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  • Writer's pictureEryn Gordon

Korean Architecture and Where to Find Hanok in South Korea

Updated: May 14

A beautiful wooden door found in Bukchon Hanok Village
Traditional Korean architecture in Bukchon Hanok Village

When zigzagging through the meandering pathways of Bukchon Hanok Village, you'll find yourself looking up rather than ahead. Korean architecture has stunned visitors with simple, yet intricate designs best showcased through the of Korean home or hanok (한옥) and the roofs that serve a purpose beyond just shelter. In this article, we’ll discuss the development of specific designs, plus the best places to see the hanok buildings in South Korea.

The History of the Hanok

A hanok is the traditional style of house found on the Korean Peninsula. While the eye-catching slanted roof is sometimes considered as the primary holder of the term, the word hanok actually represents the entire home.

Hanok architecture began in the 14th century and is largely attributed to influences during the early Joseon Dynasty.

What Makes a Hanok Unique?

The brilliance of the hanok comes from an element that even prolific architects sometimes get wrong: the marriage between craftsmanship and functionality. More specifically, the ability to regulate temperature throughout seasonally severe weather. The use of an ondol (온돌) floor-based heating system (which at one point essentially meant a bonfire under the house)kept the space warm in the winter while wood hallways retained coolness in the summer.

An example of Korean architecture from the Joseon Dynasty
Gyeongbokgung Palace

But, That Roof Though

I'd be remiss if I didn't admit to absolutely gushing over the roof style of traditional hanoks. When I looked through the photographs in Ceilings of Hanoks by Cha Jang-sup, my tender feelings finally found adequate words to describe them. Cha Jang-sup captured roofs with a new perspective: as bridges between earth and sky.

Practicality and Artistry in Roof Design

Many of us attribute the supple cheoma (처마), or curved roof as a pure aesthetic, though as we can see, aesthetic and function can harmonize here as well. The roofs bend upwards at the edges because it allows more daylight reaches the windows. Likewise, the shape effectively blocks out direct sun light in a wider area. So not only are the internal rooms brighter, they stay cooler as well.

Explore the hidden walkways of Gyeongbokgung, the queen's palace
Gyeongbokgung Palace

Where Can I See Hanok Architecture?

There are a few notable places around Korea to see these lovely buildings.

Bukchon Hanok Village

Most well known is the Bukchon Hanok Village, where you can see an example of modern construction interfused with ancestral building method. There's a large variety of hidden courtyards within older buildings, though you'll also find them alongside fresh cedar shingles and ornate door knockers.

Jeonju Hanok Village

Head south to Jeonju and immerse yourself in a full day experience. This residential area was developed in 1930 as neighbors banded together against the Japanese occupation attempted to destroy the Jeonju fortress. Now you can visit this historically notable area and get involved with cultural events regularly held throughout the city.

From the stone mounds of royal tombs to the practical, temperature-regulating homes, Korean architecture represents itself in a multitude of different forms. By exploring this style of architecture, you learn more about the cultural values, such has uniformity, practicality and beauty, which have been held strong throughout thousands of years.

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