It’s more than ok….It’s hanok.

‘Home’ is an increasingly abstract concept for those of us who are living in a country in which we were not born. An evocative word, which many have attempted to define, a concept most spend their efforts to create and even design, home is where we all go when we need to take shelter from the outside world. Wherever you are, home, as the saying goes, is where the heart(h) is.

The first signs of Spring stir up the nest building instinct in all creatures, with cleaning sprees, refurbishments and embellishments as strong theme of Spring festivals and celebration in cultures across the globe. Jeju Island’s annual “Moving Week” or Shingugan 신구간 took place in 2019 from January 26th to February 2nd. During this auspicious time the local gods take their vacation, including the household gods such as the Kitchen God. This means that mortals can get on with their upheavals and removals without disturbing the gods’ work.

Most of these respectful home-makers re-settle into modern apartments, prioritising convenience and economics over sustainability or tradition. Lately, however, restoration of original buildings has come into fashion. Korean architects are turning their eye to the past for inspiration. The Korean traditional  house or ‘hanok’ 한옥 brings together the key elements of style, functionality, efficiency, and national customs, which perfectly reflect what it is to be Korean. Hanoks provide the inhabitants with an environment carefully manufactured to help its inhabitants to survive the fluctuating temperatures plus varying humidity levels of the annual four seasons, whilst still presenting an aesthetically pleasing inside and out. Historic hanoks are restored and visited as national treasures and tourist attractions, are often used as film and television or venues for events such as weddings. Most Buddhist temples are modelled on the painted wooden hanok tradition. Pictured here is the iconic silhouette of the sloped Korean temple rooftop:

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New hanoks are being restored, rebuilt, renovated and used as modern homes, guest houses and cafes or restaurants. Here is a really beautiful example of a new-build hanok “Hanok Dong Dawon” 한옥 동다원. It is a teahouse and cafe, with tea fields to the back of the property. The garden seating area at the back of the L-shaped main house is East facing to catch the morning light, whilst the courtyards backs on to Halla Mountain to the South.


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Here is a link to Hanok Dong Dawon’s Naver blog in Korean

The residential part of the building is available to rent and is located in the Aewol countryside off the main Aejoro Road (애조로).

All of these examples of hanok maintain a combination of features that date back to the 14th Century Joseon Dynasty era. These features are in many ways an antithesis of modern high-rise architecture. The hanok takes time, effort, and thought to build. Its materials are well-sourced for their longevity and harmony with the immediate surroundings. Becoming popular in an era when land space used not to be regarded as such a scarcity, breadth of space takes priority over height. The most traditional designs are built slightly raised from ground level, multiple storeys are not generally included, and stairs are kept to a minimum.

One of the most charming features of the hanok is its courtyard. A space shared by the inhabitants that is in the centre of the L, U, or square-shaped collection of buildings, depending on the regional style favoured. Here are two styles of simple, functional Jeju hanok located near Iho Beach on the North coast of the island. These humble abodes are juxtaposed against the modern apartment tower blocks of Shin Jeju, Jeju City seen in the background. The photograph on the left shows a tin-roof typical seaside or ‘fisherman’s’ house. On the right, the property makes use of a vegetable garden to the North and an L-shaped courtyard to the West. The overhanging eaves of the roof provide shelter for firewood and an outdoor workspace with adequate shelter from the wind:




Courtyards can also be used as a safe and functional storage space for necessities such as kimchi (stored in covered ceramic jars outdoors during Winter long before the invention of electric refrigerators):

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The semi-public space nestled within the adjoining walls or buildings can be enjoyed in pleasant weather for socializing, gossip, romance, and, more recently, taking selfies. This is a newly-built hanok building at Gyeongsang National University, Jinju, Gyeongsangnamdo. It is not in daily usage, and is opened up only for special traditional events and ceremonies, such as historical re-enactments. It was well shaded and naturally ventilated on a humid early Summer’s day when this photo was taken:


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The architect considers the prospect of the hanok’s estate carefully to maximise the natural provision of shelter and insulation. Ideally, the mountain should be to the back or the property, and river, well/spring, or ocean to the front. Equally, the hank architect has considered the position of the Sun and the effect of sunrise, sunset and daytime light exposure in relation to the house, to make best use of Winter sunlight, whilst providing enough shade in the central courtyard during the blazing Summer months. The roof, originally made of thatch harvested from dried long grasses, should be sloped to provide indoor ventilation and to drain water away from the house during the rainy season. Recent roof designs make use of treated wood, ceramic tiles and corrugated tin. Traditional wax-coated papers line the window frames to maximise insulation, privacy and shade. Finally, ondol (underfloor hot water pipe) heating systems protect against the bitter Winter temperatures (still in use in modern Korean buildings to this day), creating a cosy indoor space in which to rest and recover until Spring.

For more a more detailed analysis of hanok architecture, please visit:


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