[KS] Traditional Korean houses demolished
ansonjae at sogang.ac.kr
Sun Sep 4 21:29:44 EDT 2005
The big demolition of a whole swathe of traditional houses up on the north-eastern edge of Gahoi-dong dates
from 2000-1, I think, when a big area was 're-developed' as 'villas' in response to the demand for 'nice
modern residences' in the center of Seoul. There is an area designated as a 'Hanok preservation area' known
as 'Buk-chon' (North village) that is centered on Gahoi-dong and anyone owning a traditional house there
can get a grant of 50 million Won from Seoul City for the restoration of the outside appearance (mainly the
roof) but at least half the sum is only forthcoming after the work has been done and a team of 'experts'
have inspected the result for conformity to tradition. Five minutes after they have approved the result and
left, you can call the builders back in to do anything you like. The Big Problem is that there is no such
grant offered if you live in a Hanok outside of the designated area, no matter how pretty it is.
But the biggest problem is, obviously, the fact that (almost?) no one wishes to live in a Real Korean
House, in which the rooms are often tiny, the paper-lined doors all open onto an inner yard that in winter
is freezing, the fire used to cook rice in the kitchen has to heat the stone floors, and the toilet is in
an unheated hut across the yard. Isabella Bird Bishop indicates that there was not room to stand upright in
the ordinary houses she visited. Obviously the yangban-house was different, but not so very different.
The houses in Gahoi-dong that have been restored are almost always largely remodelled, the central yard is
often covered; the whole building may be raised higher to get more light; interior walls are removed; the
stone slabs are scooped out from the floors and the usual hot-water pipes or electric heating panels
installed. Bathrooms with showers are popular. It is reported that most interiors of the houses that are
residential have sofas, tables and dining chairs. The few I have seen are mostly just like appartments. One
popular 'traditional' feature that is usually valued is the pattern formed by the pine-wood roof beams that
are exposed, scraped and varnished. This too is not really traditional, exposed beams being previously only
found in the 'maru' (wooden-floored space) and all other rooms being provided in the past with a ceiling of
paper, across which mice might run noisily.
Given that the average house in Gahoi-dong now costs about 12-15 million Won per pyeong and that anything
smaller tham 30 p is quite cramped, it is hardly surprising that their owners wish to enjoy comfort; it is
obviously not going to be the same house as when it was first built, but we should perhaps be grateful that
anything at all remains. All the beautiful Japanese mansions of Chongpa-dong, south-west of Seoul station,
have long since been replaced by something modern and ugly. The finest house surviving in Anguk-dong is
that once used by Yun Bo-song, but I do not believe that any member of the family now lives there.
Sogang University, Seoul
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