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Housing

Housing

Housing

Korean people have developed unique architectural techniques to build housing that is properly adapted to the surrounding natural environment, providing dwellers with better protection. A distinctive feature of the Hanok (traditional Korean house) is an underfloor heating system called ondol. Literally meaning “warm stones” and developed during the prehistoric period, ondol refers to the system of channels running beneath the stone floor of a room through which heat is delivered from the fireplace in the kitchen. It is also designed to effectively draw out the smoke through the under-the-floor passages connected to the chimney.

Hanok, traditional Korean houses: <i>Seobaekdang</i>, the head residence of the Gyeongju Sohn clan, in Yangdong Village located in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province

Hanok, traditional Korean houses: Seobaekdang, the head residence of the Gyeongju Sohn clan, in Yangdong Village located in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province



Another important element of the traditional Korean house is the board-floored room (maru) located at the center and used for multiple purposes. The room is usually larger than other rooms and is raised from the ground to allow air to freely circulate under it, creating a cool living environment during the warm summer season. The smart system combining ondol and maru makes the traditional Korean house a comfortable living space for its residents not only in the harsh winter but also in the scorching summer. The roof is typically covered with either ceramic tiles or thatching. While most of the roof tiles are dark gray, some exhibit more vibrant colors as demonstrated, for example, by the Official Residence of the Korean President Cheong Wa Dae, which literally means “Blue House” because, as the name shows, it is covered by blue roof tiles.

Hanok, traditional Korean houses: The ancient house of Yun Jeung, a Confucian scholar of the late Joseon (1392-1910) period, situated in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, also called <i>Myeongjae Gotaek</i> after his pen name

Hanok, traditional Korean houses: The ancient house of Yun Jeung, a Confucian scholar of the late Joseon (1392-1910) period, situated in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, also called Myeongjae Gotaek after his pen name



While traditional Korean houses are generally wooden structures, they can survive as long as other buildings made with other materials if properly taken care of. Built in 1363, Geungnakjeon Hall of Bongjeongsa Temple in Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do, for instance, is Korea’s oldest remaining building, still maintaining its original structure intact after 650 years. As an ideal location for their house, Korean people preferred a site protected by hills or mountains on three of its sides, with a stream or river passing in front, thus providing easy access to water. Houses built in such a place create a great harmony with the surrounding environment, attracting more and more admirers not just in Korea but outside it as well.

These days, over 60% of Seoul’s population live in modern apartments but, interestingly, these tall, multistoried buildings are almost without exception furbished with a heating system inspired by the age-old ondol system. Similarly, newly built detached houses are also reliant on the legacy of the ondol system of heating the floor, although the traditional heat passages are now replaced by under-floor metal pipes with running water heated either by gas or electricity. This heating system has now begun to be exported to other countries with wide variations in daily temperature.

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Professor Robert Fouser and Hanok

Professor Robert Fouser, the first foreign national employed by Seoul National University to teach students at the Department of Korean Language Education, is a great enthusiast of the traditional Korean houses known as Hanok. His love of Korean language and culture has a long history as his career, which includes opening, and teaching, a Korean language course at Kagoshima University in Japan, attests. His home in Korea was for a number of years an exquisite Hanok located in Bukchon, downtown Seoul, until he moved to Seochon, another historic district of the Korean capital, where he found a new Hanok which is still his home today. He loves not only the house he lives in but also the surroundings, a complex network of narrow alleys winding between other Hanok buildings and the natural environment around it. Recently, he launched a campaign to increase public awareness of the value of the Hanok as a living space and the importance of preserving and reviving it for the present and future generations.

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