[KS] Officially condoned cultural vandalism: the destruction of hanok in Kahoi Dong
Afostercarter at aol.com
Afostercarter at aol.com
Wed Aug 31 04:33:14 EDT 2005
The joy of the World Wide Web, as we know, is
the way one thing leads to another ....
Wondering who this David Kilburn was,
who kindly sends me articles from time to time
- I don't know him personally, so far as I know -
I googled, as one does...
... and found the sorry tale of official vandalism below.
Is this widely known? (it was news to me).
How can such things happen now, in the C21,
in a country which has a strong Green movement
- where a fasting nun can hold up the final stage of the
Seoul-Pusan high speed train link to protect a lizard! -
and which (I thought) was genuinely concerned to
preserve its precious cultural heritage?
Yours in deep dismay,
Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds University
Home address: 17 Birklands Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire, BD18 3BY, UK
tel: +44(0) 1274 588586 (alt) +44(0) 1264 737634 mobile:
+44(0) 7970 741307
fax: +44(0) 1274 773663 ISDN: +44(0) 1274 589280
Email: afostercarter at aol.com (alt) afostercarter at yahoo.com website:
[Please use @aol; but if any problems, please try @yahoo too - and let me
know, so I can chide AOL]
The Destruction of Kahoi Dong
After six hundred years at the heart of Korean cultural and social life,
Seoul's Kahoi Dong district, "the place where beauty gathers," is being
relentlessly destroyed. Kahoi Dong is the last district in Seoul where there are whole
streets of Hanoks, preserving the ambience of Seoul a century ago. These old
homes are now being bulldozed to be replaced by two storey buildings built
mainly of concrete and decorated with a topping of traditional-style architecture.
For readers outside Korea: Hanoks are single-storey buildings based on a
cubical framework of interlocking wooden beams that rest on blocks of stone. Other
materials used to complete the buildings are also wholly natural materials
such as straw, mulberry paper, and clay. The materials and methods are
fundamentally the same as those used to build the royal palaces of the Choson dynasty
as well the old Buddhist temples, many of which have been lovingly restored in
These new developments are financed partly via government grants and low
interest loans. In a typical example, the owners of Kahoi Dong 31-96 were given a
government grant of Won 30 million and an interest-free long term loan of Won
20 million for "Hanok Repair and Redecoration." This money was used to
completely demolish a fine hanok and erect a modern two-storey building which has
also been licensed to operate as a wine bar. These arrangements were authorised
by officials at Chongro-gu who assert " . . there are no proper regulations
governing these matters."
The new developments bring great profit to speculative developers who
purchase the land at prices based on single storey dwellings and immediately re-sell
it at far higher prices, exploiting loopholes in various regulations to erect
As a result, Seoul's last hanok district is being destroyed; government
grants to encourage preservation are being made available solely for demolition;
and ordinary people are denied the chance to realise the fair value of their
More documents will be added to this site to show what is being done by
speculative construction companies under the guise of "preservation," and with the
help of local government officials in Chongro-gu, and the support of the Mayor
June 30th 2005
Message Board - (coming soon)
Links (will open in new windows)
Picture Gallery New Buildings that replace the old
Views (in autumn) of our own Hanok at Kahoi Dong 31-79
Speculation: How land values are manipulated in Kahoi Dong
Who are JAHO (the construction company demolishing Kahoi Dong)
Media.Daum Report (August 9th 2005)
Pansori Concert at Kahoi-dong 31-79 on August 27 2005
TV MBC Television (2005/7/21), TBS Television (2005/8/6) KTV (2005/8/12)
A meeting at the Chongrogochung (Video) July 14th 2005
An open letter to the President of Korea Korean / English July 6th 2005
Dong-A Ilbo July 1 2005 - protest about destruction in Kahoi Dong (Korean)
Joong Ang Ilbo June 27 2005 - about our own Hanok (Korean)
Government grants to demolish a hanok and build a wine bar! March 2005
Letter to the Mayor of Seoul November 7th 2004 (English)
Kim Ki-Duk selects our Hanok for filming "Bin Jip" August 2004 (English)
The House of Choi September 1990 - about our own Hanok ( also as PDF)
How you can Help Help needed! Last Updated: Monday, August 22, 2005 6:13 PM
A letter to President Roh Moo-hyun
July 6th 2005
Dear Mr. President,
Since 1987, my wife and I have made our Korean home in Kahoi Dong, one of the
last districts in Seoul where you could still find streets lined with
traditional hanok. We made this choice the day I saw my first hanok. It was love at
first sight, and we have enjoyed the pleasures of wood, paper, stone, and the
ondol ever since. We have also enjoyed adapting a traditional hanok for modern
life while preserving the peace and charm of its essential Korean character.
In 1990, as a journalist, I had the opportunity to write about our own hanok
and Kahoi-Dong for “Wingspan,” a magazine published by All Nippon Airways.
This was one of the first articles in English about hanok to reach a wide
audience. More recently, in 2004, filmmaker Kim Ki-Duk selected our house for
filming scenes for his movie “Bin Jip” – he wanted a hanok that reflected
traditional Korean values in contrast with other, newer, homes that appear in the film.
Kim Ki-Duk later won the Silver Lion for best director at the Venice Film
Festival in 2004 for “Bin Jip. This year, on June 27th, the Joong Ang Ilbo
published an article about these matters.
Much has changed since 1987. At various times, the government has relaxed or
tightened controls on the re-development of Kahoi-Dong. As a result, the once
traditional streets now have occasional apartment blocks or other modern-style
buildings. However, a few years ago Seoul city government launched plans to
preserve the whole of Bukchon as part of the capital’s historical and cultural
treasure. The city government offered grants and low interest loans to help
residents with restoration work on their own properties.
Yet in our own part of Bukchon, Kahoi-Dong 31, the results are the opposite
of what could be hoped. One after another, traditional hanok are being
demolished and replaced by modern, two storey buildings. These typically have a first
floor of reinforced concrete and steel and a second floor built hanok-style.
Such buildings have no place in a district preserving Seoul’s heritage. Even
more sadly, the demolished buildings would all have benefited from careful
restoration work and repair.
One of the new buildings, Kahoi-Dong 31-96, apparently received government
funding and was granted a business license for a wine bar and other commercial
The new buildings exploit construction laws and planning regulations to
betray the spirit of the original plan. The new buildings offer immense profit to
the speculative construction company that erects them.
We have contacted and met officials of the Chongroguchung many times since
June 7th 2004 and submitted many complaints to them about how these new works
have damaged our own house. At every encounter, officials told us that we were
powerless since all the new works were officially approved. We were told to go
away, to move out, and to give up. Last year, I also wrote to Seoul City Mayor
Lee Myung-Bak and, more recently, met Chongro-gu Mayor Kim Choong-Yong to
protest what is happening. All this has been to no avail. At a recent meeting in
Mayor Kim’s office, we were told “that we were too late, that nothing could
Last year, we applied for a grant to do more restoration and repair work on
our own house. Plans were submitted by a professional architect but rejected
because “we would be destroying some authentic Chosun features.” The features
cited were alterations we made in 1990’s, yet photographic evidence of this was
rejected, and the bulldozers continued to obliterate all the features of
neighbouring buildings. It appears the Chongroguchung is only willing to grant
money for preservation work that involves total demolition by a favoured
My concern is a simple one. I have spent 18 years of my life preserving and
restoring one single hanok to which I feel greatly attached. I do not wish to
see all this work wasted. Considering the history of the last century – the
depredations of the Japanese, the ravages of the Korean War, the iron rule of
military dictators – it is amazing that much of Korea’s traditional culture has
survived. When I reflect on how public officials neglect and betray their
duties to help preserve what has survived, it truly brings tears to my eyes.
Mr. President, I feel there are two questions that require attention:
1. How to preserve what little remains of the authentic Bukchon
2. The nature of the relationship between construction companies and public
officials concerned with new building in Kahoi dong 31. Who benefits and how
from these developments?
David & Jade Kilburn
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