South Korea has global popularity that is increasing momentously in the fields of entertainment, technology, and innovation. Popular for K-pop and K-dramas, South Korea is also famous for its architecture and culture. A rich mix of culture and tradition is seen in the architecture of South Korea where old palaces and temples turned into tourism spots have gained attention. Modern architecture is also a growing trend and has resulted in iconic structures using innovative technology and creativity. 

Importance to infrastructure, public design, and urban development has brought about tremendous changes in the country’s infrastructure. The immensely sloped terrain is used as an advantage by building along the curves creating an interconnection of roads and levels of privacy. Architecture in the South Korean timeline corresponds to the history from Neolithic–7th century (B.C.E.), three-kingdoms of Korea, Goryeo, Joseon, Japanese occupation, Korean War, and modern era.

The traditional architecture of South Korea was majorly integrated with nature and culture to create a balanced sense of glory and repose. Thatched roof, Ondol(warm stone) floor heating system, dragon and flower motifs along with gold and jade culminated statues and lifted eves were some of the elements of architecture seen in palaces and temples. Traditional architecture has 2 main categories of buildings that have been conserved; houses (hanok) and palaces and temples. There are a total of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Korea showcasing the traditional style of architecture. Now, let’s look at the architecture in South Korea in detail:

1. Changdeokgung Palace, Seoul

It is one of the 5 grand palaces of Korea exhibiting the lifestyle of Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897). It is spread across an area of 110 acres and has around 13 buildings remaining along with large landscaped gardens and pavilion spaces. It consists of buildings with large pitched sloping roofs acclimatized to the snow and rain. The flooring is mainly made of stone and wood with a heating system. The palaces usually had deviated access to create a sense of enclosure and importance to the king and his family. 

The palace consists of various spaces for different activities like the administration, library, archery grounds, gathering halls, etc. the exquisite gardens seem to have a large number of indigenous species some of which are over 300 years old. The palace became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.

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Changdeokgung Palace _ ChrisJ_ https://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/South_Korea/North/Seoul/Seoul/photo862406.htm
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Changdeokgung Palace_ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Changdeokgung#/media/File:Juhamnu,_Changdeokgung_-_Seoul,_Korea.JPG

2. Hwaeomsa Temple, Jirisan

It is a large temple for Buddhists built at Jirisan. It was a sacred space for worship and knowledge. It consists of 2 main halls; the Jangnyukjeon Hall and the Gakhwangjeon Hall. During the Japanese war, the temple caught fire and was burned completely. However, it was restored in the 1630s to its former glory. Gakhwangjeon Hall is considered a great example of the mid-Joseon era architecture with its double story height, 7 bays width made up of wood placed on top of the stone. 

Many cultural attributes are preserved and the structure is conserved to this day. Scroll paintings, gold motifs, pagodas are all displayed for the tourists. 

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Hwaeomsa temple_ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hwaeomsa#/media/File:%ED%99%94%EC%97%84%EC%82%AC3.jpg

3. Hahoe Folk Village 

It is an entire village belonging to the Joseon era. The village consists of houses and a palace from the Joseon era in well-preserved condition. The village sits beside a river and is named after it. The village is planned based on the geomantic guidelines of pungsu (Korean planning system) resulting in the shape of a lotus flower or two interlocking commas. Apart from well-preserved original houses it also has the Confucian school and several folk arts like dance and shamanistic rituals and mask play. 

Pavilions and gardens for these activities are still present. It became the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. A visit to this village would be like a walk through the past Joseon era with many experiential qualities. 

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Hahoe Folk Village _ © UNESCO Author: Seong Joon Cho_https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1324/gallery/
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Hahoe Folk Village  _ © UNESCO Author: Seong Joon Cho_http://hum300.tolearn.net/architecture/

However, South Korea was not as developed as it is today. Due to the political wars, the country went into a state of poverty in the 1950s. In an attempt to fix the problems, the newly formed government concentrated on manufacturing and trading as a means to improve the economic conditions in the country. So this process has resulted in leading industries and manufacturing units across the country. 

The economic growth came along with technological advancements which were seen in the new age buildings and bridges. Along with major companies like Samsung and LG and smaller industries, there has been a global trend of fancy restaurants and public squares.  

Modern architecture came about during the 1950-the 80s and the major influence of Le Corbusier and Kenzo Tange was seen in the buildings like the Olympic Center and Kyungdong Presbyterian Church by Kim Swoo-Geun. Later, a new set of modern architects were responsible for the Peace Gate at Olympic Park and Samil Building which was Seoul’s first tallest skyscraper. 

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Peace gate at Olympic Stadium _ © Silas Low https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympic_Park,_Seoul#/media/File:World_Peace_Gate.jpg
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31 storey Samil Building built-in 1969_ © MMCA Archive_ http://www.dreamideamachine.com/en/?p=39595_

4. Yeouido Saetgang Bridge, Seoul

It is a bridge span across the Yeouido Saetgang ecological park in 2011. It is built over a wetland in Seoul. The bridge is suspended by steel cables supported on 2 tall slanted masts and is about 5m wide. The width is large enough to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. The shape of the bridge is a smooth S-shaped curve. With its growing popularity, it has also become a major shooting location.

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Yeouido Saetgang Bridge, Seoul_ ©https://10mag.com/10-modern-contemporary-architecture-spaces-in-korea/

6. Cheonggyecheon Stream, Seoul

It is a 10km long waterfront public plaza along the canal. It was restored in 2005 and it has become a place of large public gathering and tourist attraction. Due to its central location in Seoul city, the place is an excellent spot for recreation and relaxing. The stream was once covered up and laid with concrete during the industrialization post-war but after careful revaluation, the entire stretch of the river was revived keeping the modern aspect. It has 22 bridges across it with several plazas at certain intervals.

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Cheonggyecheon Stream, Seoul_ ©https://greatruns.com/seoul-cheonggyecheon-stream/

6. Busan Cinema Centre, Busan

Currently, the longest cantilever roof in the world is at the Busan Cinema center. Built by Coop Himmelb(l)au the place is an exemplary example of the accelerated growth of architecture in South Korea. It took 4 years to complete the project and it was finished in 2012. The outdoor ceiling of the roof has a LED lighting surface which creates a dynamic lighting effect making it a specialty of the place.

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Busan Cinema Centre _ © Duccio

Malagamba https://www.archdaily.com/347512/busan-cinema-center-coop-himmelblau/51421c74b3fc4bae2c000027-busan-cinema-center-coop-himmelblau-photo?next_project=no

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Busan Cinema Centre roof LED lighting _ ©Duccio

Malagamba https://www.archdaily.com/347512/busan-cinema-center-coop-himmelblau/51421c74b3fc4bae2c000027-busan-cinema-center-coop-himmelblau-photo?next_project=no_ 

Apart from splendid structures, South Korea also has a large number of national parks and public squares with major attention provided to nature and the public experience with nature and wildlife. Namiseom Island, Huwon Secret Garden, Boseong Tea Fields, and Hallasan National Park are some examples that establish a strong relationship with humans and nature. 

So, the growth of South Korea in terms of architecture could be considered exponential considering the setbacks of the wars and economic downfall. The country has kept the traditions and culture alive and has also embraced contemporary trends.

Author

Spandana is an architecture student with a curious mind, who loves to learn new things. An explorer trying to capture the tangible and intangible essence of architecture through research and writing. She believes that there is a new addition to the subject everyday and there is more to it than what meets the eye.

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