South Korea is without a doubt, one of the most popular countries in the world to visit. Renowned for its globally influential pop culture, particularly in the music and film industry, South Korea also has incredible architecture influenced by its history and culture. While tall and magnificent infrastructures currently dominate the South Korean skyline, much of it is inspired by traditional Korean architecture, which is characterised by simplicity and an avoidance of extremes to promote the philosophy of quiet inner harmony.

Modern Architecture in Korea - Sheet1
The Skyline of South Korea_©gettyimages

A Brief History of Korean Architecture

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Traditional Korean Architecture: Stone Pagoda_©Grafica Co., Inc.

The South Korean architectural timeline starts with The Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE – 668 CE), where the remains of foundation stones suggest the presence of built infrastructure. Wooden pagodas on temple sites of the late 5th or early 6th century were subsequently discovered and revealed the use of separate building materials. The Unified Silla period (668-935) introduced high-quality architectural ornamentation due to a new political and cultural era focusing on worship and Buddhism. The architecture during the Koryo period (918-1382) is of various adaptations of architecture from China, ranging from chusimp’o style (adaptation of Tang architecture) to tap’s style (adaptation of Song architecture). After the Choson period (1392 – 1910) where less architectural reformation was carried out, and more building preservation was done, comes the Modern period from the last decades of the 19th century. Western influences on architecture were prominent after Korea entered into treaties with foreign governments. Renaissance revival architecture and European furnishings were established on Korean soil. Now let’s look at some of the most prominent and daring architecture erected in the recent decades!

Rock it Suda, Jeongseon

Modern Architecture in Korea - Sheet3
Rock it Suda_©Moon Hoon

This project was named after the amateur band ‘Rock It Suda’, where the client plays as a bass guitarist at weekend houses regularly. Considering the clients’ main policy of ‘crashing, fusing, mixing’, Korean Architect Moon Hoon designed the pensions with a unique touch of hyperbolic fantasy space, expressing playfulness but also highlighting the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Thematically centred on ‘Spain’, ‘Barbie’, ‘Stealth’, ‘Ferrari’, ‘cave’ and ‘Korean traditional houses’, each house features a distinct colour theme, style, and form. Incorporating the idea of ‘play-chitecture’, hammocks with tails are added to introduce playful movement when encountering wind. Rock it Suda is an example of how vivid and bold imagination can bless stagnant architecture with life and playfulness. 

K-pop Curve, Seongnam

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K-pop Curve_©Namgoong Sun

This project in the South Korean city of Seongnam was given a fun name that resonated with the program of the building as a music agency, K-Pop Curve. Being asked to create the most outstanding building in the region has inspired Korean architect Moon Hoon to go with a bold curving frontage as opposed to the typical rectilinear vernacular in the area. Situated at the intersection of two streets, the curvaceous facade featuring a balcony softened the corners of the junction. Similar to surrounding buildings, K-Pop Curve has been designed to accommodate subdivided functions: commercial purposes for ground or lower floors and residential use for upper levels. Occasional sections spliced from the external walls permitted outward views via the staircase and enabled a unique juxtaposition between solid and void within the structure.

Cheonggyecheon Stream, Seoul

Modern Architecture in Korea - Sheet5
Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project_©

Completed in 2005, the transformed ecological park of natural beauty took 3 years to complete and is now one of the most popular tourist attractions and public gathering spaces in Korea. The 10km long canal flows through the heart of Seoul, and its proximity to other famous landmarks and public transport facilities have made accessing the waterfront plaza much more convenient for both tourists and local citizens. Previously covered by a highway overpass, the revitalisation of the Cheonggyecheon Stream has unleashed the new potential for green spaces and has brought new life to the downtown Seoul area, which had been declining persistently over the years. Also, taking flooding measures into account, the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project is pioneering in its size. It stands as proof that the presence of a unanimous vision amongst all involved parties is crucial for prompt action.

Ga On Jai, Gangnam

The Korean government hosted a housing expo in Gangnam 20 years ago, where famous local architects designed the buildings in the town. Making efficient use of the exterior land from the previously demolished structure, a ‘Madang’ (Korean inner court) to create an introverted garden space without compromising outward views and privacy was designed. Inspired by traditional Korean architecture, the roof of Ga On Jai is also an irregular adaptation of the ‘Cheoma’, or cantilevered roof, providing resistance to rough weather conditions. The introduction of ‘Ru’ (Korean-piloted architecture) which referenced the landscape and dynamic of the nearby mountains, provided a dramatic sequence of spatial experience internally.

Ga On Jai_©Jong Oh Kim

Influenced by its rich history and culture, Korean architecture has evolved immensely over time, but its growth over the past few decades is unprecedented. Fueled by drastic economic development, tourism, and pop culture, it is not surprising that a new defining architectural era could be on the rise. 

Paula Pintos (2014). Ga On Jai House / IROJE KHM Architects. [online]. Available at:

Archdaily (2013). Rock It Suda / Moon Hoon. [online]. Available at:

Archdaily (2014). KPOP Curve / Moon Hoon. [online]. Available at: 

The World Bank (2015). Seoul. [online]. Available at:

Alyn Griffiths (2014). Boxy viewing platform punctures a curved facade at Moon Hoon’s K-Pop Curve. Available at:

Wong- Yong Kim (2009). Korean Architecture. [online]. Available at: 


Zoe has a genuine enthusiasm in increasing the accessibility of learning about Architecture and has worked with Architectural associations to organise events for the under-represented. Having a passion for writing and believing in the power of words, she hopes to make architecture more attainable through her articles.