The Choson Dynasty was founded by an ambitious general, Yi-Songge,
in 1392, and ontinued until 1910, The history of Choson architecture
would be described in three periods of the early, the middle, and
the late period, in accordance with the cultrural and architectural
In the early period, The architecture developed as a succession
from the cultural inheritance of the previous dynasty with the new
political guiding principles of Confucianism, that took the place
of Buddhism. Through the influence of Confucianism, a refined aristocratic
taste of the previous era was replaced by the characteristics of unsophisticated,
simple and humble beauty with the qualities of commonness and steadiness.
The intercolumnar bracket set system was used in building the most
important edifice on the premises. The columnar bracket set system
and the eclectic bracket system, which consists of architectural elements
from both columnar and intercolumnar systems, were also used for temples
and other important buildings.
From the beginning of the middle period, national resources were
exhausted due to the Japanese invasions which started from l592 and
continued for seven years. The recovery from the destruction caused
by this invasion was very slow. Divison and rivalry among Confucian
scholars who controlled the country politically and socially produced
more severe party strife. Because of the anti-Manch attitude of the
Korean scholars, the cultural influence of Ch'ing was exerted so little
upon the Korean culture that native element and expression in architecture
were developed more extensively. The intercolumnar bracket set system
was generally used for all the important buildings in this period.
In the later period, which began with the reign of King Yongjo,
the cultural revival of the dynasty began in 1725 by the influence
of western concepts which came into Korea through the Jesuits. The
new "Real Learning" (Sil-hak) party, which was based on scientific
and inductive approach, flourished in the country. The desire for
creation and innovation was in the air. Koreans were becoming conscious
of themselves and their own culture, and were ready to express their
ideas and values. In this period, building methods of the intercolumnar
bracket set system were developed further by manifesting peculiar
features and expressing their own forms, thus providing a unique distinction
from Chinese and Japanese architecture.
During the early years of the Choson Dynasty, a tremendous amount
of building construction took place. The new capital of Hansung (Seoul)
was developed on the bank of the Han River. The stone wall of sixteen
kilometers encircling the capital was completed with eight principal
gates. The capital city planning was laid out to harmonize with the
natural terrain which was surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains.
A grid pattern for the street system was applied in general, but it
was modified due to the existing terrain and many spontaneous irregulary
curved roads, detours, and cul-de-sacs were laid out.
The great straight Thoroughfare ran from the East gate to the West
Gate, and the curved broad avenue from the South Gate extended toward
the north to Chong-ru (Bell tower) where the city signal bell was
hung at the central location of the eastwest thoroughfare, creating
a T-shaped intersection. One broad avenue from Kyongbok Palace located
at the foot of Mt. Pugak (North Mountain) ran to the south, and another
broad avenue from Ch'angdok Palace also ran south parallel with each
other. Both avenues reached the great east-west thoroughfare with
a T-shaped intersection. Along these broad avenues and the main part
of the great thoroughfare, long linear buildings of stores, shops
and work rooms were built on both sides of the road to create a busy
Palaces, shrines, government edifices and other important buildings
were carefully oriented in relation to the north-south axis. Most
of these buildings were located along the T-shaped road intersections
to create terminal vistas of townscape. As a result, the overall townscape
of the city of Hansung had a much different quality in comparison
with other capital cities of Asia.
From the early period, a building code was enacted to control the
size of houses and method of building construction according to occupant's
status. It specified the span of beams, height of pillars, architectural
details as well as the area of the building site. No one was allowed
to compete with the magnificance of the royal palace,
The South Gate to the capital is the most spectacular and majestic
among the existing gates in the country. It was rebuilt in l444 and
since then has been renovated from time to time, but retained its
original proportion and details of the early period, The double tiered
roof above the massive masonry of the gate makes it graceful and monumental
Once, t|here were number of towngates. Now, some of them remain
in Korea. The gates and watch towers of Suwon, about thirty miles
south-east of Seoul, are the most picturesque among Korean townscape.
The Suwon Wall was completed in l796 with the most advanced design
process and construction methods at the time in Asia. Some of western
techniques and devices for castle building works were adopted in the
construction. The record of the construction, called the Hwasong-Songyok-Yeeki,
explains the complete story of its completion including drawings of
the buildings, illustrations of the architectural details, material
quantities, expense of the construction and even all of the names
of the skilled workers who were engaged in the work.
In the new capital, the forty-acre palatial area of Kyongbok-Palace
was laid out in 1395 and a number of handsome buildings were constructed.
But foe palace was ruined during the Japanese invasion and rebuilt
by the Prince Regent in l870. The layout of the main buildings is
in the north-south axial pattern of the magic square with the enclosed
space by covered colonnades. The main gate to the palace, called Kwanghwa-mun,
was very handsome, but unfortunately the superstructure was destroyed
during the Korean War.
The Throne Hall called Kunjeoing Hall, is set upon double-tiered
stone platforms which are surrounded by carved railings and have stone
steps at the center of each side. The hall itself is double-roofed
and lofty, and exhibits a sense of majestic power. The complicated
ceiling structure is supported by tall pillars of varying heights,
and the intercolumnar bracket set system constitutes more than half
the height of the space inside. There is an admirable union of the
far projecting roof and the building itself in the row of harmoniously
disposed exterior bracket cluster system with horns. And their twinkling
contrast of light and shade with decorated bracket cluster system
produced some unique effects in the architectural space of the Hall.
Behind and to the west of the Throne Hall, the Kyonghoe-ru or the
Banquet Hall is set in an artificial lake filed with pink lotuses.
The building is a grand double storied structure with the lower story
open to air. Forty-eight large tapered granite columns support the
upper story, The lower story is provided with an inner and an outer
veranda spacious enough to accommodate hundreds of guests at a time.
A great curving roof caps the entire space. Three stone bridges connect
the pavilion with the garden. Behind this formal area there is another
garden with a pond and island designed for the pleasure of the court.
The Ch'angdok Palace was first built in l405 as a detached palace.
This palace is situated upon a hilly terrain further to the east of
Kyungbok Palace and is extremely irregular in layout. Although destroyed
several times by fire in the past, it was successfully rebuilt and
used throughout the dynasty. The entrance to the palace is Tonhwa
Gate was constructed in l609. The gate is located to the southwest
of the Throne Ha11 known as Injong-jon. The Throne Hal is a large
double roofed building of imposing appearance and is surrounded by
covered colonnades. The hall itself which was rebuilt in 1804, has
been representative of the best architecture of the later period of
Ch'anggyong Palace was located near Ch'angdok Palace. The Throne
Hall, Myongjong Hall, and the Main Gate called Honghwa-mun, were built
in 1616. The Throne Hall was the only example of an earlier throne
hall of the dynasty. Toksu Palace, which was built in the last period,
contains two Western style buildings.
In the Choson dynasty Buddhists were forced to move out from the
cities to remote mountainous areas. The arrangement of the temple
buildings were determined by the terrain and natural surroundings.
The main hall was built in the center of the premises and dormitories
for monks were located on the east or west of the front court of the
main hall. A raised pavilion was erected at the edge of the front
court and gates were built in front of the pavilion. Other buildings
were located to fit the existing terrain of the site. Most of the
Buddhist temples were founded early in the United Silla and the Koryo
dynasty. Ever since, some of the buildings in the temples have been
rebuilt and renovated continuously. Many of These buildings were rebuilt
in the Choson dynasty, and are still existing and show us the historical
development of architecture during the dynasty.
The five-story pagoda at Pubjoo Temple was rebuilt in 1624. It reaches
a height of about eighty feet with a ball-and-crown spire on top and
is the only remaining wooden pagoda in Korea. The ten-story stone
pagoda of Wongak Temple, which was built in 1644, has similar features
of the stone pagoda of Kongchon Temple site.
The Confucian Shrine was located in the eastern part of the old
city of Seoul. Moon-myo, the Shrine of Confucious, was rebuilt in
1601. Myungryun Hall, Confucian College, with lecture halls and dormitories,
were rebuilt in 1606 and renovated later on. Many private Confucian
schools were built to educate young men in their provinces, The best
example is Tosan-Sowon, built in l574 by the famous scholar Yi-Hwang.
Some of the educational buildings, shrines, and houses for the scholars
The Royal Shrine of the Choson dynasty, Chong-myo, is located to
the south-east of Kyungbok Palace. The buildings are set on spacious
grounds which still harbor a great number of trees. The layout of
the buildings in the wooded area has a very unique spatial quality.
The dwelling houses have a greater relation to the traditional patriarchal
family system and the concept of human relation to society. The selection
of the building sites was made through geometry, which was a cosmological
interpretation of the landscape and its utility for people and function.
Certain time aspects such as horoscopes were also considered. From
such a space time matrix, the best location and orientation for a
house was found.
The plan of traditional Korean houses had little basis on the physical
function, but more on the traditional custom of the family and social
life. The sociocultural factors were the prime determinants of housing
patterns, and physical factors were secondary or modifying. Houses
of the higher society of the dynasty consisted of innerquarter for
women and children, outerquarter for men and a guests, and a rear
garden with a pavilion or an ancestral shrine. The area of activities
in t|he house was cleary classified according to human relationship
The gardens and landscapes were formed thorough typical Taoist conception,
irregularity, asymmetry, curvilinear, undulating forms, mystery and
the imitation of nature. The concept of the human being as a part
of nature has long prevariled in Korean thought. Architecture never
extended foe formality of building patterns into the surrounding landscape.
The garden was not conceived as a setting for the house, but rather
the house was a setting for the garden. The typical royal gardens
of the dynasty called the Rear Gardens is located behind the Ch'angdok
Palace with an extensive secluded area of landscape. A number of pleasure
pavilions are located along the ponds and streams in the garden.
In the period of the Choson dynasty, Korean architecture
developed further with a unique will to manifest the expression of
the ideas and values of the period. The bracket cluster system, structurally
and visually important elements of the buildings, were developed to
follow structural function and to express the unique formal beauty
of Korean architecture. Architectural ornaments and their symbolic
connotation had more variety and richness. Architects of the period
intended to express a strong will to form an indigenous style in architecture,
and tried to use decorative elements of all kinds. This achieved a
kind of symphonic quality with the methods of architectural organization
by strong contrast of light and dark, of simplicity and complexity,
and then finally reached the definite climax of architectural ingenuity.
This tendency of architectural expression of the later period might
remind us somewhat similar impressions of the Western Baroque and
| A Brief History
of Korean Architecture. |Palace
Architecture of Ch'angdok-kung |Korea contemporary