Cultural, Practical, and Regulatory Influences on Early Modern Building Typologies and Floor Plans in Korea (1880s-1910s)

Building typologies at the outset of Korea’s opening in the nineteenth century widely varied between rudimentary and engineered. Cultural influence played a role in the formation of such architectures as some of these buildings were not one style or another, instead resting on a spectrum between vernacular and foreign. Practical matters such as material availability and the way a given building would be used also shaped what was, and what could be, constructed. Furthermore, evolving building rules and regulations sometimes influenced the formation of a given building or the way its inhabitants lived. While categorizing building types between the 1870s-1910s can be challenging due to the amorphous roots of some examples, the cultural and practical influences on the earliest modern architectures are perceptible, if not arguably clear.

Some of the most apparent cultural influences at play came from late Qing and Meiji-era open port architectures. In addition to local Joseon influence, and the influence exerted by Westerners residing in Korea, the features of such typologies were summed together just after the birth of the ports of Chemulpo and Fusan, also reaching the capital of Seoul and peripheral towns like Wonsan. Furthermore, the architectural hybridity of these places could also account for the many confusing stories of Korea in which some foreign travelers characterized certain aspects as familiar and others as alien. This article attempts to categorize some of these buildings into specific typologies while also identifying and discussing some of the cultural, practical, and regulatory influences at play during this time. These building types have been subdivided into categories not only defined by building form, but also by their perceived dominant cultural and geographical origins.

Chinese Building Type 1
Drawing from simple vernacular homes in mainland China, buildings of this type appear to have come after the Korean customs service staff began to arrive in 1883 and the Chinese community began to form at Chemulpo and Wonsan. They can be characterized as detached, single-story structures bearing either a hipped or gable roof. They were likely either structurally built of, or in-filled, with Chinese blue brick and plastered over. Though aspects of this type were found in other buildings, purer forms (as pictured) were relatively uncommon.

Figure 1. Images depicting detached vernacular Chinese-style buildings in Korea. (A) The customs buildings at Chemulpo – probably the customs buildings that were built in 1885. The building on the hill is the first British consulate building there. (B) Three Chinese-style buildings in Chemulpo, photographed in the late 1900s to early 1910s. (C) The Chinese settlement at Wonsan in the 1890s, which had many buildings of this type.

Sources: (A) History of Incheon-fu [Jinsen-fu-shi, 1933], (B) Undated postcard, Nate Kornegay Collection, (C) James Scarth Gale, Korean Sketches (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1898).

Chinese Building Type 2
Drawing from commercial areas such as Shanghai’s Foochow Road, buildings of this type might not have been found in Korea until the 1890s. These were typically two-story shophouses with a walk-out balcony and gabled roof. Based on color photographs of this type in Seoul, it was common for them to be built of Chinese blue brick, though other versions could be found made of timber with the facade plastered. Such shophouses were built in rows that occupied a significant amount of street frontage. The shop section of the building would either occupy the front of the ground floor, or the entirety of the ground floor, with living spaces towards the back or on the second floor. Shophouses of this type were also brought into 1800s Japan through Chinese and Western influence – specifically at Dejima, Nagasaki, Kobe, and Yokohama. As such, in theory, the Chinese shophouse could have entered Korea via both Shanghai and Nagasaki.

Figure 2. Images depicting the vernacular Chinese shophouse typology in Korea. (A) Shophouses in the Chinese settlement at Chemulpo, (B) Shophouses in the Chinese settlement at Chemulpo, (C) a single Chinese-type shophouse at a street corner between William Franklin Sands’ home and Wongudan in Seoul, probably built some time after 1901, (D) Chinese-style shophouses in either Seoul or Chemulpo, photographed in 1904, (E) commercial buildings owned by Westerners opposite of the main gate of Deoksugung, photographed in 1902.

Sources: (A) Undated postcard from the late 1900s to early 1910s, Nate Kornegay collection, (B) Undated postcard from the 1910s-1920s, Nate Kornegay collection, (C) Photograph of Wongudan area, Esther Shields album, Princeton Theological Seminary Library, (D) Willard Dickerson Straight Collection, Cornell University Library, (E) Corée Séoul Sortie du Palais de l’empereur Yi-hyeng, le cortège. Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères.

Multi-story versions of the Chinese shophouse, like the tong lau of nineteenth century Hong Kong, may have been found in Korea as early as the 1890s. However, did not become meaningfully common until the 1920s-1930s.

Figure 3. Images of Chinese-type “tong lau” buildings in Chemulpo compared to drawings of shophouses and tenement buildings in 1882 Hong Kong. (A) A published photograph of Chemulpo in the 1890s, (B) a postcard showing Chemulpo in the 1910s-1930s, (C) a postcard showing Chemulpo in the 1920s-1930s, (D) a postcard depicting the way in which some Chinese buildings at Chemulpo were built below street level like some buildings at Hong Kong, (E) drawings made by engineer Osbert Chadwick (1844-1913) during his survey of sanitary conditions of Hong Kong.

Sources: (A) John D. Ford, An American Cruiser in the East (New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1898), (B) Undated postcard, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, (C) Undated postcard, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, (D) Undated postcard, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, (E) Mr. Chadwick’s Reports on the Sanitary Conditions of Hong Kong (Colonial Office, 1882).

Japanese Building Type 1
Originally from Japan, buildings of this type were seen in Korea by the 1880s, but may have arrived earlier. These were one or two-story detached buildings that, being separate from any neighboring buildings, took advantage of the surrounding space by making use of a hipped roof. Materially, they were clapboard buildings with Japanese pan roof tiles [sangawara] that could be used as homes, or as a shophouse in which the commercial and living spaces were separated by floor.

Figure 4. Images depicting detached, hip roof vernacular Japanese buildings. (A) Two detached Japanese buildings near the Daibutsu Hotel, (B) Japanese government officials’ homes at Namsan, Seoul. Sources: (A) Princeton Theological Seminary Library, (B) From a photo album [27 phot. du Japon en 1878 (dont une en couleurs) et 54 cartes postales de Corée et du Japon (certaines en couleurs), vers 1903-1905, provenant de Collin de Plancy. Don 1928], BnF Gallica.

Japanese Building Type 2
Originally from urban areas of Japan, buildings of this type were seen in Korea by the late 1880s. These were typically narrow, one to two-story clapboard shophouses with gabled roofs occupying little street frontage but expanding further back into its city lot. Referred to as machiya, or townhouses, the shop portion of the building would always be placed nearest to the road, with living spaces in the back of the building. Larger, single-use, two-story machiya may have sometimes split the shop and living spaces between the ground and second floors. Some were subdivided into multiple units with shared walls. There were then also tsushinikai or chūnikai, which were residences and shophouses built tall enough for a half-second-story of low ceiling height. Comparative study suggests Japanese shophouses in Korea may have been slightly larger than those in central Tokyo and Kyoto, for example, and more often built with a full-height second floor.

Figure 5. Images depicting vernacular Japanese shophouses / townhouses. (A) Several two-story and one-and-a-half-story Japanese houses in the Japanese settlement at Namsan, Seoul circa 1900, (B) A textile/fabric business in a Japanese shophouse at Fusan, circa 1904, (C) Blocks of Japanese shophouses under construction at Masan, (D) A row of one-and-a-half-story Japanese shophouses in Chemulpo, 1890s.

Sources: (A) Princeton Theological Seminary Library, (B) Jack London Collection, Huntington Digital Library, (C) Undated postcard, Nate Kornegay Collection, (D) Princeton Theological Seminary Library.

Mansardesque Giyōfū Type
Mansardesque buildings were part of the giyōfū style born in nineteenth century Yokohama and popularly diffused throughout Meiji Japan. Dubbed mansardesque for the way in which their hipped roofs seemed to be an approximation of the French mansard, these buildings may have appeared in Korea as early as the late 1880s when the brick version of the Daibutsu Hotel is said to have been constructed. In Japan, hipped roofs were sometimes implemented so that a belvedere or observatory could be placed at the top of the building. In contrast, the mansardesque buildings of Korea never had a belvedere, the roof instead terminating as a flat lookout platform on which decorative rail cresting could be placed. Some were larger brick buildings that required some degree of technical planning, while others were wooden affairs. The structures were rather square and boxy like the so-called “Fujimura style” of giyōfū buildings [named after Japanese politician Fujimura Shirō (1845-1909)] and the government offices in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan. Only one example of this roof has been discovered in Japan, perhaps making it fairly unique to early modern Korea.1

Figure 6. Several examples of what could be called mansardesque architecture in Korea. (A) The Russian consulate at Chemulpo, built between 1899-1906 and later used as a Japanese maritime office, (B) The Collbran & Bostwick office at Seoul, built 1901, (C) The brick Daibutsu Hotel built in the late 1880s, (D) an unidentified mansardesque building on Namdaemun road circa 1910s whose balcony interestingly features the same railing design as Jeonggwanheon’s in Deoksugung, (E) the Dai’ichi Ginkō Bank at Chemulpo built in 1899, (F) an unidentified mansardesque building in Busan, image circa 1900s-1920s, (G) a Korean man stands atop an unidentified mansardesque building in Seoul c1904, (H) an unidentified mansardesque building in Seoul, photographed around 1946-1947, (I) an unnamed clothing shop in a mansardesque building in Seoul, photograph published in 1928.

Sources: (A) Hjalmar Cassel, Det nya Östasien (Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Forlag, 1906), (B) Jack London Collection, Huntington Digital Library, (C) Princeton Theological Seminary Library, (D) Undated postcard, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, (E) International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, (F) International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, (G) Photographed by Underwood & Underwood 1904, Library of Congress, (H) Photograph, Nate Kornegay Collection, (I) Chōsen to kenchiku (June 1928), National Library of Korea.

There were other types of buildings: (a) so-called compradoric structures like the Chinese consulate at Chemulpo and the British Consulate-General at Seoul; (b) giyōfū variants such as the early Nagasaki-esque homes of the customs commissioner at Chemulpo (unpictured) and the Presbyterian mission at Fusan; and (c) modified Joseon buildings like a bricked home near Wongudan and Emberley’s first “Station Hotel” at the Seoul-Chemulpo railroad terminus in Seoul.

Figure 7. (A) An undated photograph depicting the Chinese consulate at Chemulpo, (B) the Presbyterian mission house outside Fusan, probably photographed before 1900, (C) an unidentified modified-Joseon house photographed c1904 near Wongudan, Seoul. Sources: (A) National Museum of Korea via eMuseum, (B) Princeton Theological Seminary Library, (C) Jack London Collection, Huntington Digital Library.

While some of these examples are easier to categorize than others, organizing them in this way allows us to better analyze the more confusing hybrid structures found in early modern Korea. In other words, it becomes easier to read a given building and make informed evaluations regarding why it looked the way it did, such as the hybrid structure in Figure 8. This street-facing building at Chemulpo – likely a shophouse – exhibits vernacular architectural influence from several different cultures. The building may demonstrate Korean influence in the form of its giwa roof and exposed structural columns (vernacular Japanese buildings typically covered the exterior ends in clapboard when not abutting another building), but is laid out along the street frontage and built up in two stories like nearby Japanese or Chinese shophouses. A low-rise, Japanese-type railing is found on the second floor balcony, yet unlike typical vernacular Japanese buildings, the railing extends the entire width of the frontage more like a Chinese shophouse.

Figure 8. A hybrid building in Chemulpo. Source: Underwood & Underwood, 1904, Library of Congress.

We can also look to these early modern typologies when trying to understand later hybrid buildings. In another confusing example pictured around the 1920s, a corner shop on Eulji-ro [Koganemachi] depicts a two-story brick building with a Joseon giwa roof, a walk-out Chinese shophouse balcony, and a vernacular Joseon-styled stone and tile facade on the ground floor.

Figure 9. A hybrid building on Koganemachi, Seoul, depicted in the 1920s-1930s. Source: Undated postcard, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto.

Building From the Ground Up
Understanding the emergence of such buildings should be done within the context of nineteenth century accounts and photographs of Chemulpo [Incheon] and Fusan [Busan]. Early modernization at Chemulpo most directly began at the hands of Japanese settlers and locally hired Koreans. The Joseon government had agreed to help establish basic infrastructure such as roads and a crude jetty. However, evidence from the nineteenth century shows it was largely early foreign settlers who built up the new town. After the port opened to Japanese trade on January 1, 1883, a British trade report later noted it was specifically a slew of Japanese merchants from Fusan that were the first to begin the tedious work of establishing a new, modern community here. Despite their quick footedness, “the rigorous winter prevented them from making much progress, and with the wretched accomodation available even residence was nearly impossible.”2 Nevertheless, the arrival of these first foreigners acted as a catalyst for urban development.

Figure 10. A Russian-made maritime map from 1887 appears to depict the few town blocks that had been built up in Chemulpo in just four years. The blue ship icon and path have been added to the map to illustrate how vessels could successfully navigate their way to the port town without bottoming out on the mudflats. The anchor icon depicts where visitors would drop anchor before continuing on to the jetty in a sampan. Source: BnF Gallica.

During this first year, there was very little of note established at Chemulpo. This was made evident by two invaluable accounts written by William Richard Carles (1848-1929), who was working for the British Consular Service in China. In November 1883, at the personal invitation of a partner in the trading firm Jardine Matheson & Co., William Richard Carles made a short “private” trip to the Korean peninsula aboard the steamship Nanzing. He remarked on his arrival to Chemulpo that, by this time, “there were over a hundred” Japanese houses of “some attractiveness” abutting the thatched-roof homes of Koreans who seemed to have “come to the place for work.”3 The Japanese consulate building, a giyōfū-derived structure newly built in the month prior to Carles’ visit, stood in stark contrast to the neighboring Korean chogajip and Japanese clapboard buildings.4 Despite the hundred odd buildings constructed between January and November, the issue of accommodation had changed little since the first Japanese settlers arrived as they were virtually building the port from the ground up. According to Carles, “there was no place in Chemulpo where we could sleep, and the wretched plank buildings and mud huts, which furnished all the accommodation the place could offer, were certainly not inviting.”5 In a place where “[n]o inn had yet been built,” Carles settled for the floor of the harbor master’s home, a “plank-built house” probably similar to the other vernacular Japanese buildings nearby that, by Carles’ account, was built by the harbor master himself.6

When Carles returned to Korea in the spring of 1884 as the provisional British vice-consul, he noted that a “few more Japanese had erected neat board-houses” amounting to “three or four streets of plank-built shops” in the Japanese settlement “in which Japanese wares of the simplest kind were displayed to view.” Such a description suggests that a significant portion of the Japanese settlement, which was only planned out in ten blocks across about six streets, was already being occupied after merely a year since the port’s opening to Japan. As the port grew, the Japanese settlement in particular began to show just how dense Chemulpo would become. To be sure, in March 1884, it was already being predicted that the daily growth of the Japanese settlement would mean it would become “all built over” within the next three months.7

Carles’ indication of there only being one two-story house in the Japanese settlement – the one that he was able to temporarily secure room in upon his second arrival – is suggestive of how rudimentary these first common buildings were. In his own estimate, no “permanent” buildings aside from the Japanese consulate had been established there, suggesting most were little more than shanties. This, in addition to the temporary “straw huts” and “refreshment stalls” built in the streets by opportunistic Korean “squatters”, helps illustrate Chemulpo’s humble beginnings. While the “[r]oads, jetties, and sea-walls were still in embryo,” the fact that any buildings were laid out on a modern grid system demonstrate that, even in its primitive state, those living in and building up Chemulpo were actively taking part in constructing a modern town.

The port was so undeveloped that when Jardine Matheson & Co. officially established its steamship line from Shanghai to Chemulpo by January 1884, a hulk was reportedly anchored off the Chinese settlement to serve as storage, office, and residence space for the staff.8 The company’s Nanzing may have been instrumental in providing goods from China during this year, reportedly bringing in “2,300 packages of cargo” of construction materials and textiles as early February 1884. It appears it wasn’t until around 1885-1886, when more foreign merchants appeared and the port had opened to more foreign nations, that development began to happen on an exponential curve. To be clear, it was reported at the end of August 1886 that “Hundreds of Japanese carpenters and masons are employed in building houses”.9

Figure 11. A photograph of the Japanese settlement and General Foreign Settlement in Chemulpo around 1890. The large building in the middle is the Japanese consulate. The Chinese settlement is out of view, to the right of the image. Source: From photo album [29 phot. de Corée en 1890, par d’Amade, don 1923], BnF Gallica.
Figure 12. An early 1890s photograph in the Japanese settlement facing the Chinese settlement, Chemulpo. The large brick building is the Daibutsu Hotel. Steward’s hotel and store is the three story building at the end of the street. Source: Princeton Theological Seminary Library.

In contrast to Chemulpo, the Japanese settlement of Fusan [Busan] – in terms of urban development – had the benefit of piggybacking off the establishment of the Waegwan, a restricted trading post situated near present day Yongdusan where Joseon Korea had kept Japanese traders and officials in strict isolation.10 When Fusan was opened to Japanese trade in 1876, the new Japanese settlement concession practically absorbed the Waegwan area. Made up of many small single-story houses and several larger official buildings, evidence of this absorption can be seen when comparing an 1887 photograph taken by Theophile Piry (1851-1918), a French postmaster and later commissioner of the Chinese Customs Service, to a Joseon-era map of the Waegwan. A Japanese-made settlement map demonstrates how buildings in nineteenth century Fusan were being constructed both on a modern grid system and in parallel to a stream.

Figure 13. A photograph depicting the former Waegwan area in 1887, Fusan [Busan]. Note the rudimentary nature of some of the buildings, with most being single-story and some with rocks to weigh down the roof shingles. Some of these buildings date to the Waegwan period, while others may have been recently built. Source: Photographed by Theophile Piry, 1887, Pusan National University SSK via eMuseum.
Figure 14. A painting by Byeonbok, from the 1700s, depicting the Waegwan area that would later become the Japanese settlement concession of Fusan. Source: National Museum of Korea via eMuseum.
Figure 15. An undated map depicting the Japanese settlement of Fusan, probably from the 1880s. Some of the Waegwan buildings are visible, as is the stream and the gridded developing port town. Source: Kankoku jōyaku ruisan: Fu kakkoku kanzei taishō-hyō (1908), National Diet Library of Japan.
Figure 16. An image from the 1890s depicts how much the Japanese settlement of Fusan had developed along the eastern shoreline before land reclamation began. Source: George Nathaniel Curzon, Problems of the Far East (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1894). California Digital Library.
Figure 17. The progress of the Fusan Umetate Kaisha at Fusan – the Japanese company formed in 1902 to reclaim land on the eastern shoreline – can be seen in this image. This image probably dates to 1902-1904. Source: Undated Russian-made postcard, Nate Kornegay Collection.

Photographs from the 1880s depict some of these early vernacular Japanese buildings neatly organized around the stream. Such arrangements were perhaps made by the settlers themselves, who had complete control over their settlement’s municipal affairs since 1881.11 Other photographs, probably taken from a Japanese diplomatic party’s vessel in the harbor in the 1870s, depict Fusan as having a variety of single-story buildings years before Chemulpo’s opening. Some were crude clapboard buildings, probably used for storage purposes, so simple in their implementation that little to no vernacular Japanese characteristics could be found. Several plastered buildings of better quality could also be seen, perhaps fundamentally based on the Japanese kura. A Joseon giwajip could be seen along the neatly built stone retaining wall. In the background are at least one better quality clapboard structure and the large roof of an administrative building, probably originally part of the Waegwan. Though higher forms of architecture began to appear after the Japanese consulate building was constructed in October 1884, buildings in the port remained relatively simple until the late 1890s. While Fusan had the benefit of easy trade with and close connection to Japan, Chemulpo would arguably become the more important urban player in turn of the century Korea due to it being the doorway to Seoul.

Figure 18. Japanese houses along the stream in the southern or southwestern section of Fusan (present day Gwanbok-dong), supposedly photographed in 1886. The houses to the left are all vernacular Japanese types, while at least one to the right might have been Joseon-influenced. Source: Pusan National University SSK via eMuseum.
Figure 19. A panoramic photo showing several interesting buildings at Fusan built before the Japanese consulate building, image cropped and split in two for better viewing. (R) This section depicts the right half of the photograph, the building in the blue circle is possibly one of the old Waegwan buildings. (L) This section depicts the left half of the photograph, showing a variety of interesting buildings with tile roofs, plaster, stone, etc. Source: Probably photographed by a Japanese diplomatic party in the 1870s, National Museum of Korea via eMuseum.
Figure 20. A closer look of the immediate port settlement area of Fusan right at the waterfront, photographed around 1890. Of note is the building under construction, a higher quality two-story Nagasaki-esque building in the center, and the roof of the Japanese consulate building in the top left corner. Source: From photo album [29 phot. de Corée en 1890, par d’Amade, don 1923], BnF Gallica.
Figure 21. The Japanese consulate building at Fusan, a Nagasaki-style giyōfū building, photographed in the late 1880s to 1890s. Source: Busan Metropolitan Museum of Art via eMuseum.

Policies and Regulations on Public Sanitation, Waste Management, and Construction Types

With regard to known land and building regulations at Chemulpo, an undated document simply entitled Chemulpo Land Regulations (probably from around 1888-1889) clearly laid out what kinds of buildings could be constructed in each General Foreign Settlement lot type. Building projects in “A” lots were to be graded (earthwork) by the Korean government and “solidly constructed of brick, stone, or iron, with tiled or iron roofs.” The regulations then clearly stipulated, “No wooden buildings or thatched houses will be allowed on these lots.” “B” lots were to be “tiled, and the walls constructed of brick, stone, or thick plaster.” “C” and “D” lots were not regulated according to materiality like the others, and all lots aside from “A” lots were to be “prepared [graded] by the purchaser at his own expense.” The Municipal Council maintained the right to prevent “the erection of unsafe or inflammable buildings”.12 Though there were fires in Chemulpo, photographs from the period suggest the other regulations pertaining to lot classes were followed.

The rudimentary nature of these early buildings, built before a central water supply or sewer system had been completed, meant waste management would become a matter of municipal ordinances. A collection of documents on General Foreign Settlement regulations bearing the United States’ legation’s seal and Horace Newton Allen’s name offer a wealth of information on how the policies of the Municipal Council at Chemulpo shaped the way the port and its buildings developed. The council’s by-laws (approved in June 1889) could be characterized as having a clear sense of urban order for the General Foreign Settlement, where the streets were to be kept clean and the residents well-behaved. The Municipal Council took responsibility for the management of the streets, stipulating that they could stop street traffic for a reasonable amount of time due to work on the streets, drains, etc. A fine of $25 dollars, with another $5 per additional day, was to be levied against people creating obstructions in the streets without the council’s permission (i.e. house additions, fencing, fuel materials such as wood and coal, etc.). Drain construction, grading, and maintenance were the responsibility of the council, though another fine of $25 dollars would be levied against those who obstructed drains from functioning properly.13

With regard to sanitation, the council also took it upon itself to “cause all the streets” to be cleaned “from time to time”, including “filth”, “dust”, “ashes”, and “rubbish”, which was “to be carried away from the houses and tenements of the inhabitants”. Similarly, the council would “cause the privies and cesspools” to be emptied and cleaned from “time to time”. The by-laws continued on the issue of night soil, indicating that the council would dictate fixed times at which the “offensive matter” from privies could be removed. The issue of waste management was such an important part of the General Foreign Settlement’s by-laws that a fine of up to $10 would be placed on any person not properly covering their buckets and carts, or spilling refuse on the street and not immediately cleaning it up, as they exited the town center. Stagnant water, unemptied cesspools, and the keeping of animals such as pigs who may be used to manage waste were also regulated in these 1889 by-laws. If the pigs were a nuisance to neighbors, or the cesspool water somehow infringed on residents next-door, the council reserved the right to levy a fine of up to $10 on the offending person, with another $2 per additional day not in compliance. The same was said for “dung, soil, or filth”, but with a fine of up to $25. The council reserved the right to have their “officers and workmen” enter the property or home of any offending person in order to clean up the issue themselves. Another fine of up to $25 could be placed on any person who obstructed the entrance of the “scavengers” sent there to forcibly clean up human waste.14

By the 1890s, similar changes were being made by the Korean government in Seoul. Between 1896-1897, The Independent published several reports regarding the Korean government’s shifting attitudes toward public sanitation. Partially influenced by Western advisors working for the government, Seoul’s increasingly sanitized urban spaces became part of a practical, albeit gradual, shift in the way people lived. In 1896, the police department ordered “that garbage and other filthy matter is not to be thrown on the public streets, that the gutters are not to be choked up by rubbish, that the front of every house is to be kept clean; and the people are to be prevented from using the streets and gutters as water closets.”15

There was also an order that houses, which sometimes extended over the street drains, must be built behind the drains. The editors of the report keenly noted that the drains, which were all necessarily open at the time rather than enclosed due to an inability to consistently “flush” them with running water, needed exposure to the sun as “the best possible disinfecting agent.”16 While there is no record of this, one could imagine that building a house over a drain would have allowed inhabitants the ability to directly relieve themselves, or dispose of garbage, from the comfort and privacy of being indoors. On the other hand, the editors’ words here may have simply been a reference to the temporary shanties that would appear along the main streets. In either case, as The Independent noted, extending the house over the public drains exposed residents to all kinds of unsanitary stagnant matter.

Figure 22. An image showing waste in an open sewer in Seoul. Note the building in the background that appears to extend over the sewer. Source: The Assembly Herald 10, no. 11 (1904), University of Wisconsin, HathiTrust Digital Library.

The editors were skeptical that such orders would be enforced and proposed several solutions that, as far as is known, never came to fruition. They suggested that convicts be used to handle waste removal from the city, and that hired minders be stationed at each water well in the city to ensure residents were using sanitary receptacles, and to ensure waste or garbage was not left near the wells in order to keep the water clean.17 In the following month, however, the matter appears to have already begun to be addressed as a Korean garbage and manure removal company reportedly just formed – comparable to that at the General Foreign Settlement in Chemulpo where human waste was being moved out of the city center.18 The demand by some for a cleaner society allowed for other new companies to form, such as a Chinese laundry service in Chemulpo managed by a Wang Hing Loon.19

During the late 1890s, improvement work on drains in Seoul were increased, eventually being retained by stonework in the early 1900s.20 And while The Independent wrote that they had noticed only one model citizen adhering to these new ideas in 1896, the observations and subsequent “before and after” photographs of many visitors to Korea between the 1890s-1900s indicate public sanitation and the way people were living there had begun to change.21 Advisors working for the Korean government, such as John McLeavey Brown and John Henry Dye, played a role in these changes. Dye, an American engineer involved in railroad matters, reportedly surveyed Seoul’s main drains in February 1897 in preparation for repairs that spring, for example.22

Sanitation improvements and policies such as these were put into place specifically because, for example, manually emptying privies and carrying the refuse outside the city was the only practical way of dealing with the issue at the time without letting it build up in the streets or drains. Evidence of this need to find a place to dispose of waste goes back as far as 1884, when Carles wrote that all waste was being dumped at the beach at Chemulpo.23 Waste removal matters would remain simple and laborious affairs for decades.

Toilet Facilities and Waste Removal
Enclosed brick sewers were increasingly constructed in the 1900s and 1910s, yet they generally evacuated into rivers and streams, particularly Cheonggyecheon. City developments such as these, conducted under the Japanese colonial government, tended to favor downtown areas and Japanese neighborhoods first before later reaching Korean neighborhoods, if at all. The issue of dealing with human waste and other garbage generally relied on manual labor into the 1910s across all classes, and remained somewhat common until South Korea’s industrialization. As such, the lack of networked plumbing systems meant toilet, bathing, and kitchen spaces were often either pushed to the periphery of a given building or constructed as entirely detached structures. In this way, it was such facilities that not only influenced, but sometimes dictated, the floor plans of both vernacular and formally engineered architecture. In most cases, this meant either using a mobile toilet (chamber pot) in a private room or having a detached W.C. constructed away from the main building.

Figure 23. The remains of an early modern enclosed brick sewer, roughly dating to the 1900s-1910s, near Myeongdong Cathedral in the Familia Chapel, Seoul. Source: Photographed by Nate Kornegay.

At Gyeongbokgung in the nineteenth century, royalty would use brass or ceramic chamber pots, with some evidence of pit latrines being excavated today.24 Studies from the late 1910s into the 1920s also do something in offering floor plans of vernacular Korean homes and their toilet facilities. On-site building surveys made by Japanese researchers such as Murata Jirō (1895-1985) and Odauchi Michitoshi (1875-1954) help illustrate how some vernacular Korean homes had dedicated outhouses (latrines) separate from the living spaces.25 A plan of the 1885 Joseon royal hospital [Jejungwon] and former home of Hong Yeong-sik (1855-1884) may similarly suggest that either chamber pots or the “closets” separated from the main structures were used by people to relieve themselves.

Figure 24. Sketches of vernacular Joseon houses, with the latrines circled in blue. Source: Murata Jirō, “Nansen minka no yagamae shiken,” Chōsen to kenchiku 4, no. 1 (1915). National Library of Korea.
Figure 25. A drawing of the 1885 royal hospital in Seoul [Jejungwon], with two closets circled in blue. The differing terminology between the “store room” and the “closets” might suggest the closets were used as W.C.s. Source: H. N. Allen, “Medical Work in Korea,” The Foreign Missionary 44, no. 2 (July 1885). Princeton Theological Seminary Library.

For Westerners, waste removal was similarly not yet a matter of piped systems, but of mobile furniture. For example, a 1912 inventory of items at the American consulate-general in Seoul still included a commode (furniture cabinet for keeping items such as a washing bowl, pitcher, and chamber pot), three porcelain-lined bath tubs, three porcelain-lined basins, and three porcelain-lined “W.C”s.26 The plan of Horace Newton Allen’s own villa outside Chemulpo had dedicated bathing spaces without any separate toilet or W.C. area. Since the plans also depict several circular objects in the room, the implication seems to be the bathrooms had commodes or chamber pots, and no indication of any kind of piped system.

Building plans by the British Office of Works for the legation in Seoul and the consulate in Chemulpo were similar to Allen’s villa in that they had rooms for bathing, but no separate, dedicated W.C.s. Like Allen’s villa, the British legation plans seem to indicate a commode in the corner of the bathroom.

In contrast, a proposed plan of the Municipal Council Buildings and Police Quarters at Chemulpo indicate three different dedicated W.C. rooms, of which at least two were likely outhouse privies. The arrangement of the buildings in the plan seems to imply that the two outhouses would serve the police, while the other W.C. — which was doubly labled as a “Toilet Room” indicative of a washstand, commode, etc. — would serve the Municipal Council members and visitors. All the council’s W.C.s were detached from the main office and living rooms.

26. Building plans with bathroom areas circled in blue. (A) An 1899 plan of the second floor of Allen’s Chemulpo villa, (B) a plan of the second floor of the British legation’s House No. 1 in Seoul, (C) an 1892 plan of the Municipal Council Buildings and Police Quarters at Chemulpo, (D) a plan of the first British consulate at Chemulpo as it was built.

Sources: (A) Horace Newton Allen Papers, licensed from New York Public Library, (B) Seoul consul general’s house WORK 40/330 dated May 1907, licensed from Kew, (C) Building plan in Municipal Council meeting minutes for May 10, 1892, from RG 84 Records of the Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State, 1788-1964, NARA via National Library of Korea, (D) Chemulpo residence and office for vice consul as erected, WORK 40/171 dated 1895, licensed from Kew.

Based on what is known of nineteenth century Japan and China, vernacular Japanese and Chinese buildings in Korea probably would have placed any W.C. spaces towards the rear of the properties, if they had them. This would be particularly true for shophouses, where the shop would occupy the space along the street frontage and the “wet” spaces for cooking, bathing, or removing human waste were located at the back.

Figure 27. A graphic showing Japanese and Chinese shophouses as they would be situated along a street. (A) a drawing of the second floor of a vernacular Chinese shophouse in Hong Kong, with the space on the first floor being entirely opened and used as the shop facing the street, (B) a plan of three wall-sharing vernacular Japanese machiya, with the shop spaces facing the street and the living spaces towards the rear of the buildings.

Sources: (A) Mr. Chadwick’s Reports on the Sanitary Conditions of Hong Kong (Colonial Office, 1882); (B) Wayō jūtaku kenchiku-gaku (1906-1907), National Diet Library of Japan.

The Japanese elite on the other hand, despite still relying on manual labor to remove night soil and the like, did in fact have the luxury of indoor toilets. This is well-illustrated in remaining government architectural drawings. The Resident-General drafted plans for several administration offices and residences between 1906-1910, the buildings to be placed in Seoul and the growing port cities. The plans generally depict bathing, toilet, and kitchen facilities either along the outer parts of the buildings, or as additions that, while physically attached to the main structure, jut out from the building. As such, despite creating an indoor environment for these facilities, the older idea of keeping these facilities somewhat separate from the rest of the building clearly remained.

In the Wonsan government office plans, an opening in the crawl-space below a squat toilet reveals a latrine with a bucket or trough that could be emptied from outside the building. Its urinals were evacuated via pipe to a partial in-ground latrine/tank, again accessible from the exterior. Similarly, a cutaway in plans for an auxiliary building at the Busan government office depict a hatch or cover from which the building’s cesspit could be accessed from the outside. Such a system is even evident in plans for a toilet extension at the Namdaemun police station.

Figure 28. Plans from 1906-1910 of the Wonsan government office [Isacheong] show the toilet (W.C.) area as an addition on the periphery of the building. Urine evacuated to a tank (purple), while feces evacuated to a bucket under a squat toilet (blue). An access door (green) allowed for the bucket to be cleaned out. Source: National Archives of Korea.
Figure 29. Plans from 1906-1910 of an addition to the Busan government office [Isacheong] shows a latrine/tank accessible from outside the building. Source: National Archives of Korea.
Figure 30. Plans from 1915 show an addition to the Namdaemun police station with pit/tank beneath a squat toilet and a hatch outside the building from which it could be cleaned. Source: National Archives of Korea.

Some examples depict a ventilation duct to evacuate gas and odors. While there were more enclosed sewers by the end of the Japanese occupation, these latrine tanks continued to find use for decades. The permanence of such tanks is made apparent in the way newer versions were developed over time. For example, the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Hygiene Bureau published an article on the ministry’s improved latrine design in June 1928. Others, like the concrete “Futaba-type Improved Toilet Tank” [Futabashiki kairyōbinsō] – which claimed to have no odors, no rising maggots, no splashing, and no cold-air drafts – were also advertised into the 1940s in Japanese society. Even in 1942, the Culture House Research Institute [Jutaku bunka kenkyukai] was of the opinion that, when discussing the need for a two-story house to have a toilet on the second floor near the bedrooms that would then necessarily need to be a flush-tank toilet, flush-tank toilets were “expensive and not practical”.* For perspective, the first known photographed flush-tank toilets in Korea were found in the Chosen Hotel (built 1914).27 However, most people would never have such a luxury in their own home during this time.

Figure 31. Plans of toilets at the 1908 government hospital in Seoul [Daehan uiwon/Taikan iin] show a bucket for collecting and disposing of feces. A trapdoor on a chain attached to the “throne” prevented odors, bacteria, etc, from rising into the room. A vent meant to evacuate odors and gas appears to have a candle in the middle of the flue, perhaps used to create a draw. Source: National Archives of Korea.
Figure 32. Plans from 1910 showing part of a government official’s home near Seosomun. The plans depict a pit/tank that could be accessed from outside the building. A vent is also visible. Source: National Archives of Korea.
Figure 33. (A) The Hygiene Bureau’s improved latrine/tank from 1928, (B) the Futaba-type improved toilet tank from 1940. Sources: (A) Chōsen to kenchiku (June 1928), (B) Kenchiku nenkan (1940), National Library of Korea.

Bathing and Water Supply
For many during the 1880s-1910s, bathing would either mean going to a river, physically bringing water to a tub inside the home, or visiting a public bathhouse. There is evidence of a few Westerners having their own wells or water heating systems before the 1910s, such as at the Belgian Consulate-General building and the Presbyterians’ second Daegu hospital building.28 However, water supply remained a fairly archaic task for many even after the first phase of Collbran & Bostwick’s water works was finished in 1908.

Figure 34. (A) Japanese settlers appear to be both washing next to and drawing water from a well or cistern at Fusan in 1904, (B) the same Japanese settlers can be seen with a pair of kerosene cans used for carrying water, (C) a Korean man with a pair of kerosene cans at a water well in the Seoul area, probably 1900s-1910s, (D) Korean men with water buckets at a well or cistern in Seoul, (E) the water well in front of the Daibutsu Hotel at Chemulpo in the early 1890s.

Sources: (A) Jack London Collection, Huntington Digital Library, (B) Jack London Collection, Huntington Digital Library, (C) Postcard, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, (D) Tourist Booklet, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, (E) Princeton Theological Seminary Library.

Collbran & Bostwick had proposed a system of hydrants positioned at specific points throughout the city from which residents could fill buckets to take home, with very few individual buildings and homes connected directly to the system.29 The hydrant system, though generally cleaner, was little different than pulling water from a well to carry home. A time-table published in the Korean Daily Report [Taikan mainichi shinpō] in December 1909 does much to show how this system worked, with hydrants in different districts open for use at certain times throughout the day. This was presumably to keep from demanding too much of the water supply system.

Figure 35. A water supply timetable showing district numbers in Seoul on the vertical axis and times from 6:30am – 5:00pm on the horizontal axis. The intersecting values indicate each individual hydrants’ assigned number. For example, at 9:30am in district 5, hydrant no. 56 would be open for use. Source: Taikan mainichi shinpō, December 1, 1909. National Library of Korea.

At Fusan, though Japanese settlers reportedly built a water reservoir as early as 1895, and had earlier created a primitive supply in the 1880s by channeling water from Bosucheon using bamboo pipes, modern water supply systems would not be completed at both Fusan and Chemulpo until 1910.30 The luxury of a built-in hot bath might be found in plans for Japanese government residences at both Seoul and Chemulpo, where the crawl space between the ground and raised flooring [takayuka] could be used to create a firebox beneath the built-in tub. Even then, these were not baths with running water systems, but tubs that required manual labor to supply.

Figure 36. Plans from 1906-1910 for Japanese government office/residence buildings at Chemulpo. The plans appear to depict a bath tub that can be heated by fire from below. Source: National Archives of Korea.

In his villa outside Chemulpo, for example, Allen kept a cistern between the main house and the detached kitchen/servant’s quarters. Despite lacking a piped water supply in 1899, Allen’s bathing rooms were placed on the second floor in order to keep private spaces separate from the more public spaces of the first (ground) floor. Hired servants likely would have then physically carried water to the bath tub. Similarly visible in the plans for the British legation at Seoul, the bath tubs were located on the second floor — a product of American and British culture at the time whose wealthier classes separated public and private spaces by floor.

Kitchens and Ventilation
The kitchen was similarly relegated to the periphery of the main building, or constructed as a detached building separate from the main structure. Detached kitchens are not only evident in the aforementioned British consular plans, but also in plans for the Russian legation at Seoul (unpictured), the Belgian Consulate-General (unpictured), and the Municipal Council Buildings and Police Quarters at Chemulpo. The detached kitchen was a direct result of having hired servants that would manage house affairs, with the servants’ quarters typically nearby or in the same detached building. This appears to have been particular to what could be called Western estate design in East Asia, where larger “estate”-like buildings of Western government officials or wealthy individuals had staff and work spaces separate from the main house. In contrast, the wealthy homes of Victorian-era New York or London would commonly retain servants in the same building, particularly in the attic.

Figure 37. Plans depicting kitchens as detached buildings located to the rear of the main house. (A) The British legation at Seoul, (B) Allen’s villa outside Chemulpo, (C) the Municipal Council Buildings and Police Quarters at Chemulpo.

Sources: (A) Seoul consul general’s house WORK 40/330 dated May 1907, licensed from Kew, (B) Horace Newton Allen Papers, licensed from New York Public Library, (C) Building plan in Municipal Council meeting minutes for May 10, 1892, from RG 84 Records of the Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State, 1788-1964, NARA via National Library of Korea.

Cooking and heating spaces in lesser buildings in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Korea can be identified in connection with ventilation. For many shophouses, chimneys and flues were kept away from the street front, directing smoke both out of doors and up and away from passersby on the street. Though vernacular Chinese and Japanese shophouses historically relied on so-called smokeholes to ventilate kitchen areas – essentially punctures in the roof above crude stone or earthen floored cooking rooms – many in early modern Korea used some type of chimney or duct. Brick chimneys could be observed throughout Chemulpo by the 1890s. However, ceramic pipes, commonly found for sewerage purposes in Japan, as well as tin metal were used to exhaust kitchen and heating fumes. Kerosene tins in particular were used for roofing and cooking, but likely became popular as a chimney material due to the relative ease with which they could be handled and fit into a building wall.31 Metal chimneys were common towards the back of vernacular Japanese houses, and have been seen used to exhaust radiant heating stoves. In “Examination of the Ondol’s Chimney” [Ondoru no entotsu shirabe], the published sketches of a Japanese architecture student enrolled at the University of Tokyo, Harada Minoru, illustrate the various materials used in early modern Korean chimneys as well.

Figure 38. A drawing of a vernacular Chinese shophouse in Hong Kong shows the “smoke hole” from which kitchen fumes would be exhausted. Vernacular Japanese kitchens historically vented in a similar manner. Source: Mr. Chadwick’s Reports on the Sanitary Conditions of Hong Kong (Colonial Office, 1882).
Figure 39. A postcard image depicting vernacular Japanese houses with chimneys in Chemulpo, perhaps in the 1920s. Despite not being a traditional feature of the Japanese home, chimneys in many forms became common across all classes and cultures in early modern Korea. Source: Undated postcard, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto,
Figure 40. Sketches made by Harada Minoru show various chimneys in vernacular Joseon homes. Source: Harada Minoru, “Ondoru no entotsu shirabe,” Chōsen to kenchiku 1, no. 1 (1929). National Library of Korea.

In summary, the issues of how to ventilate a building, cook food, bathe, and evacuate human waste all influenced early modern building design in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Korea. Other matters such as available materials, lot sizes, and municipal policies also affected how a building could be laid out and how its inhabitants would make use of its spaces. While some of the systems connected to these matters would evolve over time, others would remain fairly basic for decades. In some cases, building features from different cultures were fused together. Regardless of implementation, the issues pertaining to taking care of the human body were ones with which people from all classes, demographics, and nations had to deal with. As such, each building became a different answer to the question of how its inhabitants would manage and live with these issues under a variety of cultural, practical, or regulatory influences.


1 A review of the detailed city-view photographs of Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki within the E. G. Stillman Japanese Collection, some of which were taken by individuals such as Felice Beato and Adolfo Fasari, suggest this “mansardesque” building was unique to Korea. Not a single example could be found in such late 19th century photographs of open ports in Japan. Only one example of this roof type in Japan can be found in the extant former Otaru Shimbun newspaper office building in Hokkaido. The building was built in 1909 and constructed of stone.
2 North China Herald, October 15, 1884, 12.; Commercial Reports Received at the Foreign Office from Her Majesty’s Consul-General in Corea: 1884 (London: Harrison and Sons, 1884), 6. Myongji University Library.
3 William Richard Carles, Life in Corea (London: MacMillian and Co., 1888), 16-17. Cornell University Library.
4 Reportedly built in October 1883. Horace Newton Allen, A Chronological Index (Seoul: Methodist Publishing House, 1901), 13. Cornell University Library.
5 William Richard Carles, Life in Corea (London: MacMillian and Co., 1888), 15-16. Cornell University Library.
6 The harbor master, referred to as Captain Shultz, was part of the customs service staff that arrived with Mollendorff in and after spring 1883. Carles claimed that Shultz erected the home himself. People from the customs service, like Shultz, would have been some of the only Western residents of Chemulpo until the end of 1883. William Richard Carles, Life in Corea (London: MacMillian and Co., 1888), 80. Cornell University Library.
7 “Korea,” Hong Kong Daily Press, March 29, 1884, 2.
8 Jardine Matheson & Co. has been called the largest foreign trading company in late 1800s east Asia, first based in Hong Kong, building offices throughout Asia. It should be noted that it was not uncommon for Westerners to stay on their vessels when visiting Korea, probably because of the lack of available accomodation. Horace Newton Allen, A Chronological Index (Seoul: Methodist Publishing House, 1901), 13. Cornell University Library.
9 North China Herald, August 27, 1886, 10.
10 Researcher Kim Gyeong-nam’s 2015 paper indicates several of the early, successful Japanese merchants at Busan came from Tsushima, meaning some of those first settlers in Chemulpo may have also been Tsushima natives relocating from Busan. Kim Gyeong-nam, “Kyōkai chiiki ni okeru rōkariti kōryū kūkan no keisei to henkei ― Tsushima to Pusan o chūshin ni,” Ōhara shakaimondai kenkyūjo zasshi, no. 679 (May 2015).
11 “Miscellaneous Articles,” North China Herald, August 17, 1883, 198.
12 Chemulpo Land Regulations. Undated. RG 84 Records of the Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State. NARA via the National Library of Korea.
13 By-Laws of the Municipal Council for the General Foreign Settlement at Chemulpo, Corea. (Nagasaki: Rising Sun Printing Office, 1889). NARA via the National Library of Korea.
14 By-Laws of the Municipal Council for the General Foreign Settlement at Chemulpo, Corea. (Nagasaki: Rising Sun Printing Office, 1889). NARA via the National Library of Korea.
15 The Independent, July 16, 1896.
16 The Independent, July 18, 1896.
17 The Independent, June 30, 1896.
18 The Independent, July 18, 1896.
19 The Independent, November 5, 1898.
20 The Independent, August 6, 1896.; The Independent, June 19, 1897.; The Independent, May 25, 1897.
21 “As far as we know, there is only one citizen in Seoul who repairs the street and cleans out the gutters that are in the front of his house. His name is Yu Han Tak, outside the little West gate. The road in and out of the gate is just 13 inches lower than the level of the gutter on either side of the road. This state of affairs was probably too much even for Yu Han Tak.” The Independent, August 18, 1896.
22 The Independent, February 27, 1897.
23 William Richard Carles, Life in Corea (London: MacMillian and Co., 1888), 91. Cornell University Library.
24 Bak Sang-hyeon, “Gyeongbokgunge 75.5kan isseossdaneun cheukgan… yujeokeun wae cheoeum hwakindwaesseulkka,” Yonhap News, July 8, 2021.
25 For reports by Odauchi, see the following 1923 text: Chōsen buraku chōsa yosatsu hōkoku, dai issatsu.
26 Annual Furniture Schedule. American Consulate General, Seoul, Chosen, (Korea), June 30, 1912. Enclosure No. 8 in dispatch dated June 30, 1912. RG 84, Consular Posts, Seoul, Korea, Entry # 816, Box No. 7 Fees and Miscellaneous Papers, 1903-1908. Page 10. NARA via the National Institute of Korean History.
* Uchiwotateru mae ni (Jutaku bunka kenkyukai, 1942), 111. National Library of Korea.
27 This photograph is visible in a Chosen Hotel promotional booklet from 1915, printed by the Chosen Railways. Nate Kornegay Collection.
28 Documentation of a repair at the Belgian Consulate-General at Seoul indicates that the building was using a water pump as early as 1907, which is before the first phase of the Seoul waterworks was completed in 1908, suggesting a water well on the property rather than a pump connected to the city waterworks. Collbran & Bostwick specifically handled the repair. The Belgian Consulate-General, Debit., to the Collbran-Bostwick Development Co., Credit. Pump Repairs. June 18, 1907. Belgian Diplomatic Archives.; The second Daegu hospital, completed in 1907 after the damaged first building was demolished, reportedly had its own well and water heating system. See Nate Kornegay, “Building the Daegu Hospital (1903-1907): A Study on the Construction and Design of Early Western-Korean Hybrid Architecture,” Transactions 94 (2020).
29 Seoul Waterworks System: Comparison of Collbran and Bostwick’s Original Proposition of July 26th, with Collbran and Bostwick’s Proposition of Oct. 7th. October 11, 1901. RG 84, Consular Posts, Seoul, Korea, Entry # 816, Box No. 5 Miscellaneous Papers. NARA via the National Institute of Korean History.
30 Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 6, 12.
31 Horace Newton Allen, Things Korean (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1908), 93.

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