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Simple houses with a rectangular floor plan divided into a
kitchen and one additional room, were common in mountainous areas as well as
some farming areas. They are reminiscent of the prehistoric pit houses of Korea.
The ondol system of heating by channeling smoke through under-the-floor
flues was used throughout Korea's history and is still in use today. It was
developed from the hearths of the pit houses.
The rectangular floor of the earliest houses developed into an
L-shaped plan and then into a U-shaped or square plan with a courtyard at the
center. Upper-class houses consisted of a number of separate buildings.
Generally speaking, one building accommodated women and children, another, the
men of the family and their guests, and the others, servants. All these
buildings were enclosed within high walls. A family ancestral shrine was built
behind the house. Ideally, a lotus pond and sometimes a pavilion were positioned
in front of the house outside the wall.
Upper-class houses had a sturdy framework and many decorative
elements lined the canopies, although the use of the colorful tanch'cong
patterns found on temples and palaces was strictly prohibited. The roofs were
elegantly curved and accentuated with slightly uplifted eaves. Some had
decorative round tiles at the edges of the roof along the eaves.
Houses of the lower classes were usually made of logs and had
little decorative wood-work. They usually had thatched roofs. No ordinary house,
of either upper or commoner type, could be larger than 99 kan, however.
(Only the king's palace could have 100 kan or more). A kan is a
term referring to the square space inside the four pillars that was used for
calculating the size of traditional structures.
It was toward the end of the last century, when Korea opened
its doors to the world, that Western architecture was first introduced,
signaling an era of rapid changes and diverse styles.
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