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Modern Period in Korean Architecture

 Every new visitor to Seoul will recognize that the teeming capital city is a fascinating showcase of architectural trends and styles. They represent not only Korea's indigenous cultural background, but also imported designs, schemes and techniques from different traditions and ages. The city's ever-changing skyline speaks for the speed with which Korea has developed in recent decades, as well as its struggle to accomplish modernization amid the tides of Western culture and civilization. The city offers a kaleidoscopic view of the works of innumerable architects and engineers from both ancient and modern periods. Modern high-rises stand side by side ancient royal palaces, private houses, temples, shrines and gates.

The impact of Western architecture began to hit Korea during the last decades of the 19th century when Korea began to sign treaties with foreign governments. In 1900, a British architect, at the request of the ruling family of the Choson Dynasty, designed a royal residence in Renaissance style within Toksugung palace, which is located in downtown Seoul. The two-story stone edifice, which was completed in 1909 and later had been used as the National Museum, was one of many Western-style buildings erected by foreigners in Seoul and major provincial cities around the turn-of-the-century. Architecture was a segment of Korean life that underwent the most obvious transformation during this period of political turmoil, as foreign powers in Korea attempted to build new structures that would fulfill both a practical and symbolic function. Buildings from that time include the Gothic-style Myongdong Cathedral (1898), the Renaissance-style Bank of Korea's headquarters (1912), the Seoul Railroad Station (1925), the Romanesque-style Seoul Anglican Church (1916) and the Seoul City Hall (1925).

Seoul Train Station 

Western-style buildings continued to emerge in Seoul, impressing its residents with their novel appearances and unfamiliar conveniences, until the 1930s. Western architects and engineers built many of them, especially churches and offices for foreign legations, but the Japanese gradually took over the construction as their political power increased. The Japanese put up a number of new buildings for public offices, banks, schools and commercial buildings, mostly in classical Western styles modified to suit their taste.

The late 1930s to the 1950s was a dark period in the history of modern architecture in Korea. Japan was engaged in prolonged warfare and Koreans were suffering from the extreme economic deprivation and harsh political control as a result. Architectural activity was virtually stagnant until after the Korean War.

In the early years of modern architecture's development, Koreans gained new ideas and skills from Western architects and engineers while they worked on important construction projects. Some young engineers were employed by the Japanese government and a few were successful enough to open their own firms later on. Among these early pioneers were Pak Kil-yong, who designed the Hwashin Department Store building, and Pak Tong-jin, who designed the main building of Korea University. These architects, who were active in the early 1930s, are two of the most significant figures in the history of modern Korean architecture as they were the first Korean designers of important structures about whom there is any recorded history. Traditionally, Korean architecture relied upon the system of apprenticeship. Likewise, carpenters and masons were trained under master technicians. Formal education in Western architectural concepts and engineering was first introduced to Korea in 1916.

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