Most importantly, the prime criteria in the orientation and layout of a hanok were that it had to be in harmony with the surrounding natural environment. It had to sit with a mountain in the back and stream of flowing water in the front. The house itself was to mirror nature, and there was no excessive digging of the ground during construction. When building a hanok, it was important that there was minimal environmental impact.
70% of the surface area of Korea is mountainous or hilly. Although extremely mountainous, mountains are seldom excessively rugged in Korea, consisting mostly of gently-sloped ridges and valleys. Befitting to these invitingly gentle ridges, houses were built in moderate size, neither too big nor too small. The roof of a hanok is in perfect harmony with the lines of the surrounding mountain ridges and the left and right sides of the house are rarely symmetric. Both in shape and size, the two sides are asymmetric. This is because mountainous ridges against which Korean houses are set are asymmetric. The asymmetry of Korean houses, therefore, makes them blend seamlessly into the surrounding mountains and hills.
Set against a mountain and facing a stream, a hanok is traversed by the cool air of the mountains, which flows into the warmer air in the front yard through the back windows of the hall. The cool air, halted in its movement for a while by the house, soon flows into the house through the windows gaining speed and creating a refreshing breeze. This breeze travels through all the open doors and circulates the air in the house. The hall, or central living space, is made of wood while the rooms are made of dirt and clay, and therefore, each of the rooms maintains a different temperature depending on the materials used. The spaces in a Korean house are arranged in such a way that it ensures privacy while at the same time providing a connection to each other.
The buildings composing a hanok were distributed in an orderly manner, around the yard. If the lot was slanted, houses were built on the slanted ground, or seldom leveled before. As a general rule, the main buildings of a house were built on higher grounds, and annex buildings on lower-lying portions of the lot. Main buildings were larger and had higher roofs in order to create a harmonious skyline. Another important ordering principle was the inside and outside divisions. In most upper-class houses of the Joseon period, the inner quarters for women and children and outer quarters for men were clearly divided. The inside and outside divisions were also applied according to the social rank. While the family occupied the inner and men’s quarters, the servants and farm hands’quarters were located closer to and on either side of the main gate of the house. The middle section of the house was occupied by cheongjigi, middle-class people who were hired by the upper-class to do various chores.
The layout of a hanok varied according to the regional climate. In northern provinces where winter is long and frigid, the rooms were laid out in a square plan to enclose the central living space, hence preventing the cold wind from entering the house. In southern provinces where the temperature is milder with longer summers, the rooms were laid out in a straight line, to optimize airflow, and the hall (central living space) in the center was open on one or both sides with many windows to let in natural air. In central Korea, the layout combined the northern and southern styles to form an L-shape.
Northern Region (square layout) Because the kitchens were built very large, a jeonjugan was included in the construction. The storage room and stables were also included indoors.
Central Region (L layout) A small central living space with small windows was located between the main and second bedrooms. This was a typical layout of a central region home.
Southern Region (straight-line layout) All the rooms of the house were aligned in a straight line and the central living space was positioned at the center of the house. Southern houses were unique in that they had many windows and doors.
1 Toetgan (appending room) 2 Daecheong (hall/central living space)
3 Geonneonbang (second bedroom) 4 Anbang (main bedroom) 5 Gwang (granary)
6 Bueok (kitchen) 7 Keunbang (large bedroom) 8 Bang (room)
9 Dojangbang (lady’s dressing room) 10 Oeyanggan (stable) 11 Toenmaru (veranda) 12 Jeongjugan (space between the kitchen and the main bedroom)