Korean architecture considers the positioning of the house in relation to its surroundings, with thought given to the land and seasons. The interior of the house is also planned accordingly. This principle is called baesanimsu (Hangul: 배산임수; Hanja: 背山臨水), meaning that the ideal house is built with a mountain in the back and a river in the front. Hanok shapes differ by region. In the cold northern regions of Korea, hanoks are built in a square with a courtyard in the middle in order to retain heat better. In the south, hanoks are more open and L-shaped.
Paleolithic people in the Korean Peninsula stayed in caves or made temporary houses. In the Neolithic era, the temporary house developed into a dugout hut. They dug into the ground with a small shovel and built a small house which used rafters and columns. Woods was used for the rafters and columns, and straw was used for roof. In the Bronze Age, there were several columns in the house, so the area of house was extended relative to early houses. Iron Age Hanok had Ondol (Hangul: 온돌, Hanja: 溫堗), and also used Giwa(Hangul: 기와), a kind of roofing tile which was made with baked soil. By using Giwa roof tiles, hanok developed a specific shape.
The Enlightenment saw many foreigners visit the hermit kingdom. For this reason, Christianity was spread, but it wasn't common. Anglicanism and Catholicism were particularly more common. Thus, early Churches utilized the hanok style. This church is located in Ganghwa County, Jincheon County, Cheongju.
From the 1970s, the old architects learned today's architecture, they aware hanok as an old day's antiquated and inefficient architecture and demolished a lot of hanoks of historical value have been disappeared. In big cities of South Korea, only small clusters of hanoks remain. However, the value of hanok has been highlighted from the 2000s the efficiency of hanok's eco-friendly function and healing effectiveness has been emphasized. Today, the number of people who try to move into hanok is growing rapidly to cure diseases such as atopy and asthma which are mainly caused by environment. Recently, many other places try to follow the designs like hanok's gentility such as in public places;bathroom, signs and even private places;cafe. Today, some train stations are built in hanok design. (Jeonju station is famous)
In Gaesung, the traditional hanoks originally there remain and play a role as a tourist attraction. Kiwajibs are surrounding the hanoks.
In northeast China, hanoks also can be found and Koreans are living in hanoks building for themselves over 100 years. Also, from 2010, people are working on a project focused on making a hanok village in Heilongjiang, China.
According to old paper about house in April 23 of 1907, the terms that Hanok appeared on the history for the first time. In that paper, Hanok was figure out the specific region where Jeong-dongroad, from Donuimun to Baejae school. At that time, instead of using Hanok, terms like 'Jooga'(It means living houses), 'Jaetaek'(It means all kinds of house) were used widespread. So 'Hanok' was only used special circumstance when latest house was built in somewhere.
When era of Korea under Japanese rule, the ruler used terms such as 'Jooga' or 'Joseon House' when they were talking about house improvement. There was a record about hanok, however the specific terms of hanok, hasn't used prevalently.
The specific word, Hanok, appeared on Samsung Korean big dictionary in 1975, it defined as antonym of western house and of Joseon house, house of Korean style. After the 1970s, with urban development lots of Apartment, Row House was built in South Korea, a big number of Hanoks deappeared in every town. From that time, hanok was only called Korean traditional house.
The environment-friendly aspects of traditional Korean houses range from the structure's inner layout to the building materials which were used. Another unique feature of traditional houses is their special design for cooling the interior in summer and heating the interior in winter.
Since Korea has hot summers and cold winters, the 'Ondol (Gudeul),' a floor-based heating system, and 'Daecheong,' a cool wooden-floor style hall were devised long ago to help Koreans survive the frigid winters and to block sunlight during summer. These primitive types of heating and air-conditioning were so effective that they are still in use in many homes today. The posts, or 'Daedulbo' are not inserted into the ground, but are fitted into the cornerstones to keep Hanok safe from earthquakes.
The raw materials used in Hanok, such as soil, timber, and rock, are all natural and recyclable and do not cause pollution. Hanok's have their own tiled roofs (Giwa; Hangul: 기와), wooden beams and stone-block construction. Cheoma is the edge of Hanok's curvy roofs. The lengths of the Cheoma can be adjusted to control the amount of sunlight that enters the house. Hanji (Korean traditional paper, Hangul: 한지) is lubricated with bean oil making it waterproof and polished. Windows and doors made with Hanji are beautiful and breathable.
The shapes of Hanok differ regionally. Due to the warmer weather in the southern region, Koreans built Hanok in a straight line, like the number 1. In order to allow good wind circulation, there are open wooden floored living area and many windows. The shape of the most popular Hanok in the central region is like letter "L" or Korean letter "ㄱ", an architectural mixture of the shapes in the northern and the southern regions. Hanoks in the cold northern region, are box-shaped like Korean letter "ㅁ" so that it would be able to block the wind flow in building Hanoks. They do not have an open wooden floored area but the rooms are all joined together.
The structure of Hanok is also classified according to social class. Typically the houses of yangban (upper class), Jungin (middle class) and urban commoners with giwa (tiled roof) emphasized not only the function of the house, but also possessed great aesthetic value. On the other hand, the houses of the provincial commoners (as well as some impoverished yangban) with choga (a roof plaited by rice straw) were built in a more strictly functional manner.
Many hanoks have been preserved, such as:
- Bukchon Hanok Village, a residential quarter in Central Seoul
- Namsangol Hanok Village in Pil-dong neighborhood of Jung-gu in Seoul
- Hahoe Folk Village, a traditional village from the Joseon Dynasty located in Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
- Yangdong Folk Village, a traditional village from the Joseon Dynasty in Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea, along the Hyeongsan River.
- Korean Folk Village, a tourist attraction in the city of Yongin, Gyeonggi
- Jeonju Hanok Village, located in Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do is one of the largest Hanok districts in Korea with over 800 hanok houses.
Sungjosin, Samshinhalmi (one who gives birth to women), Kitchen God etc. believed by people that there are different kinds of gods related to the house of each enrollment. This belief is shared with the religion of the Ainu.
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