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Brief History of Korean Architecture


-Yoon, Chang Sup (Member,National Academy of Sciences)

-Ancient Architecture(Neolithic~7C.)
-United Silla Architecture(7C.~10C.)
-Koryo Architecture(10C.~14C.)
-Choson Architecture(14C.~19C.)

5.Choson Architecture

The Choson Dynasty was founded by an ambitious general, Yi-Songge, in 1392, and ontinued until 1910, The history of Choson architecture would be described in three periods of the early, the middle, and the late period, in accordance with the cultrural and architectural development.

In the early period, The architecture developed as a succession from the cultural inheritance of the previous dynasty with the new political guiding principles of Confucianism, that took the place of Buddhism. Through the influence of Confucianism, a refined aristocratic taste of the previous era was replaced by the characteristics of unsophisticated, simple and humble beauty with the qualities of commonness and steadiness. The intercolumnar bracket set system was used in building the most important edifice on the premises. The columnar bracket set system and the eclectic bracket system, which consists of architectural elements from both columnar and intercolumnar systems, were also used for temples and other important buildings.

From the beginning of the middle period, national resources were exhausted due to the Japanese invasions which started from l592 and continued for seven years. The recovery from the destruction caused by this invasion was very slow. Divison and rivalry among Confucian scholars who controlled the country politically and socially produced more severe party strife. Because of the anti-Manch attitude of the Korean scholars, the cultural influence of Ch'ing was exerted so little upon the Korean culture that native element and expression in architecture were developed more extensively. The intercolumnar bracket set system was generally used for all the important buildings in this period.

In the later period, which began with the reign of King Yongjo, the cultural revival of the dynasty began in 1725 by the influence of western concepts which came into Korea through the Jesuits. The new "Real Learning" (Sil-hak) party, which was based on scientific and inductive approach, flourished in the country. The desire for creation and innovation was in the air. Koreans were becoming conscious of themselves and their own culture, and were ready to express their ideas and values. In this period, building methods of the intercolumnar bracket set system were developed further by manifesting peculiar features and expressing their own forms, thus providing a unique distinction from Chinese and Japanese architecture.

During the early years of the Choson Dynasty, a tremendous amount of building construction took place. The new capital of Hansung (Seoul) was developed on the bank of the Han River. The stone wall of sixteen kilometers encircling the capital was completed with eight principal gates. The capital city planning was laid out to harmonize with the natural terrain which was surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains. A grid pattern for the street system was applied in general, but it was modified due to the existing terrain and many spontaneous irregulary curved roads, detours, and cul-de-sacs were laid out.

The great straight Thoroughfare ran from the East gate to the West Gate, and the curved broad avenue from the South Gate extended toward the north to Chong-ru (Bell tower) where the city signal bell was hung at the central location of the eastwest thoroughfare, creating a T-shaped intersection. One broad avenue from Kyongbok Palace located at the foot of Mt. Pugak (North Mountain) ran to the south, and another broad avenue from Ch'angdok Palace also ran south parallel with each other. Both avenues reached the great east-west thoroughfare with a T-shaped intersection. Along these broad avenues and the main part of the great thoroughfare, long linear buildings of stores, shops and work rooms were built on both sides of the road to create a busy street front.

Palaces, shrines, government edifices and other important buildings were carefully oriented in relation to the north-south axis. Most of these buildings were located along the T-shaped road intersections to create terminal vistas of townscape. As a result, the overall townscape of the city of Hansung had a much different quality in comparison with other capital cities of Asia.

From the early period, a building code was enacted to control the size of houses and method of building construction according to occupant's status. It specified the span of beams, height of pillars, architectural details as well as the area of the building site. No one was allowed to compete with the magnificance of the royal palace,

The South Gate to the capital is the most spectacular and majestic among the existing gates in the country. It was rebuilt in l444 and since then has been renovated from time to time, but retained its original proportion and details of the early period, The double tiered roof above the massive masonry of the gate makes it graceful and monumental

Once, t|here were number of towngates. Now, some of them remain in Korea. The gates and watch towers of Suwon, about thirty miles south-east of Seoul, are the most picturesque among Korean townscape. The Suwon Wall was completed in l796 with the most advanced design process and construction methods at the time in Asia. Some of western techniques and devices for castle building works were adopted in the construction. The record of the construction, called the Hwasong-Songyok-Yeeki, explains the complete story of its completion including drawings of the buildings, illustrations of the architectural details, material quantities, expense of the construction and even all of the names of the skilled workers who were engaged in the work.

In the new capital, the forty-acre palatial area of Kyongbok-Palace was laid out in 1395 and a number of handsome buildings were constructed. But foe palace was ruined during the Japanese invasion and rebuilt by the Prince Regent in l870. The layout of the main buildings is in the north-south axial pattern of the magic square with the enclosed space by covered colonnades. The main gate to the palace, called Kwanghwa-mun, was very handsome, but unfortunately the superstructure was destroyed during the Korean War.

The Throne Hall called Kunjeoing Hall, is set upon double-tiered stone platforms which are surrounded by carved railings and have stone steps at the center of each side. The hall itself is double-roofed and lofty, and exhibits a sense of majestic power. The complicated ceiling structure is supported by tall pillars of varying heights, and the intercolumnar bracket set system constitutes more than half the height of the space inside. There is an admirable union of the far projecting roof and the building itself in the row of harmoniously disposed exterior bracket cluster system with horns. And their twinkling contrast of light and shade with decorated bracket cluster system produced some unique effects in the architectural space of the Hall.

Behind and to the west of the Throne Hall, the Kyonghoe-ru or the Banquet Hall is set in an artificial lake filed with pink lotuses. The building is a grand double storied structure with the lower story open to air. Forty-eight large tapered granite columns support the upper story, The lower story is provided with an inner and an outer veranda spacious enough to accommodate hundreds of guests at a time. A great curving roof caps the entire space. Three stone bridges connect the pavilion with the garden. Behind this formal area there is another garden with a pond and island designed for the pleasure of the court.

The Ch'angdok Palace was first built in l405 as a detached palace. This palace is situated upon a hilly terrain further to the east of Kyungbok Palace and is extremely irregular in layout. Although destroyed several times by fire in the past, it was successfully rebuilt and used throughout the dynasty. The entrance to the palace is Tonhwa Gate was constructed in l609. The gate is located to the southwest of the Throne Ha11 known as Injong-jon. The Throne Hal is a large double roofed building of imposing appearance and is surrounded by covered colonnades. The hall itself which was rebuilt in 1804, has been representative of the best architecture of the later period of the dynasty.

Ch'anggyong Palace was located near Ch'angdok Palace. The Throne Hall, Myongjong Hall, and the Main Gate called Honghwa-mun, were built in 1616. The Throne Hall was the only example of an earlier throne hall of the dynasty. Toksu Palace, which was built in the last period, contains two Western style buildings.

In the Choson dynasty Buddhists were forced to move out from the cities to remote mountainous areas. The arrangement of the temple buildings were determined by the terrain and natural surroundings. The main hall was built in the center of the premises and dormitories for monks were located on the east or west of the front court of the main hall. A raised pavilion was erected at the edge of the front court and gates were built in front of the pavilion. Other buildings were located to fit the existing terrain of the site. Most of the Buddhist temples were founded early in the United Silla and the Koryo dynasty. Ever since, some of the buildings in the temples have been rebuilt and renovated continuously. Many of These buildings were rebuilt in the Choson dynasty, and are still existing and show us the historical development of architecture during the dynasty.

The five-story pagoda at Pubjoo Temple was rebuilt in 1624. It reaches a height of about eighty feet with a ball-and-crown spire on top and is the only remaining wooden pagoda in Korea. The ten-story stone pagoda of Wongak Temple, which was built in 1644, has similar features of the stone pagoda of Kongchon Temple site.

The Confucian Shrine was located in the eastern part of the old city of Seoul. Moon-myo, the Shrine of Confucious, was rebuilt in 1601. Myungryun Hall, Confucian College, with lecture halls and dormitories, were rebuilt in 1606 and renovated later on. Many private Confucian schools were built to educate young men in their provinces, The best example is Tosan-Sowon, built in l574 by the famous scholar Yi-Hwang. Some of the educational buildings, shrines, and houses for the scholars sti11 exist.

The Royal Shrine of the Choson dynasty, Chong-myo, is located to the south-east of Kyungbok Palace. The buildings are set on spacious grounds which still harbor a great number of trees. The layout of the buildings in the wooded area has a very unique spatial quality.

The dwelling houses have a greater relation to the traditional patriarchal family system and the concept of human relation to society. The selection of the building sites was made through geometry, which was a cosmological interpretation of the landscape and its utility for people and function. Certain time aspects such as horoscopes were also considered. From such a space time matrix, the best location and orientation for a house was found.

The plan of traditional Korean houses had little basis on the physical function, but more on the traditional custom of the family and social life. The sociocultural factors were the prime determinants of housing patterns, and physical factors were secondary or modifying. Houses of the higher society of the dynasty consisted of innerquarter for women and children, outerquarter for men and a guests, and a rear garden with a pavilion or an ancestral shrine. The area of activities in t|he house was cleary classified according to human relationship and gender,

The gardens and landscapes were formed thorough typical Taoist conception, irregularity, asymmetry, curvilinear, undulating forms, mystery and the imitation of nature. The concept of the human being as a part of nature has long prevariled in Korean thought. Architecture never extended foe formality of building patterns into the surrounding landscape. The garden was not conceived as a setting for the house, but rather the house was a setting for the garden. The typical royal gardens of the dynasty called the Rear Gardens is located behind the Ch'angdok Palace with an extensive secluded area of landscape. A number of pleasure pavilions are located along the ponds and streams in the garden.

In the period of the Choson dynasty, Korean architecture developed further with a unique will to manifest the expression of the ideas and values of the period. The bracket cluster system, structurally and visually important elements of the buildings, were developed to follow structural function and to express the unique formal beauty of Korean architecture. Architectural ornaments and their symbolic connotation had more variety and richness. Architects of the period intended to express a strong will to form an indigenous style in architecture, and tried to use decorative elements of all kinds. This achieved a kind of symphonic quality with the methods of architectural organization by strong contrast of light and dark, of simplicity and complexity, and then finally reached the definite climax of architectural ingenuity. This tendency of architectural expression of the later period might remind us somewhat similar impressions of the Western Baroque and Rococo style.

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