Reconstructing Korean Traditional Houses: Architectural Discourse on Tradition, Identity, and Quality of Life in Contemporary Korea

By Jung-hye Shin.

Published by The International Journal of the Constructed Environment

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: April 18, 2014 $US5.00

This study examined how Koreans use the processes of reconstructing Korean traditional houses as a means to build their cultural identity and search for a post-modern desire of quality of life. Harvey’s simple definition of heritage as “a contemporary product shaped from history” served as the theoretical foundation for the study. Following his emphasis on the process aspect that involves human agency as an integral part of heritage reconstruction, I examined from both symbolic and pragmatic perspectives Koreans’ endeavors to rebuild traditional houses. Methodologically, the study employed an ethnographic inquiry by using the case of a hands-on educational program that taught how to build a traditional house structure in Korea, an analysis of an architectural magazine geared toward the general public, and membership activities within a leading organization that works on the diffusion of Korean traditional buildings. Two major themes were identified: a debate on how to define and continue Korean tradition; the reasons behind searching for tradition. The findings demonstrate that the reconstructed traditional heritage is a representation of the past that is filtered through present people’s hopes and desire for the future and informed by the perceived disconnection between nature and humans during the modernist period in Korea. While acknowledging the role of the commodification of tradition in the post-capitalist era, I highlight the actions of building traditional houses as: (1) a solid ground for building cultural identity and empowerment; (2) post-capitalists’ yearning for nature and pursuit of an enhanced quality of life

Keywords: Korean Traditional House, Cultural Identity, Heritage Practice

The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 4, Issue 2, April 2014, pp.53-72. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: April 18, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.358MB)).

Jung-hye Shin

Assistant Professor, Design Studies Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA

Jung-hye Shin is an assistant professor in Design Studies department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Trained in environment-behavior studies and architecture, she focuses her research on the relationship between culture and residential environment, post occupancy evaluation, and research utilization.