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Brief Review of Korea Modern Architecture -1


1.Modern Architecture

Since the opening of port pressured by foreign powers in 1876, the legacies of modern Korean architecture are hard to find until liberation in 1945.

However, the opening to the outside world gave Korea a significant change in its architectural concept what also brought some problems, too.

Taking Kyungbok Palace enlargement(1865) as final point, the modern Western architectures were transferred into Korea, entirely of secondary transfer from China and Japan and later on from Russia as well. The U.S. influence came much later.

It must be a golden era (1876-1910) what defined Korea's character in modern architecture. Even in those days, Korea had the capability to adopt Western-style architecture independently. However, since 1910, the annexation by the Japanese colonial regime brought about severe intervention in Korea's architectural heritage Therefore, what appeared were Japanese style modern architectures in a way to destroy Korean traditions.

Fortunately, Korean architectural language can be found at Catholic church(cathedral church) and other churches.

Anyway Korea was liberalized from the Japanese at last Inspired by the development of city, even the remaining modern architectures are about to vanish. At the same time, the process of nation-building makes the situation more difficult.

While those modern architectures are becoming the object to be cleared, the history of modern Korean architecture also vanishes.

Unfortunately, there is widespread recognition that old architectures should be removed. This has the potential to impede right understanding concerning the heritage of modern Korean architecture.

Since liberalization, many modern architectures were disappeared for 50 years and the modern history of Korea was nearly forgotten, too.

Therefore, at this stage, it is hard to measure where is the starting point of the modern architecture in this country. Thus, the history of modern architecture not only represents its architectural interest but also the overall history of the contemporary Korea.

The representative Korean modernists, who led the contemporary Korean architecture after liberalization, such as Park Kil-ryong, Kim Chung-up and Kim Su-keun have gone, too. In the midst of rapid social change, the ideas of Korean contemporary architecture are vanishing back to the history.

From the 1990's, the whole atmosphere shows confused situation by newly-emerged term like deconstructivism what is closely related to dismantling industry. It destroyed the myth that old architectures( modern buildings) should be kept their original figure well.

One thing that is more serious than fraudulent work in Korea is that the architecture world has lost historic consciousness in its design. Architectural theory is equal to its historic theory. Therefore, the historic consciousness should be combined with architecture design.

Thus, many are concerned with the future of Korean architecture. Currently, even some clients prefer new generation style of architecture.

Standing at the end of the 1990s, we examined our modern architecture that lasted nearly 100 years.

Since the history of architecture is the history of our city, we must recognize its origin and current situation through the social and cultural paradigm.

(This text was originally written by professor Kim,Cheong dong(Mokwon Univ.) and modified by Architectural Design Lab,GSNU)

2.Current Architecture

From modernism to pluralistic architecture

Even though Korea has 5000-year history, it displays complicated nature because it experienced significant historic events such as colonial era and Western-style modernization. There are three major historic patterns in Korea; Chosun style, romanticism pattern from West and finally modernism.

Korean modernism had started from the late Japanese colonial regime, blossoming from the mud. Then, Korean architectural activities were temporary ceased because of liberation, but later on Korean War destroyed all the works. It went on self-injury, at least, until 1957.


When the aftereffect of the war calmed down, the ruins played a vital role to stabilize the probability in accommodating modernism. With poor capital capability, rational and economic solution was much more urgent for the reconstruction of the nation over artistic will.

Even though it didn't take long time to rebuild the nation, major disadvantage of the Rationalism was on poor artistry. Thanks to the support by foreign countries, however, it opened 'Modern Time of Korean architecture after the war. At the same time, Functionalism developed towards Internationalism.

Furthermore, it later displays a great degree of development combining Korean traditional emotion with a new current, what is called post-modernism, in the late 1960s.

Consideration for Korean character

Before the 60's, Korean modernism had been repeated idle languor in the name of 'simple aesthetics' This theory demonstrates the sociality of art.

Entering into the 60's, architecture in Seoul started to feature contemporary style as new trend what strongly emphasized traditions, too.

Thus, the combination of modernism and traditions became the motto of Korean architecture during the period which was led by small elites, so-called second generation architects.


Stimulated by rapid economic growth throughout the 70's, overseas construction became popular.

These aforementioned phenomena put large cities into the threshold of post-modernism, and, at the same time, the baton was handed over to the third-generation architects.

The new generation was formerly in charge of project, but they launched new career in this stage independently.

The trend of post-modernism added richness to the Korean architecture and provided healthier figure. They started with modernism, but later on learned historic romanticism and then, ultimately, applied the aesthetics of high technology to their works.

When those, who studied abroad, returned back home, Korean architecture Seoul became more various in style along the American Rationalism and European intellectualism.

Large cities in Korea experienced many more in those days because of redevelopment boom in existing area and in newly- emerged area of outskirt of city. This is not only concerned with quantity richness but with that of architecture. The Korean architecture still experiments the two propositions, modernism and traditions.

Age of Pluralism

Because of marginal market opening against foreign countries in the 80's more and more foreign designs were introduced to Korea.

In case of Seoul, the capital city, the 1988 Seoul Olympics gave a decisive motivation to renew the city's figure. It became an opportunity to renovate polluted Han river and the city's scene. These efforts played a crucial role to represent today's Seoul In fact many large-scale projects were initiated and encouraged during the period.

The Olympics complex for the '86 Asian Games and '88 Olympic Games provided formative experiment with new architectural techniques and, additionally, apartment town for the athletes displayed new prototype for apartment architecture. Even though the architectural promotion Olympics didn't meet the proposed demand, it was a crucial opportunity to internationalize the architecture in Seoul and some large cities one step further.

As explained so far, post-modernism after the 80s made the period as 'Age of Pluralism.' In fact, the period is hard to define what includes so many terminologies like neo-rationalism, classical revival, classical modernism, deconstructivism and high technology.

Now, it is certain that the Korean architecture is moving into the Fourth Generation in which the new generation inherits ancestors' legacy and then confirm their own vocabulary to define their age.

Unfortunately, the Korean public doesn't recognize architecture as arts genre. Furthermore, there is no belief on the meaning of architecture as cultural symbol among some architects.

On the other hand, politicians look at it as social tool rather than cultural heritage. More importantly, experimentalism among architects is not highly raised. Many of them just do it at the level of construction.

It seems that the matter of social support and architects' mental switchover was handed over to the next generation.

They-the Fourth Generation were- educated apart from rational paradigm whose interests are totally different than that of their parent-generation.

(This text was originally written by professor Park, Kil-ryong (Kukmin Univ.)
and modified by Architectural Design Lab,GSNU)

Atelier Professor KOH -Architectural Deasign Lab.
GyeongSang National University
E-mail: mirkoh@nongae.gsnu.ac.kr
Web Page: http://www.gsnu.ac.kr/~mirkoh