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[English Books in Korea ②]

Want to Know More About Korean Architecture?




I start this article with the confession that writing an introduction to English books on Korean architecture is perhaps even more challenging than writing an English book on Korean architecture itself, primarily because the absolute number of such books is so small. Considering the fact that the Korean architecture market is not small at all, that many of the world’s leading architects have left their legacies in Korea, and that Korea has consistently participated in international architectural events such as the Venice Biennale, this is somewhat surprising. This is even more true when we consider that there are a significant number of people in the Korean architectural community who have had first-hand experience in other countries through studying or working abroad and are familiar with foreign languages. For a country that exports so many things, from automobiles and semiconductors to movies and pop music, we need to seriously question why the same cannot be said for architecture. This also implies that there is great potential for future growth.
Books on Korean architecture can be classified into a few categories. The first is books about traditional Korean architecture, especially hanok. There have been a lot of books published on this subject, especially since the so-called “Hanok Renaissance” that took place in Korea after 2000. The next is books on contemporary Korean architecture. Many of these books cover characteristics of Korean cities and architecture, such as hybridity, tradition and modernity, and compact growth. The notable point is the recent increase in monographs and essays by individual architects. Then, there are books on the history of Korean architecture in general, which are very limited, and few books cover the modern period. This is a great disappointment. Finally, although there are a large number of works in other genres, such as children’s books, educational books, and exhibition catalogs, they will not be discussed in this article. Following is an alphabetized list of some of the titles I would like to introduce.


Architecture and Urbanism in Modern Korea (2015)
- Written by Jung In-Ha, published by University of Hawaii Press


『Sketches of Korea: An Illustrated Guide to Korean Culture』



Along with Pai Hyung-Min, Jung In-Ha may be one of the most internationally active Korean architectural scholars. Having studied in Korea and France, he is currently teaching at Hanyang University’s Erica Campus. The book describes Korea’s modernization, which began much later than in the West but was just as turbulent, through 3 phases: the period of colonial modernization from the early 20th century to 1945, the period of developmental dictatorship from 1961 to 1988, and the mid-1990s, when the modernization became more established, and the transition to globalization took place. In doing so, the author points out the elements that have remained constant throughout these phases, namely Korean characteristics stemming from the traditional relationship between humans and the “built environment,” and demonstrates that regionalism has had a profound impact on Korean architects. The book is praised for its scrupulous research and abundant citations, making it an interesting read for architecture majors, as well as those involved in Korean studies or simply interested in Korea.


Byoung Cho: My Life as an Architect in Seoul (2024)
- Written by Cho Byoung-Soo, published by Thames & Hudson


『Sketches of Korea: An Illustrated Guide to Korean Culture』



One of Korea’s leading architects, Cho Byoung-Soo, has been active in both architectural work and education. Through the unique concept of “Mahk,” he pursues a straightforward, rough, yet natural Korean aesthetic. His career has led him to serve as the chief curator of the 4th Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism in 2023. This book was the second volume in the publication series My Life as an Architect, following Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. In it, Cho discusses 29 items, including his own works as well as those in various neighborhoods in Seoul, from more than 600-year-old palaces to the Gangnam made famous by K-pop. It features not only objective observations and research, but also Cho’s own personal stories, making the book very relatable. His projects include the remodeling of a hanok in Seochon that he named “Mahkjip,” a restaurant Tower he designed in Seongsu-dong, and an office project in Hannam-dong. It is interesting to note that the book also mentions the work of other architects, such as Sounds Hannam and Urban Hive.


Difficult Heritage in Nation Building: South Korea and Post-Conflict Japanese Colonial Occupation Architecture (2019)
- Written by Lee Hyun-Kyung, published by Palgrave Macmillan


『Sketches of Korea: An Illustrated Guide to Korean Culture』



The author, Lee Hyun-Kyung, is a researcher based at the University of Cambridge and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. The title “Difficult Heritage” translates to “uncomfortable heritage (불편 문화유산)” in Korean and refers to cultural heritage that brings pain and controversial implications for the national identity, as opposed to the more common heritage that inspires cultural pride. In the case of Korea, this refers to public buildings built during the Japanese occupation, and this book analyzes how such buildings have influenced the country since liberation. In Korea, where the boundaries between modern and colonial architecture are ambiguous, it is hard to find a work that critically examines buildings from this period; moreover, it is significant that this book is written in English, elevating the issue to the level of international discussion. Based on the contents of this book, Lee Hyun-Kyung organized a seminar titled “Nation Building and Uncomfortable Cultural Heritage” in Korea in 2020.


Doojin Hwang Architects: Porosity Tectonics Systems (2016)
- Written by Hwang Doo-Jin, et al., published by Openhouse


『Sketches of Korea: An Illustrated Guide to Korean Culture』



Hwang Doo-Jin is a well-known architect based in Korea, yet he has been giving lectures and holding exhibitions abroad. (He is the writer of this article.) He is a contemporary architect but also works on hanok, and is the author of 7 books. This book is a strong reflection of his belief that “an architect should be his own archivist,” published through crowdfunding on the 15th anniversary of his office, and is available in many universities and public libraries abroad as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ international exchange program, which is a rare case for a book on Korean architecture. It is a both theoretical and deeply personal book that explains, through numerous texts and visual materials, how his architectural world has been shaped. It includes contributions from global figures such as international philosopher and professor Lee Suk-Jae, leading Korean architectural historian Jeon Bong-Hee, and Director of the German Architecture Museum Peter Cachola Schmal. The book is light in weight and stains easily, which is a deliberate manipulation of the materiality of “books” to reflect the “massive yet fragile” nature of architecture.


History of Korean Architecture (2013)
- Written by Kim Dong-Uk, published by the University of Kyunggi Press


『Sketches of Korea: An Illustrated Guide to Korean Culture』



Kim Dong-Uk is one of Korea’s prominent architectural historians, who is widely supported and respected in academia. This book is a translation of History of Korean Architecture (Korean title: 한국 건축의 역사)(Kimoondang), published in 1998. It is considered a refreshing oasis in the drought as overviews of Korean architectural history in English are very uncommon. The translation was done as part of the Korea Foundation’s (KF) project to redevelop Korean schools overseas. The book introduces architecture in 13 chapters, beginning with ancient times and continuing through Goryeo, Joseon, and the pre-liberation Japanese occupation. The book’s distinctive feature as a history book is that, unlike the usual approach of organizing by dynasties, it divides the eras into more detailed periods based on factors such as technological advances and production systems. It is also different in that it moves away from the classification of architecture by use and instead describes the development of certain themes (such as the trend of ornamentalization). Though the Korean edition is out of print, it was widely used as a textbook for various exams.


Inside the Korean House (2024)
- Written by Park Nani and Robert J. Fouser, photographs by Lee Jong-Keun, published by Tuttle Publishing


『Sketches of Korea: An Illustrated Guide to Korean Culture』



The so-called “Hanok Renaissance,” which began in the 2000s, is considered to have brought hanok back into the daily lives of Koreans. However, scholarly efforts at the international and universal level seem to be just beginning to take off. Therefore, the existing English books on hanok, especially on modern hanok, are aimed at making the charm of hanok more popular. Among them, this book is the most attractive in terms of the selected cases and the written and visual materials that introduce them. Its strength is especially unique in that it introduces how Koreans today are creating new life spaces by renovating traditional architecture from previous eras or building new ones, through first-hand interviews. The author, Park Nani, is a Korean-American from Hawaii who lived in a hanok as a child, and the other author, Robert J. Fouser, is a leading Western intellectual with extensive knowledge of Korea who has built his own hanok in Seochon. The photographer, Lee Jong-Keun, has contributed to a number of English photo books introducing Korean culture.


Megacity Network: Contemporary Korean Architecture (2008)
- Written by Kim Sung-Hong and Peter Cachola Schmal, published by Jovis


『Sketches of Korea: An Illustrated Guide to Korean Culture』



Kim Sung-Hong, a professor at the University of Seoul, is a leading Korean architectural scholar known for his numerous publications and international exhibitions. This book is a record of the Megacity Network Exhibition he curated and proposed by Peter Cachola Schmal, director of the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt, which was on a long-term tour since 2008, from Frankfurt, Berlin, Tallinn, and Barcelona to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in Korea. It is both an exhibition brochure and a piece of independent writing on Korean contemporary architecture. Kim Sung-Hong saw it as a characteristic of megacities like Seoul that they were composed of a network of fragments shaped by capital at different scales. The book features some of the most prominent architects of Korean architecture at this point in time, including Cho Min-Suk of “Mass Studies,” Kim Young-Joon of “yo2 Urban Architecture,” and Cho Nam-Ho of “Soltojibin.” Afterward, Kim curated the exhibition “FAR Game” as the artistic director of the Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2016 and wrote an English book with the same title.



Written by Hwang Doo-Jin (Director of Doojin Hwang Architects)



Hwang Doo-Jin (Director of Doojin Hwang Architects)

#Architecture#Korean architecture#Hanok#Korean House
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