traditional architecture is characterized by its harmony with nature.
It has developed through the assimilation of various cultural e]ements
learned from foreign countries, or better learned from their human brethren,
Since antiquity Koreans have developed a special inclination towards
nature, adapting themselves to the environment, interacting with the
changing tide of human thought and ideologies in the open arena of human
civilization. From time immemorial, Koreans have held the belief that
the heavenly world is located in the high blue sky, representing the
blissfully brilliant and eternal utopia. According to such thinking
In regard to the world and the universe and because of their serene
and cozy natural environment, Koreans have formulated their own traditional
architecture, Such characteristics are rustic, yet they gracefully harmonized
with the surrounding nature.
The origin of Korean architectural traditions
may be traced back to Northeastern Asian culture, namely the Scytho-Siberian
origins, which was the cradle of Oriental culture. In primitive ages
it was customary to honor the dead with sumptuous burial artifacts.
The belief in animistic worship and in the eternity of the soul can
still be witnessed in Korea among the remains of dolmens, which are
the tombs of primitive people.
Since the introduction of the Chinese culture
of the Han Dynasty the basic system of wooden building frames has
been passed down to recent years, Such structures coincidentally blended
with other indigenous architectural details. Korean architecture has
also been affected by a number of Oriental conceptual thoughts: yin
and yang, interpretation of the five elements (metal, wood, water,
fire and earth), geomancy, Taoism and Confucianism either directly
or indirectly. Buddhism, introduced to Korea around the fourth century,
also exerted great influence on Korean architecture. During the Three
Kingdoms Period (lasting about l ,000 years from the first century
B. C.), a great number of Buddhist temples were built. Unfortunately,
most of them were burned to ashes in a series of wars and invasions,
After the unification of the Three Kingdoms
by the Silla Dynasty in 668, the development of Korean architecture
outgrew its previous rustic simplicity. Under the cultural influence
of the Tang Dynasty of China, Koreans fulfilled their historical task
of assimilating the influx of foreign culture with indigenous and
innate aspirations. it is significant to note that the cultural heritage
of the Unified Silla has been passed dow l to the present. Pulguk
Temple in Kyonju reflects the splendid architecture of the Unified
Silla dynasty, and the rock cave shrine, Sokkuram, located in the
north of the temple on a mountain represents the cultural achievement
of the time.
During the Koryo period, artistic expressions
were characterized by "contemplative beauty," freed from man's limits
imposed on form. The emphasis sifted to the internal mind and self
control under the influence of Zen Buddhist thought. Ever since, such
"contemplative beauty" has constituted a part of the Korean cultural
heritage. A representative temple building of the time is Kungnakjon
(Hall of Paradise Enshrining Amitabha), at Pongjong Temple, one of
the oldest extant wooden buildings in Korea. The building vividly
portrays the architectural style of the early Koryo period.
In the Choson (Yi) Dynasty Period (l?92-1910),
Confucianism was upheld as the national ideology. With the decline
of Buddhism, Confucian buildings such as Confucian shrines, regional
schools, and academies were erected throughout the country. Palatial
buildings are representative of the architecture of this age, highlighting
the essence of Korean architectural legacy. During this period, foreign
cultural influences transformed and modified the existing patterns
and formed the distinctive characteristics of Korean architecture.
Namdaemun (South Gate), the main access to the downtown area of Seoul,
was built in l396 and has been the oldest extant building welcoming
visitors to the capital. As the most representative example of traditional
Korean architecture it has been designated as National Treasure No.
In architectural design, Korean architects took
full notice of the surrounding terrain in their effort to create perfect
harmony with nature. No Korean building was designed or constructed
to manifest a confrontation or challenge of human works against the
natural environment, Both in design and in engineering, artificial
contrivances were kept subdued, in favor of highlighting the beauty
of nature as it is. In the use of building materials, attention was
paid to keep natural elements intact.
Throughout the ages, Korean architecture has
reflected the human scale, imparting a feeling of intimacy to viewers.
Few traditional Korean buildings are grand iu size. Rather, they give
an impression of coziness and tidiness, and are from being overpowering
or imposing. Korean artisans relied more on the working of nature
than on their own craft, exerting their personal ingenuity or wisdom
less, thus providing greater room for their instincts to operate.
As a result, Korean architecture reflects less of human calculation
or craft than of liberal and carefree simplicity.
In order to create visual elegance in external
forms several design skills were contrived. The middle portion of
columns were shaped convex swelling, namely entasis, The columns on
the periphery were slanted slightly inward, while the tops of comer
posts were extended slightly higher in relation to the others. All
these efforts were made to evoke a feeling of stability and to achieve
aesthetic harmony with the delicate and elegant shape of the roof
and the eave lines in the appearance of the building.
A variety of decorations and colors were also
used in Korean traditional architecture. In China, decorations tended
to be extremely elaborate, sometimes to the extent of superfluity
or grotesqueness. Japanese decorations are more simple and delightful.
The characteristic decorations of Korean architecture might be found
in between the two, maintaining the beauty of moderation in the use
of color and architectural decoration.
Korean traditional architecture can be aesthetically
characterized by moderate elegance in decoration and humble openness
in architectural design. The moderate use of color might have derived
from the country's serene landscape. The humble openness in design
may have grown from the tendency of Korean people to adapt themselves
to nature. These major characteristics may have evolved from ancient
times by Korean master architects. Unlike their Chinese counterparts
who were excessively preoccupied with strict symmetry, or the Japanese
who were extremely concerned with the miniature, Korean architects
tended to give a more comprehensive effort to maintain order and harmony
with nature. The concern manifested both inside and outside architectural
space, which consequently led to its humble openness.
| A Brief History of Korean Architecture.
|Palace Architecture of Ch'angdok-kung |Korea