currently, over half of Koreans live in apartments.
This book introduces English readers to the history of the Korean house through several time periods. Chapter 1 explains the nature and geography of the Korean Peninsula. There are four distinct seasons, and the year-round temperature difference reaches up to 28°C. Therefore, individual houses have been optimized for both summer and winter.
Chapters 2 and 3 give overviews of the housing history, from the ancient to the pre-modern periods, focusing on differences between before and after the invention of ondol. Even though ancient housing cannot be described accurately due to lack of evidence, that the housing complex consisted of small buildings dispersed in one boundary can be presumed from excavations and historical records. After the invention of ondol, Korean housing underwent a process of combining separate buildings. Distinctive spatial features of Korean housing, namely, ondol, maru, and the kitchen were combined through this process. Chapter 4 reviews the characteristic layouts and architectural features of Korean traditional housing, focusing on those of the seventeenth to nineteenth.
Chapters 5 and 6 introduce modern housing types that emerged after opening ports. Chapter 5 discusses the alteration of traditional housing types and introduction of western-style modern houses. Chapter 6 reviews the alternative housing types that emerged with the disappearance of traditional houses in the metropolitan area due to rapid economic development.
Chapter 7, as a conclusion, analyzes general changes in housing according to the transformation of Korean society. It responds to the questions concerning the future of Korean housing in transition from a patrilineal society to a nuclear-family-based society with an increasing number of single-person families, or the status of apartments serving as the representative Korean housing type.
I would like to thank all those who contributed to this publication. In particular, I extend my thanks to Lee SooNeon and Do Youn-jung of my laboratory, both of whom assisted me in profiling raw materials and completing this publication. I would like to thank Carol Shin for English translation, and Chae Uri from my laboratory for proofreading. I am also indebted to the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS) for great efforts to introduce Korean culture abroad. Although I have always felt the necessity for an English-language history book on the Korean house, it was the AKS who planned and asked me to write it. I am particularly grateful to Kim Euisik of the AKS who were in charge of this publication. Finally, sincere appreciation goes to the staff of Seoul Selection, whose support was invaluable in making this publication complete.