Notes on the Geography of South Korea: Hanok
Wedged between palaces, Bukchon or "North Village" was once the site of the mansions of government officials. In the Japanese period, that came to a halt. The Japanese themselves lived in Namchon or "South Village," and they sold the old Bukchon mansions to realtors who converted them to small houses for the Korean middle class. That group in turn began moving out in the 1970s with the expansion of Seoul and the shift to apartment living. Half the population is said to have left Bukchon before gentrification reversed the tide.
See Hwang Doo Jin's short essay in Kim Sung Hong and Peter Cachola Schmal, eds., Contemporary Korean Architecture, 2007, p. 109-113.
We've climbed up to the rooftop of an enterprising property owner who's created his own for-profit hanok observatory. We're looking south toward Gwanghwamun Plaza. The building on the right with the blue wall hanging is the Foreign Ministry. Between it and the trees are the Twin Trees office buildings. The contrast with the hanoks could hardly be greater.
Surprisingly, the word hanok entered Korean dictionaries only in the 1970s to signify what had not until then needed a word: traditional Korean housing. Jieheerah Yun writes that the appeal of this traditional housing rose in tandem with "mounting criticism of the monotonous urban landscape of Seoul, or 'apartment forests', consisting of endless rows of rectangular concrete boxes."
See her Globalizing Seoul: The City's Cultural and Urban Change, 2017, p. 51.
The view north. Layouts had customarily conformed to Confucian dictates, with separate spaces not only for men, women, and servants, but also for ancestor worship. Not much is visible of the old pattern, but courtyard layouts are apparent.
The neighborhood's edges have stabilized since the 1980s, when government policy set out to save the remaining hanoks. In practice this at first meant such tight regulation that the buildings could hardly be maintained. Later, subsidies were increased and regulations relaxed, but the subsidies were trivial compared to the money investors were prepared to spend.
Tiny bits of greenery survive.
Lots of charm.
A new-old home.
Nods to the traditional esthetic.
Western shape; Eastern decor.
A traditional garden atop a concrete fortress.
Room for the Land Rover.
Don't have to walk far to see construction.
Bang, bang, bang inside.
How much do you think this place will cost?
Think security is a problem?
The tourist business is a little slow today.
Good news: it's maybe 10 in the morning, and the first customers are coming.
Their manners leave something to be desired.
Shops serve them.
We've come south a mile and a bit to the Namsangol Hanok Village, where five hanoks--big and small--were put on display in 1998.
The woodwork is beautiful.
See any nails?
Easy on the eye, hard on the forest.
The classic articles of furniture were chests and low tables.
Servants did the cooking, so painful knees didn't matter.
Puzzled? It's a chimney for an ondol or underfloor heating system; the fireplace is on the opposite side of the house.
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