Hanok refers to Korean traditional architecture style with various roof types including thatches, shingles and tiles. With the vanishing of thatch-roofed and shingle-roofed houses, Hanok today is generally understood as the tile-roofed house. There are many tile-roofed houses not only occupied as private residences, but also maintained as national cultural heritages.
The Korean style Hanok house is not only the tradition of the past but also an effective architectural style in modern times. Hanok’s charm is twofold: scientific excellence and environmental friendliness. The scientific excellence is demonstrated by a heating system called the “ondol.” Ondol helps residents endure the cold of winter by heating the floors of the home. The word ‘ondol,’ now registered in the Oxford Dictionary, literally means “warming the stone.” When heat coming from the fire in the kitchen is connected to the other rooms, the layer of stone in the floor of the target room becomes heated. The warm air at floor level rises, keeping the temperature of the whole room comfortable.
As much of Korean daily life utilizes the floor surfaces, the ondol culture, the core of the family’s indoor temperature control, is always mentioned when discussing Korea. In the West, the cold floor is often avoided, while chairs and beds are preferred. However, the comfort of the ondol means that Korean people, rather than avoiding the floor, make full use of it. In fact, the reason that it is necessary to take off shoes before entering a house is to keep the floor as clean as possible. This is because the floor is used for both dining and sleeping; short folding tables are brought out when dining, and bedclothes are placed on the heated floor at night for sleeping.
The words ‘downside’ and ‘upside’ are both derived from ondol. The floor near the fireplace is heated and is the hottest area when the fire is burning hot. The Korean people are always aware of the need to show respect to the elderly and therefore this area, the downside, is usually reserved for elders of the family. Fires are less necessary during the summer and Korean homes kept cool by utilizing natures cooling system, the movement of air. The Hanok house has fewer walls and more doors. When the door is closed, it becomes a wall and when it is open, it brings in the breeze to keep air circulating throughout the living spaces. That is why the Hanok keeps cool in the heat of summer.
Ondol is also used for medicinal purposes. The Korean language has the phrase “sizzling the body,” which refers to a kind of fomentation effect that is created when somebody lies on the hot floor in the cold winter. Such fomenting is known as being effective for tired or sick people, pregnant women and the elderly. To this day, Koreans prefer to forment on a toasty ondol floor when they get a cold or other such illness.
Another attraction of Hanok is its environmental friendliness. The earth, stone, wood and paper which make up the Hanok are obtained directly from natural sources. Wood is used in pillars, rafters, doors, windows, and flooring. Walls are a mixture of straw and earth. The Korean paper used throughout the house is made from natural wood pulp and is glued to the frame of the sliding doors and the cross ribs of the windows. The floor is polished with bean oil after covering it with Korean paper, making the flooring waterproof. The Hanok breathes on its own because every material is from nature. The wood and earth breath when it is humid indoors and exhale when it is dry.
Koreans built their homes in accordance to geomancy. Houses were positioned after considering the distance and direction in line with mountains and fields as well as the location of water. The direction and structure of the position of the house were decided by this principle. The theory of geomancy is not just a simple superstition. Koreans regard a house built against the background of a mountain and facing the south as being in the most ideal location, and certain points have to be taken into consideration when constructing a residential structure, such as limiting the effects of wind off the mountain, adequate ventilation and exposure to sunlight. When considering these points, Hanok is a very practical residential form.
Finally, the best experience of Hanok comes from the inside. With its scientific excellence and environmental friendliness, Hanok and its aesthetics may be appreciated the most from exploring it from its interior.
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