I currently stay with a family in Seoul. We are on the fourth floor of a twenty-one story condominium apartment building. Living spaces here tend to stack vertically instead of horizontally, so residence in a high-rise building is typical. Space is scarce in South Korea. In addition to the small land area, mountains cover around seventy percent of the country. As a result, most of the population is concentrated within the remaining flatland; and the high population density in urban areas calls for these high-rise dwellings. The apartment design and quality may vary from building to building (You might even see a Samsung condominium), but the common feature is stacked living.
Rows of condominium apartment buildings in Seoul
Today’s housing style is a far cry from the traditional architecture of Korea. One envisions buildings with a wooden, one-story frame that supports a tiled roof, which sags before bending upwards at each corner. As the country modernized, buildings of this style all but vanished. A few locations have successfully preserved these traditional homes (which are called hanok). One of these locations is Bukchon Hanok Village (북촌한옥마을). The village is made of exquisite homes that sheltered nobility and highly-ranked government officials during the Joseon Dynasty. Not only are these homes well preserved, but many currently operate as restaurants, tea shops, and living spaces.
Entering Bukchon Hanok Village
A strip of hanok in Bukchon Village
A street of hanok with the city in backdrop.
However, these aren’t the only two types of dwellings here. I took a short visit to Nokcheon Village (녹천마을), a rural cluster of old homes off of Seoul Subway Line Number 1. Nokcheon is an example of a village left behind during the government-sponsored projects which aimed to modernize rural areas. There are ongoing talks of rebuilding the village, and the residents of Nokcheon largely welcome the idea. The people here were friendly and wished the best for my photos.
Some of the homes in Nokcheon Village
An elderly woman prepares peppers and acorns in her doorway.
The right-hand shop has a sign advertising charcoal briquettes, which are used for cooking and home heating.
As with any major city, some people in South Korea are homeless. Though Seoul has its fair share, the estimates are far less than that of comparable cities in the U.S., such as New York City. I do not take photos of these people, but instead give them money when I can spare it.
The housing here ranges from traditional architecture to modern, high-rise condos. And though the traditional hanok may be few, today’s architecture occasionally borrows from the classic hanok design. So far, Bukchon Village has been my favorite village to visit. Perhaps I’ll someday have a night’s stay within one of these traditional homes. But for now, I’ll be here writing from apartment building 103—of who knows how many more.
Stay tuned for more stories! Cheers!