A wooden miniature of Gwanghwamun, which is currently under restoration, is being exhibited at the National Museum of Korea through June 27 in Yongsan, Seoul. The piece represents the architecture of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).
By Chung Ah-young
Wooden architecture is a rare sight in present-day urban spaces packed with concrete skyscrapers and apartments. However, there is no denying the significant role of wood in architectural development.
The National Museum of Korea is holding an exhibition of 44 wooden miniatures of traditional architecture, showing historical changes of traditional construction from dugouts of the New Stone Age and Bronze Age found in Amsa-dong to Sungnyemun, National Treasure No. 1 of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).
The introduction of wooden architecture in Korean history goes back to the Neolithic era when people built dugouts using wooden pillars, covering them with a thatched roof.
Such shelters evolved into diverse forms over the Bronze Age, becoming the origin of the traditional wooden architecture.
During the Three Kingdoms era (57 B.C. to 668 A.D), the architecture was grandiose and diverse in style as it symbolized the dignity of the kings and construction of ancient cities and temples.
The Goguryeo (37 B.C.-A.D.668) murals in the tombs and stone pagodas of Baekje (18 B.C.-A.D.660) and Silla (57 B.C.-A.D. 935) show the different materials and shapes used - from thatched houses to houses with tile roofs.
Wooden architecture continued to flourish in the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910) eras. "Dapo" design, or multi-bracket sets placed on the lintels between pillars of grand, large-scale structures, was introduced at the end of the Goryeo Kingdom, in harmony with "jusimpo" design, or column brackets to support the roof. These two forms remained the basis for wood architecture up to the Joseon Kingdom.
``Muryangsujeon" (Hall of Infinite Life), the oldest existing wooden structure, at Buseok Temple in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, was built in Goryeo Kingdom. The structure is renowned for "jumsimpo" design and its columns are soft and elastically curved.
Gaeksamun is also one of the valuable architectural assets built with the skills of Goryeo-era craftsmen. Unlike the gates built in the Joseon Kingdom, Gaeksamun exposes the structure on either side of the gabled roof. The columns in the "jusimpo" style support a ceiling structure that includes many finely carved cloud-shaped brackets which are placed only on top of columns, not on intermediate points on the beams between them.
During the Joseon Kingdom, traditional construction sought harmony with the natural landscape and flourished in great variety and sophistication. Sungnyemun is an example showing the beauty of the architectural style of the early Joseon Kingdom.
The wooden miniatures were manufactured by master carpenter Shin Eung-soo, Important Intangible Property No. 74, who serves as the chief carpenter in the restoration projects of Gwanghwamun and Sungnyemun.
Visitors can also enjoy photo exhibitions and videos showing the history of traditional architecture.
The exhibition will be on display through June 27 at the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan. For more information, call (02) 2077-9460.