Counting the hanoks

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The following quotation came from the government of Seoul's official web site in 2005 (at that time: Anyone who walks the streets of Kahoi-Dong will quickly note that there is an extraordinary discrepancy between this official story and what is actually taking place.

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Traditional Korean-style Houses and Housing

Typical Korean houses generally have main family quarters and separate quarters for the master of the house and male guests. The main family quarters are for the wife and female members while the latter for the master, or husband. Houses usually face south and the master' s quarters are, in principle, put in the southeast. The family shrine is often located in the northeast, and the family quarters are in the northwest. The master' s quarters are at a higher level than the family' s, and the family shrine is seated at the highest place in the house.

The Gahoe-Dong [Kahoi-dong] area in Jongno-gu has the largest concentration of old tiled Korean-style houses called 'han-ok' . Gahoe-dong, which is currently packed with as many as 520 traditional Korean houses, was traditionally referred to as "Bukchon" (northern village) and known as the residential area for high-class "yangban (nobility)" community.

The floor space of each house averages 25 pyeong. It is said that originally there were only 30 or so Korean houses but the number increased sharply following the National Liberation in 1945. The largest one is located at 93-1, Gahoe-dong, Jongno-gu, with the land size and floor space respectively of 700 pyeong and 150 pyeong.

The [number of] Korean-style houses, however, had been decreasing quickly, and the Seoul City came to designate them as Local Cultural Assets on March 17, 1977, in an effort to protect them and preserve the area. In 1973, Gahoe-dong has been designated as the Korean-style House Preservation District and has since been put under the special care of the City. In the wake of modernization after the Japanese occupation and National Liberation, the Western-style housing came out in quantities replacing most of the Korean-style houses. Now, the community dwelling units like apartments and flats have already become the common forms of housing in Seoul.

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FOOTNOTE: Despite what the Mayor of Seoul had to say on his web site, there were no longer 520 hanok left. Following the redevelopment since 2001, there are now far less than 100 traditional hanok left. Over 80 hanok were demolished when the Mayor permitted the redevelopment of Kahoi-Dong 1 district - click here for details.

David Kilburn,
September 2005, updated November 6th 2006

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