The debate over hanok heating up

from JongAng Daily

Some hanok owners against city efforts to preserve their traditional homes
November 10, 2009
A shot of aging traditional Korean homes in Chebu-dong, Jongno District. The residents of the neighborhood have voted in favor or a redevelopment plan that will bring more modern buildings to the area. Ikseon-dong and other neighborhoods might face similar fates. By Ahn Seong-sik

Stroll through the tangle of alleyways in the Ikseon-dong neighborhood of the Jongno District and you’re transported to another world, one where quaint wood-frame homes with ornate roofs line the streets alongside boutiques selling colorful clothing from a bygone era.

Ikseon-dong is one of only a handful of neighborhoods in Seoul where traditional homes, called hanok, still dominate the landscape, harkening back to Korea’s not-so-distant past. The country’s rapid march toward industrialization in the second half of the 20th century often trampled cultural preservation efforts.

With Korea now firmly entrenched in the developed world, however, some city officials are trying to shelter areas like Ikseon-dong from the continuing push toward modernization, setting aside large chunks of money to help hanok owners renovate and upgrade their homes.

It’s a noble goal, as the homes represent a unique cultural asset for the city and provide a window into its history. But these efforts are being met with resistance from a surprising segment of the population: the homeowners themselves.

Some owners say they’d rather have the government tear down their homes and build modern apartments on the land, provided they get space in the new residences. Hanok, they claim, are relatively uncomfortable in this day and age, as they have poor heating in winter, antiquated bathroom facilities and other drawbacks. These families, many of which have lived in the homes for decades, would rather reside in a modern apartment than a historical house.“Although these houses might be inconvenient in several ways, it is important for us to preserve them,” said Lee Hak-won, a researcher and associate professor in the department of traditional architecture at the Korean National University of Cultural Heritage. “We need to look at the bigger picture. A combination of old and new architectural structures is necessary. And many cities around the world have successfully been able to incorporate both.

read the whole story at JoongAng Daily


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