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This house sits on a hill facing Jinaksan on the outskirts of South Korea’s Geumsan, Chungcheongnam-do. To the south stand houses on modest hills; to the north towers Jinaksan, which frames a lake in the distance. The wind escapes from the valley and blows across the land, passing through the hills.
From the semi-open space of 26 square meters in this simple house of 43 square meters, the mountains seem close enough to touch, and a simple path winds its way below as part of an unobstructed view of a majestic landscape. Clearing the land at the front of the house, we’ve formed a garden and created showers and a deck for outdoor entertainment. This house is designed for its owner—a superintendent—his books, his students, and his fellow teachers, and it is designed to simultaneously reflect Western style buildings and embrace traditional Korean architecture.
In the twenty-some years since we’ve pursued architecture, we have struggled to understand its essence. The element of Korean architecture that distinguishes it from Japanese or Chinese architecture is, without a doubt, the fact that, in Korean architecture, space moves and flows; that is, a space in Korean architecture is not one frozen frame, but rather, different spaces that interact and change. The rooms of this house follow that flow with ease, and both light and wind leave traces of their presence.
The land on which this house now stands brought to mind a house called Do-San Seodang, which belonged to a philosopher of the 15th century by the name of Yi Hwang, and so we suggested a house of a style that reflected his to the clients. Although Do-San Seodang is small, simple, and linear, its design is conceptually rich. Yi Hwang embraced a theory called Gyung(敬), which called for humility in oneself and respect for others, as well as a simple, practical, and rational lifestyle. Do-San Seodang is Yi Hwang as the present, the books that formed and supported him as the past, and the students that carry on his teachings as the future. And it is beautiful.
A small and simple house that holds the universe… Just hearing these words makes my heart race. The house we dream of is not one that is large or grand enough to be seen from the moon; rather, it is one full of intent. Do-San Seodang is a creation that we as architects dream of and aspire to emulate.
Most of us obsess over owning a house, and we obsess over the size of that house. Modern-day houses have grown larger and larger, and their occupants, too, are accumulating more and more material wealth, reducing available space and forcing expansion. People typically are born into small bodies and return to an even smaller final resting place. Why, then, do we desire houses that are too big for us? Our possessions swell to an unnecessary magnitude, and in the end we are burdened by their weight. We are neither kings nor gods, nor are we aliens. Like clothing that does not fit, houses that do not fit their owners appear unnatural. Where do we draw the line between too small and too large? People believe that if their houses grow as their life progresses, they have achieved success. An extravagant house, however, does not guarantee happiness or satisfaction.
The client desired a small and simple house in which he could spend his remaining years with his wife, and the arrangement of the bedroom and guest room, a minimal kitchen and bathroom, and the attic-turned-study in this house strongly resembles the layout of Do-San Seodang. Coincidentally, he parallels Yi Hwang not only in that he is a scholar, but also in that he is now the same age as the philosopher was when he began to build his Do-San Seodang. This house is the past and the present and the future, and it will become a space that exists in harmony with both nature and the client’s students.
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