Traditional Korean houses are known as hanoks, and they’re seeing something of a revival in popularity these days, inspiring new apartment designs. Traditional hanoks were built using natural materials, and cleverly designed to keep residents cool in summer and warm in winter.

Hanoks have ondol, underfloor heating, and a separate maru, a wide wooden floor area. Ondol dates back to the bronze age in Korea. As Koreans then all sat, ate, slept and relaxed on the floor, having a warm floor in winter was a high priority. While sofas and beds are now a mainstay of most Korean homes, a heated floor is still desirable.

Wood, stone and clay were the main materials used to build a hanok, and being surrounded by these natural materials is felt to have health benefits for people versus more modern buildings made of concrete and artificial materials. For ordinary folks, roofs were generally thatched with straw, and for those a bit more minted, clay tiles. Hanji paper made from mulberry trees was also used in sliding partitions inside the building. The paper absorbs heat and keeps out dust on hot humid days.

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The location of a hanok was also significant and dictated by nature. There should be a mountain behind the hanok, and a river in front. If you’re a historical drama fan, you’ll notice that hanoks tend to have rather sparse looking surroundings. It’s deliberate – unlike our fancy for landscaped greenery, the space around a hanok is said to be left empty so that it is possible to hold all things.

While owning or building a traditional hanok just isn’t possible for most people, some architects are trying to blend the hanok ideals into an apartment-sized space.

If you’re in Korea, it’s easy to see traditional hanoks up close at the Bukchon Hanok Village, where many of them now house cafes, museums and shops. Another good spot is Seochon, where you can visit artsy cafes and traditional medicine shops. It’s easy to book overnight stays in Hanoks too.

Take a look at Bukchon Village here


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British writer and editor living in Japan. Currently studying Japanese, Korean, K-pop dance, and the fine form of 이성종's legs.