Architecture in Korea changed a lot between 1850 and 1950. During the late Joseon period, Western and Japanese influence led to a greater variety of building designs. At first, this architecture came in the form of government buildings, hotels, and homes for foreigners, but the traditional Korean cityscape took on more American, British, German, Russian, French, Chinese, and Japanese styles as the foreign population grew. Even the traditional hanok started to take on slightly different forms. Unfortunately, much of Korea’s traditional architecture was lost during colonization – especially its old town fortresses and thousands of hanok. Industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s only added to the destruction of early modern buildings. The tragedy is that little is done to protect the country’s old buildings despite having already lost so much. Today, Korea’s traditional urban vistas are inarguably completely gone.
This website is a series of photo essays that seek to document and raise awareness for the few remaining early modern structures on the Korean peninsula. It should be said that this is not a defense or romanticization of Japanese Imperialism. Rather, the point here is to discuss misunderstood and unknown architectural trends while bringing nuance to a complicated time. Admittedly, the website’s title is now a bit misleading as I sometimes cover information from before and after colonization. The historically significant buildings in Korea have been registered and protected by the government or private owners, but the rest – the ones that haven’t been demolished in the name of progress – often seem to remain by accident. While I can’t always find information on the histories of these buildings, I do photograph and map them out. Building locations and reference footnotes are at the bottom of each post, and most of these essays take the form of city overviews that take a broad look at urban development before delving into specific building histories. Other articles will be coming soon that are not city specific. If you think you see an error somewhere, please comment or send me a message!
*Cover photo is of Huijeongdang, a structure moved from Gyeongbokgung to Changdeokgung in 1920 that served the Korean royal family after the Japanese government took over. Its interior is a good representation of how architecture changed in early modern Korea as it shows a unique mixture of Korean, French, British-Victorian influence. This and the other buildings that were moved to Changdeokgung in 1920 are the only examples of this kind of architecture left in Korea. Unfortunately unpromoted and off the radar of most tourists, Huijeongdang is a fantastic glimpse into a bygone era.
All photos here are copyrighted unless otherwise noted. If you’re interested in using some of these photos for something, feel free to get in touch with me. Otherwise, please do not in any way use or redistribute my images without permission. Thank you. To see the entire Flickr gallery, click here.