Thursday, July 18, 2013

Korea # 11: The Traditional Korean House

The Traditional Korean House

Dear blogmates,

This is more than you will want to know about a traditional Korean house.  It is something I prepared for my Korean culture class.  Power Point is still very laborious for me so this was how I chose to put it together.  Feel free to skip it.  There will be no test. 

For nearly 1400 years Korea has been a separate, distinguishable country with borders similar to that of North+South Korea today.  This long life in the same place has allowed Koreans to develop unique cultural elements including homes that endured for centuries.

Korea is cold and snowy in the north and relatively warm in the south which influenced how houses were situated and constructed.  Those in the north tended to be square and enclosed to better protect against the elements.  Those in the central region built in the shape of an “L” (in Korean the letter is flipped on its head).  In the south, houses tended to be built in the form of an “I” to provide maximum ventilation and take advantage of cross winds.  The square form with an enclosed courtyard can, however, be found extensively in Joenju in the southeast as well.

Naturally, the homes of the wealthy were larger and better constructed and are known as the “giwajip” style, “giwa” (or “kiwa”) meaning tile—the most distinctive element of Korean traditional homes.  Those of lesser means constructed their roofs of rice straw, called the”chogajip” style.


At least two other features distinguish Korean traditional homes.  The first is the raised floor which allowed for circulation of air, separation from water and rain and—when the posts supporting the floors were mounted on rock—protection against earthquakes.  The second feature is the “ondul” or fellow-floor heating system.  The ondul system starts with a fire box on the outside of the house which fed a flue system that carried heat to the room above and eventually out a chimney or vent. 

The firebox was fired by wood which would need to be prepared for a long winter:


For those who could afford it, floors were of wood which was oiled and polished.  Posts support the roof which would need to be sturdy to support overlapping earthen tiles of considerable weight. 


Walls could be of wood and windows could be elaborate and decorative. Doors and windows might be made of hanji or paper which was impregnated with oil to make them light yet sturdy and admit light.

Traditional Division Into Rooms

A fully endowed home would have a large room for the parents

 a second room for the children, one or more common rooms

and one or more rooms for guests.  A kitchen would be connected with the firebox  of the ondul.  A large vessel outside and above the firebox would be an important source of hot water and be used for some forms of cooking.

The toilet was located in a separate building as far away from the kitchen as possible. 

Extending out from rooms in the center of the home would be a porch or walkway or all sides, which would also serve as a place to receive people who could sit on the ledge, their feet on the ground, and have a good time.

Again depending upon income and climate, a traditional home could be surrounded by walls and thus create a courtyard. 

In the courtyard might be tables for eating

one or more trees for shade and shelter


a garden and even a pool.


This pool at a site in Hanok Village, Jeonju, is said to have had four purposes:  first, as a place for meditation, second, as a source of water to extinguish fires, third, as a place for fish and water plants, and, fourth, as a source of water and protection against drought.

The courtyard is also the place where the large and elaborate assortment of pots called “onggi” could be found.  Ongii vessels have become well known around the world by now, as has their traditional use:  to store and ferment food which could last Koreans through winters when none could be obtained. 

The best know food is, of course, kimchi or fermented cabbage which is said to have been turned in more than 100 recipes, but other foods were also stored.  Pots could be kept above ground or below and the fermentation process was timed to come of age throughout the winter and into spring.

Utensils the household used to feed themselves might include a special basket for rice, above...

a flat surface to dry things such as pumpkins and squash  (seen below with a collection of shoes made of rice stalks)..….


A basket meant to hold potatoes…


A device to thrash beans and other pulses…


And a mallet for mashing anything that needed mashing.

Some houses would have rock basins to catch rainwater or for culinary purposes...

While Koreans are now housed largely in modern high-rise apartments in cities, the traditional Korean house has come to be honored and appreciated for what it was:  an environmentally astute, practical and beautiful expression of an enduring culture. 




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