Briton fighting to preserve hanok

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Briton fighting to preserve hanok


David Kilburn, 63, a British freelance journalist, came to Korea in 1987 and instantly fell in love with hanok, or traditional Korean style houses, in Gye-dong, Seoul. Mr. Kilburn, who was working in Japan as a correspondent for a marketing magazine, bought a hanok in Gahoe-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul and moved into it, and has lived there with his Korean wife, Choi Geum-ok, for 19 years. “I just fell in love with the house at first sight.” Mr. Kilburn even wrote an article about hanok for the Japanese airline ANA’s inflight magazine in 1990.
“A hanok is great because it is nature itself, made with trees, bricks, and soil. The hanok best represents Koreans’ lifestyle, living in harmony with nature,” Mr. Kilburn said.
His love for this traditional Korean house has led to Mr. Kilburn getting injured and hospitalized after a fight with construction workers who were remodeling traditional houses in Gahoe-dong, Gyeo-dong, and Jae-dong under a Seoul Metropolitan Government project. According to its plan, the city has given up to 30 million won ($30,886) each to around 800 households for remodeling hanok in the neighborhoods since 2001. About 240 houses have been remodeled so far.
“The project is ruining the hanok village,” Mr. Kilburn blasted. In an effort to stop the project, he visited Seoul city hall and Jongno district office countless times. He also sent letters to President Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak, Seoul City mayor, asking to stop the remodelling. He took pictures of the construction and sent them to related ministries. Also, he opened a Web site to publicize the situation and his strong opposition.
Mr. Kilburn argues that the city’s project is breaking down the basic structure of the traditional Korean style houses because in the process, the original trees and bricks are replaced with steel and concrete.
He said , “In Europe, people used to put up with some inconvenience to preserve prestigious architecture. If the city allows the residents to turn their houses into singing rooms or restaurants, hanok villages will disappear.”
Meanwhile, some argue that as the houses are not publicly managed cultural properties, but are private properties, it is impossible to stop residents renovating their houses. No Gyeong-rae, an official at the city government, said, “For convenience, it is possible to use concrete for the basement of the house. The village is not a designated Korean Folk Village.”
Residents are split over the issue. One, who has lived in the village for 35 years, said, “As the houses are excessively transformed, the village’s natural beauty is disappearing. I think it’s better to remodel the interior of the house and leave the outside as it was.”
A 47-year-old housewife, however, said, “I am satisfied with the project as the value of my house went up and heating problems were solved by the renovation.”

by Kim Ho-jung
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