Hanok around the Blue House are endangered
As the Blue House has been thrown open to the public and the commercial area around it is getting attention, traditional hanok buildings nearby are facing demolition.
The 40,000 people visiting the Blue House each day naturally pass through neighboring areas such as Tongin-dong and Nuha-dong, collectively called Seochon. The price of real estate in Seochon has jumped 10-20 percent since the opening of the Blue House due to development expectations and some worry that Seochon’s unique hanok will disappear.
“I looked out the window one day and they were tearing tiles from a neighbor’s house,” said one Seochon resident.
There were originally four hanok next to Seochon resident Mr. Yoon’s house. In 2020, these hanok were all demolished and two three-story buildings were built in their place.
The Seochon area was designated a Hanok Preservation Area in 2010. Such areas, designated by the district, are divided into “hanok designated areas” and “hanok recommended areas.” Only hanok can be built in the hanok designated areas; in the recommended areas, hanok and non-hanok buildings can coexist, with a two- to three-floor limit on the number of floors non-hanok buildings can have.
Mr. Yoon is in a recommended area. “Even now, the noise from construction sites is constant,” said Yoon. “My friends who visit say the neighborhood has changed so much that they can’t find their way.”
Real estate agents say two- or three-floor buildings make more economic sense. “Building a hanok is a loss in terms of floor area ratio and building-to-land ratio,” said a real estate agent. “When land is as expensive as it is these days, Western-style houses are built to increase usability.”
“Even after the Preservation Area designation was announced, there are many cases of demolishing hanok and building Western-style buildings in their place,” the agent continued.
According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Architecture and Urban Research Institute, there were 616 hanok remaining in Seochon, a decrease of 50 to 60 buildings since the 2010 survey. Residents say more hanok have disappeared since 2015.
“If you demolish a hanok and build a Western-style building, you can earn millions of won of rental income per month,” said Mr. Noh, 39, a Seochon resident. “Others are becoming rich from that, so who could resist?”
“Foreign tourists are flowing in, and I think this is just the beginning of the disappearance of hanok,” said Noh.
Even in hanok designated areas, owners want to tear down the hold structures. Last October, a petition to lift the designation circulated among Seochon residents, but it wasn’t successful. However, a new petition is circulating with the goal of submitting to the Jongno District Office this autumn.
Choosing to build a new hanok is “almost as rare as beans sprouting in a drought,” according to real estate agents. The cost of building a hanok is three times that of a Western-style building, and people believe they are difficult to manage. People who build a hanok can receive up to 180 million won in a cultural subsidy supported by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, but takers are few. “Sometimes, rich people who like hanok want to build one as a vacation home, but there are very few of them,” said another real estate agent.
“I like hanok and want to continue living in one, but hanok in Seochon have been designed narrowly, so it is hard to live here with my family,” said Lee Young-seok, 61, a resident of a hanok.
“For the past 20 years, Western-style apartments and stores have sprouted up between the hanok,” said Mr. Park, 67, who has lived in Seochon for 45 years. “I wish they would create a separate hanok village. When I was younger, people would envy me when I said I lived here. All sides of the neighborhood were hanok and the scenery was really nice, but it’s not like that anymore.”
“If we continue to lose hanok like this, the landlords can just sell their properties and leave, but the image of Seochon will be damaged,” said Noh.
BY CHOI SEO-IN [email@example.com]