Traditional Korean Residences and Their Gardens


raditional Korean gardens are said to always have an “untouched” or “natural” appearance.

People taking a strictly Japanese view might say that there is no such thing as a formal garden in the Korean tradition. They would also say that there is really no artificial ornamentation in traditional Korean archi­tecture. All a Korean garden consists of, they would claim, is enclosing the necessary area with lengths of carved granite or walling off an area of sloping ground. The far side of the garden might feature a lone tree and one or two strangely shaped rocks. However, the true character of the Korean garden can be seen in the rear garden of the Ch’ilgung Palace at the foot of Mount Pukak in Seoul. This is not a garden in the usual sense, but merely a part of the hillside around which a wall has been built to bring it into the orbit of the palace buildings.’

… This was not the work of architecture scholars or landscape architects who had traveled to foreign lands to study [the art of landscape architecture]. It displays a purely natural and native skill and requires no explanation to be understood.

… Unfortunately, these gardens have been defiled by people who… have abandoned the traditions of their ancestors. When we look at these and other famous gardens today, they have inevitably lost all sense of being untouched due to the indiscriminate introduction of Japanese gardening techniques devel­oped for the representation of nature in miniature.2

The above quotations are taken from Han’guk mi in t’amgu (A study of Korean beauty) by Kim Won-yong, and Han’guk йі p’ung’a (The elegance of Korea) by Ch’oe Sunu respectively. As they both demonstrate, the overt forms, the expressive techniques, and the raison d’etre of Korean gardens are completely distinct from those of Japanese, or Chinese, gardens.

Most traditional Japanese garden forms—the Zen tem­ple, shoin, and sukiya—were invariably designed with the primary aims of unifying the building interior and exteri­or and providing a view for a person sitting inside an adjacent room to gaze out onto. The stroll garden first created in the Edo period was intended to be “walked,” and therefore developed from a predominantly outdoor perspective. In both cases, regardless of the garden’s size, the environment achieves an overall unity of space based

on the relationship between inside and outside; this approach has been adopted widely in the composition of homes and gardens of the common people.

The manifest form of the traditional Chinese residental garden—designed to be admired from inside a room— bears no relation to the basic hall and courtyard composi­tion that forms the infrastructure for daily living. In China, gardens are completely removed from the business of ordinary life, which is reflected in their being built inde­pendently from the living spaces. These gardens were strolling gardens—the ting yuan (contemplative land­scape garden) and the larger yuanlin (landscape park gar­den)—centered around a shufang study and huating banquet hall, and were symbols of high social status exclusive to aristocratic families as well as literati, govern­ing officials, landowners and the nouveau riche.

Whereas the garden in Japan was somehow linked to people’s daily activities, Chinese culture created the yuanlin as an exclusive place quite apart from everyday living spaces.

If we define a garden in one or the other of these tradi­tions, the Japanese or the Chinese, then it would have to be said that gardens did not exist in the traditional Korean residential setting.

A number of uniquely Korean “conditions”—not pre­sent in either Japanese or Chinese settings—underpin the layout of traditional Korean homes and gardens. Since the formation of the Korean building/garden environment as a whole is based on these very conditions, they produce a number of fundamental factors that affect the composi­tion of Korean dwellings.

Influences on the Composition of Traditional Korean Residences

The practices and customs that have developed in the his­torical circumstances and social environment of the Korean

l’« peninsula have influenced not only the way Koreans live their lives but the way that they have composed their dwellings. There are five basic factors that influence the form of the residential environment. These are: location (factors based on the geomantic principles of p’ungsu), social status (factors based on the traditional hierarchical class system), social mores (factors based on Confucian principles), function (factors based on the ondol system of heating), locality (factors related to the dwelling’s locale [urban versus rural]).

The composition of all traditional Korean dwellings is based on a combination of these five factors, which are discussed in greater detail below. The focus of this research is on extant dwellings and gardens, so the investigation of these factors here is limited to the six hundred-year Choson period (a. d. 1392-1910).