Human-Centered Design - The Traditional Korean Home

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Though Korean palaces and Buddhist temples may be comprised of imposing structures with elaborate roof brackets and coloring, such features are not found in traditional Korean houses, called hanok. Hanok, on the contrary, derive their elegance from a consideration of the local environment, a human-oriented scale, and uncontrived design elements.

The oldest hanok remaining today date back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Limits on property and structure size were determined based on one's class, while Neo-Confucianism led to a division between women’s and men’s spaces and a distain for ostentation. In aristocratic homes, there were multiple buildings within a single "house," including women"s quarters, men"s quarters, servants’ quarters, and more. Men's and women's spaces would be separated by stone walls which created inner courtyards. A large stone wall with a main gate would surround the entire complex.

An individual hanok building can be divided into its foundation, walls, and roof – commonly made of stone, wood or earth, and tile or straw, respectively. Korean pine, which most hanok are made of, is not naturally straight, which leads to a natural curvature in pillars and beams. The use of materials such as brick and glass only began at the turn of the 20th century and is more common in city hanok.

Two distinct kinds of interior spaces developed in response to Korea's climate – the "bang," which uses earthen walls and an under-floor heating system called ondol for warmth in winter, and the "maru," a porch-like space with paper-lined windows and elevated wood plank floors to facilitate circulation in summer. Ondol, an ancient technology unique to Korea literally meaning "hot stone," utilizes flues to direct hot smoke from the stove to heat up stones underneath the floor. In the case of maru, windows can be opened in an upward and outward direction and hung on latches that hang from the eaves. As hot air rises in the sunny courtyard, cold air from the shade behind the house is pulled into the maru space, creating a breeze. Houses in colder regions had compact layouts with more bang, while those in warmer regions had spread-out layouts with more maru.

Today, Korean homes – even high-rise apartments – retain elements of hanok, including a modified version of ondol using hot water pipes to heat the floor, and a layout which often features a central living/kitchen space with rooms to the sides, preserving a common hanok layout.

Related Articles


  • Academy of Korean Studies. 2010. Cultural Landscapes of Korea. Academy of Korean Studies Press.
  • Jeon, BongHee. 2016. A Cultural History of the Korean House. Seoul Selection.
  • KCIS. 2009. Facts about Korea. 185-6. Korean Culture and Information Service, Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.
  • Kim, Dong-uk. 2013. History of Korean Architecture. University of Kyonggi Press.
  • Park, Nani and Robert J. Fouser. 2014. Hanok: The Korean House. Tuttle Publishing.
  • Sigong Tech Co., Ltd. 2012 (2002). Korean Cultural Heritage: Seen through Pictures and Names. 57-72, 256-307. Sigong Tech Co., Ltd.