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Principles Underlying the Spatial Structure : Hierarchy and Sequence

When one moves from the entrance to the rear boundary of the traditional Korean settlement, one can experience the continuous change of visual targets, a series of blocked and open spaces. Experiencing the interesting contrast of spaces, one also feels the sense of the deep space. What can this feeling be attributed to? The principles underlying the spatial structure would make the answer. It is asserted here that the conceptual spine of the traditional Korean clan settlement consists of two principles which may be compared to two wheels of a cart in that they are essential and complementary; hierarchy and sequence.

Almost all aspects of the traditional Korean society have been greatly influenced by the Confucian ideology stressing the vertical social order. The spatial structure of the settlement is not an exception. Given that, it can be assumed the settlement is a system of 'unequal' places. It is supported by the clear difference between the front and the rear parts of the settlement. And it means that the settlement space has the linear differentiation. It may be referred to as 'front-rear hierarchy'.18 Such a hierarchy is guided by diverse factors. One relevant factor is the topographic feature which is high in its rear. A general rule is that the higher rear part of the settlement means the upper hierarchy. That is, the topographic level is coincident with the mental hierarchy.

Fig 7. The site plan of Wontuh

The hierarchy in elements, like roads and houses (lots), may be connected with the front-rear hierarchy. It is commonly found that the lots at the rear part of the settlement are larger than those at the front part. It means that the houses with upper hierarchy at the rear part are placed on larger lots, and those with lower hierarchy at the front part are placed on subdivided smaller lots. There is a strong tendency for the Model houses with more elements to be placed at the rear part. This is a manifestation of a general principle of the clan village that the houses with upper socio-economic hierarchy are placed at the rear part. Therefore, it can be asserted that the house type, whether Model or General, varies with its location in the settlement.

Roads are a major public space in traditional Korean settlements which generally do not have squares, unlike Western settlements. Especially the Main Road, unlike the Sub-roads, strictly reflects the social order of the settlement in typical clan villages. The Main Road serves as a connector of the community facilities which have upper hierarchy than houses do, in building size and location, while the Sub-roads are largely used for access to houses. From these two points, it can be concluded that the hierarchy of the Main Road is upper than those of the Sub-roads.

Through interpreting the spatial structure in terms of hierarchy as above, we come to understand that the topologically different parts of the clan village have different meanings. This mental order is spatially expressed in the difference between front-rear spaces of the settlement and is summarized below.

Front : Lower hierarchy, lower level of topography, social space, profane --- Generally Jongja is located here.
Rear : Upper hierarchy, higher level of topography, mental space, sacred --- Generally where the Ancestral Shrine, the Ancestor Worship House, and the Family Graveyard are located.

When the linkage from any spatial element to another is composed of a regular set of components in the settlement, it can be said that the settlement space contains a sequence. The sequence refers to a continuous connection of elements (spaces), and is a concept connoting the temporal arrangement of elements by people's movement. In Korean clan villages, the sequence is a concept found in the progression from the entrance up to the rear boundary of the settlement and in the linkage between community and private domains. The sequence, here, means that one kind of elements tends to be related to other kinds in peculiar manners. It is regarded as a principle generating the depth of the settlement space. And it is physically related to roads which connect elements, and psychologically to the senses of privacy and security.

An architectural object in a spatial organization is experienced and understood in relation to its surroundings, the sequences of elements leading up to it as well as by itself19. For instance, the characteristics of a house in a settlement can be found not only in its spatial organization but in a peculiar course from the settlement entrance to it, the sequence. Like this, a spatial element is not confined to its own logic but related to the path leading up to it, so the sequence is a notion interpreting spatial elements in relation to the settlement. Especially in Korea, one of the planning principles consistently applied to all levels of spaces, including houses, broad dwelling areas, and castle towns, is to prevent the interior (inside) to be seen from the exterior (outside)20. This is a strong force to need the sequence.

The basic sequence at the typical clan village is as follows; settlement entrance --> Jongja (and the Village Hall built in 1970s) --> houses --> Family Head's house (usually accompanying an Ancestral Shrine) --> Family Graveyard. It forms an axis organizing the settlement space. The movement from space to space reveals a territorial structure21. And the sequential relations are based on the connection of territories. The settlement space which itself also acts as a territory, has the layers of territories in its inside : the houses, the Sub-roads, the Main Road, etc.. And between the layers are the house entrances and the settlement entrance which function as transition spaces. (Fig 8)

Fig 8. The layers of territories in the settlement

The connection between a house and the settlement entrance generally follows a sequential course. It is a linear linkage as 'house entrance (by the form of 'gate building' or 'main gate') --->Sub-road (short access alley) ---> Main Road ---> Jongja ---> settlement entrance'. The road system of the traditional Korean settlement is common in that it has the path to the settlement entrance passing Jongja, a typical social facility. Thanks to this trait of the road system, the residents have social contacts naturally and frequently. Thus it is a kind of physical device to maintain the settlement as a true community. Also it is interesting that the house which can not follow such a rule of sequence compensates itself by special architectural treatments.22

The paths from the house to community facilities are the sequential courses passing through the Sub-roads and the Main Road. Exceptionally, however, community wells were reached through the informal alleys between houses in order to minimize moving distances. Considering that they should have carried heavy water pails, it is so natural to try to shorten the distances from kitchens to the well. Like this, for the convenience of individual moves, there have been many other paths than formal settlement roads such as the Sub-roads and the Main Road.

We can see an interesting case of the informal mechanism of spatial connection in Dorae village located in the southern part of Korea. The residents of the clan village, who are connected by intimate kinship and use together community facilities such as wells, have many opportunities to move between houses. Thus, there are paths by which houses can be connected directly if necessary, while the privacy is basically maintained. (Fig 9) This dialectic balance of segregation and integration is a good feature of the spatial structure reflecting the peculiarity of the clan village.

Fig 9. Connections between houses in Dorae

We may conclude that traditional Korean settlements can be described with the universal architectural concepts as hierarchy and sequence. And they are the principles underlie the spatial articulations.


18. Let us compare this notion with 'the Neighborhood Theory' which is the typical Western planning theory and has influenced greatly on the planning of modern housing sites. The spatial organization of the residential area is explained concentrically with the concept of center-periphery in the Neighborhood Theory. On the other hand, the concept of 'front-rear' seems to have had more power than that of center-periphery in organizing traditional Korean settlements.

19. Lynch, Kevin, The Image of the City (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960), p.1

20. Kim, Hongsik, op. cit., p.738

21. Habraken, N. J., Transformations of the Site (Awater Press), p.4

22. About such cases, refer to Han, Pilwon, op. cit.

* The titles of Korean references have been translated into English by the author.

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