The Korea Herald

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[Eye Plus] Working with timber to capture traditional Korean heritage

By Lim Jae-seong

Published : Dec. 17, 2022 - 16:01

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“Sounds from machines and tools echo in this huge space. I feel comfortable listening to the sounds while working with the timbers here,” said traditional architecture students Kim Jun-ha and Kwon Seong-jun as they showed their workspace.

Kim and Kwon are students at the Korea National University of Cultural Heritage, which specializes in training students in traditional crafts. With a plane and saw in hand, they are on their way to being masters of traditional Korean building construction.

In their work space, wood is piled up after being carved in round and soft shapes, or painted in traditional patterns which can be seen on old Korean palaces or temples.

Timber is a vital material in Korea's traditional architecture. It is used in royal palaces, thatched-roof farm houses, temples in the deep mountains and pavilions in scenic spots. Koreans laid wooden floors, erected wooden pillars and put roofs on wooden rafters to make buildings.

“I want to be an engineer who repairs cultural heritage after graduate school,” said Kwon.

“During the period between the end of my military service in March and coming back to school, I worked at traditional construction sites as a part of (the school’s) cultural heritage repair technician course. It required hard physical work, but I learned a lot from these practical experiences, in contrast to my school courses,” he added.

Kim and Kwon jokingly compared their work to peeling an onion, as they needed to sand off the timber's surface numerous times with tools. Still, they were full of joy when showing their work.

“I often stay up all night when working on a project. I cannot resist being absorbed in work once I start it,” said Kim.

“Working with timber doesn't always go according to plan,” he added. “I love the sense of achievement when I finally manage to create what I designed.”