[KS] Officially condoned cultural vandalism: the destruction of hanok in Kahoi Dong

sangoak at snu.ac.kr sangoak at snu.ac.kr
Thu Sep 1 12:10:55 EDT 2005

Indeed, not only the destruction of hanok but also the 

 of hanok is officially condoned by 
the Seoul City government because of cultural ignorance.


The master carpenter Yi SUng-Op who reconstructed KyOngbok Palace built 
his own house and sold it to my great-grandfather in 1889. I was born in this 
house and lived until 1964. Fortunately it was selected as 
cultural asset of Seoul (no. 20) in 1977, and moved to the north side of 
Namsan in 1996. This (the first from the entrance) house at Namsan Hanok 
MaUl (Village) is used as Yennal Ch'ajip (Old Tea House), which is somewhat 
against safely preserving traditional architecture.

Besides some inside transformations, of particular 
concern is the loss of the walls that divided the 
quarters), the 
(men's quarters), and the 

 (servants' quarters) from one another.The inner walls 
kept the socially proper distance from each other reflecting an important 
hierarchy of everyday 
 life. This residence is not authentically 
restored yet by the Seoul City government because of their 
cultural ignorance.


Sang-Oak Lee

Department of Korean, Seoul National University
--- Original Message ---
>From    : 
 "Afostercarter at aol.com"<Afostercarter at aol.com>
To      : 
 "Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws"<Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Date    : 
 2005/08/31 수요일 오후 5:33:14
Subject : 
 [KS] Officially condoned cultural vandalism: the destruction of	hanok in Kahoi Dong
Dear Listmembers,

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: www.aidanfc.net

[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 recent years.

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 two-storey buildings.

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 homes.

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 of Seoul. 

David Kilburn

June 30th 2005


Message Board - 
(coming soon)


 (will open in new windows)


Picture Gallery
 New Buildings that replace the old

 (in autumn) of our own Hanok at Kahoi Dong 31-79

 How land values are manipulated in Kahoi Dong

Who are 
 (the construction company demolishing Kahoi Dong)

Media.Daum Report
(August 9th 2005

Concert at Kahoi-dong 31-79 on 
August 27 2005

TBS Television

A meeting at the 
July 14th 2005

An open letter to the President of Korea 
July 6th 2005

Dong-A Ilbo
 July 1 2005 - protest about destruction in Kahoi Dong 

Joong Ang Ilbo
 June 27 2005 - about our own Hanok 

Government grants
o demolish a hanok and build a wine bar! 
March 2005

Letter to the Mayor of Seoul
November 7th 2004

Kim Ki-Duk
 selects our Hanok for filming "Bin Jip" 
August 2004

The House of Choi
September 1990
 - about our own Hanok ( also as

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 activities.

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 be done.”

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 construction company.

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?

Most Respectfully,

David & Jade Kilburn







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