It is no secret that traveling is one of the main keys that architects get a hold of to open to themselves the wide doors of discovery and creativity. If you are an architect and you are looking for a new and unusual destination to head to this summer, then this is your sign to consider visiting South Korea!
Aside from immersing yourself in its culture and getting some insight into the lifestyle of its people and their traditions, South Korea holds within its history of architecture a sense of timelessness that will not fail to please the eye and the heart. Having been deeply influenced by Chinese architecture, Korean architecture can be defined as very simple and natural and is mostly recognized by its sloping roofs.
Now book that ticket and get ready to expand your horizons and imagination through a quick glimpse of South Korea’s finest and most thrilling architectural marvels, from the vernacular villages and the ancient palaces to the dynamic and modern architecture of glass and steel!
South Korean architecture is quite outstanding when it comes to fortresses. Some of these have been well-preserved up until today, especially in Goguryeo, one of the three kingdoms of Korea and whose fortresses are built within the inclined slopes of its mountains.
1. Namdaemun Gate
Namdaemun Gate, one of the Eight Gates in the Fortress Wall of Seoul, dates back to the fourteenth century, during the Joseon dynasty, and is considered the first national treasure of South Korea. After facing some damage in 2008, the gate was however restored and reopened by 2013.
2. Hwaseong Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Fortresses used to be defined as single walls that would protect cities and towns, with a separate compartment in the mountains usually for evacuation. However, surrounding the center of Suwon, the Hwaseong Fortress which includes King Jeongjo’s palace Haenggung was built in a much more sophisticated way, including battlements, parapets, and secret hidden gates for defense. Both the palace and the fortress have been designated by UNESCO in 1997 as a world heritage site.
Buddhist temples and shrines arose in South Korea around 372 through China’s influence. Following a defined orientation and organization, the entrance gate to the temples would be facing north, with an orthogonal plan. This specific arrangement has also been adopted in the planning of palaces, a category that will be tackled on its own.
3. Jongmyo, a UNESCO World Heritage site
Memorial to the ancestors of the Joseon Dynasty kings, this shrine is the oldest royal Confucian shrine preserved from the fourteenth century. It was listed in 1955 as a World Heritage by UNESCO. It is formed of three main gates, one that has been reserved at the time for the entrance of spirits, another for the entrance of the royals, and lastly the ritual performers, and each giving a different orientation.
4. Temple of Heaven
Taking inspiration from the sun and the moon, the Temple of Heaven, also known as Wongudan Altar was built in 1897. The altar was made of granite and a building topped by a yellow roof was used for animal sacrifice. Today, visitors can only see the octagonal shrine remains after the destruction of the temple in 1913.
When it comes to South Korea, one of the main go-to sites is the ancient palaces. Despite having faced destruction due to wars and invasions, some of the most outstanding complexes with their unique sense of glory remain.
5. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is the biggest and main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. Having faced destruction at the beginning of the 20th century, its geometry was destroyed, and the main front gate was moved. Today, the palace remains an important site to visit, and it is home to the National Palace Museum and the National Folk Museum.
6. Yangdong Folk Village
Considered as a quite important folklore material in South Korea, Yangdong Folk Village does not only showcase the outstanding vernacular aspect of Gyeongju during the Joseon dynasty but has also been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2010. The village’s uniqueness resides as well in the breathtaking natural surroundings, whereas even the placement of the houses up and down the hills adopt the shape and topography of the site.
Modern and Contemporary Architecture
Aside from the traditional side of things and South Korea’s various historical and world heritage landmarks, the city has managed to thrive in modernism as well. From natural and simplistic to powerful and extravagant, South Korea’s skyline and streets have witnessed the rise of some of the most outstanding contemporary buildings and complexes designed by the most renowned architects. Here are a few!
7. Dongdaemun Design Plaza DDP
Designed by the famous Zaha Hadid, this plaza at the heart of Seoul is not to be missed! Creating a strong connection between the history of the city, the culture, and nature, it is the first project in Korea to rely on BIM digital design techniques. This plaza is of use for exhibitions as well as performance spaces and stores and with its magnificent envelope can hardly go unnoticed.
8. Seoul City Hall
With its futuristic vibe and its curved façade of glass and steel, Seoul City Hall built in 2012 is designed as an eco-friendly building and replicates an ideal image of what architects are imagining for the future of architecture in Korea and the world. The organic shape and curves remind us well of the eaves of the traditional Korean houses and palaces.
9. LEEUM Samsung Museum of Art
Established in 1965, the LEEUM Samsung Museum of Art is a private art gallery and exhibition consisting of 3 museums, each designed by OMA, Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel, three outstanding and popular names in the world of architecture and design. The complex displays various artworks from international and local artists, and is by itself a work of art, a must-visit for architecture and art lovers!
10. Incheon Tri-Bowl
The main idea behind this structure is rebellion: rebellion against the norms and standards that define what we think architecture should look like. As iconic as it looks, this multi-use building is made of a curved floor and a flat roof, highlighting its uniqueness. And despite its immensity, the structure gives the illusion of floating lightly on the pond underneath. Definitely a go-to where you’d get yourself some cool pictures for your Instagram feed!
Hwaseong Fortress. (2021, February 25). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hwaseong_Fortress
Jongmyo. (2021, March 10). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jongmyo
Korean Architecture. (2021, May 20). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_architecture
Namdaemun. (2021, March 17). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namdaemun
Rocha, D. D. (2019). Seoul: a small guide to the best contemporary architecture in town.
Retrieved from The Foreign Architect:
Wongudan. (2020, September 12). Retrieved from Wikipedia: