Traditional Korean Architecture

In-Souk CHO

Architect and Principal of DaaRee Architect & Associates

Seoul, Korea

Prepared for presentation at

the 15th HMS Colloquium on “Korean Architecture: Past and Present”

November 3, 2007 George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA


In a time of diverse and rapid changing environment in Korea, which lies at the crossroads of development and conservation, we need a new approach for understanding the quality of our own traditional architecture. With escalating problems for the historical townscape and cultural landscape - such as a lack of continuity and loss of identity - the question arises as to whether an educational approach for the future protection of historical townscape and cultural landscape can lead to new ways to improve the quality of life in every corner of cities.

The main objective of this study is to review the notions of spatial awareness of the Traditional Korean Architecture. It is an approach which is more oriented towards factual analysis and focused more on spatial organizations on the basis of historic remains in Korea. Structural system, including the material and techniques applied in the traditional architecture, is analyzed as well. The influences of the architectural space to literature and film, and further suggestions are discussed.

A case study of diverse building complex (e.g., administrative buildings, residential architecture, and educational-cultural-ritual architecture) is documented focusing chiefly on the values of the space, and secondly considering the issues of various concepts including Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian. The passageways to these specific realms are reviewed and the characteristics of the Korean wooden structure are dealt with as well.

By focusing on the historic, social, technological, and aesthetic values of the spatial hierarchy, the main contribution to solving future issues through case studies is to educate the people living in the historical city or villages. The basic argument for this approach to education for both local residents and government is to increase community awareness and to encourage the local residents’ confidence and pride, while conserving the historical townscape and cultural landscape.


1. Passageways: the way to the sacred world or private realm

1) Bridges and stairways

2) Gates and doors

2. Spatial organisations: space in traditional Korean architecture:

1) Space: Administrative buildings, residential architecture,

educational-cultural-ritual spaces

2) Value: Historic, social, technological and aesthetic values

3) Issue: Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian concepts

3. A look at the Korean wooden structure

Until recently many cities and villages in Korea have singularly pursued material growth and economic development. Sustainability has now become the central concern of both the local government and the general public. A wide spectrum of campaigns has been initiated to overhaul the local administration and its policies towards a consciousness of natural environment and historic conservation. Historic conservation and sustainability are an integral part of architecture and urban development in Korea, providing a vital link to the past.

A new approach for understanding the quality of Korean traditional architecture, which is more oriented towards factual analysis and focused more on spatial organisations on the basis of historic remains in Korea will be dealt with in this study.

-ten years- 1[1]

It took ten years to build

my little thatched hut.

One part is for me, the moon fills the second,

the third is reserved for the clear wind.

Rivers and mountains: There is no room to invite you in!

Stay where you are, I’ll gaze at you surrounding me.

Song Sun (1493-1383) Translated by Young-Key Kim-Renaud