Forbidden City vs Gyeongbokgung Palace; Chinese vs Korean Architecture

I must admit Im really excited about Korea! So I decided to try sketching the palace I’m going to be visiting and while sketching it reminded me of the Forbidden Palace! So here I’ve got two sketches.

Korean Architecture and Chinese Architecture are similar in their use of the bracket system as well as the pitch roof. The slight difference in roof structure which was obvious to me while sketching is that the Korean roof seems to curve upwards whilst the Chinese roof is less curved.

The proportion is also different. The Forbidden City was smaller and more in proportion whilst the Gyeongbokgung Palace roof was more dramatic and bigger. The Forbidden City proportions are very obvious and they emphasize on the horizontality and verticality whereas the Gyeongbokgung Palace had less severe proportions.

Another interesting thing was, the roof color is very different. Typical of Chinese Architecture, the Forbidden City used bright colored – orange/gold, whereas the Korean Palace had grey (dull) colored roof tiles. It’s also interesting to note that no Korean house/palace/building uses brightly coloured roof tiles.

An interesting fact I picked up from the internet was that brick was used to construct the Forbidden City, whilst it the Gyeongbokgung Palace was constructed out of wood. Wood was used because at the time Seoul was a large forest. To be honest, I have not found a better reason for that so if you know of a better reason, do post it!

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Forbidden City

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Gyeongbokgung Palace

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Forbidden City  – Notice the horizontality, verticality, proportion, and bright colours

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Forbidden City – Bright Colours & Compare the Roof curviness with the Korean Roof

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Gyeongbokgung Palace – Notice the proportion different to that of the Forbidden City

and compare the colors used

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Gyeongbokgung Palace – Notice the roof structure to be more curvy than that of Chinese Architecture

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Forbidden City vs Gyeongbokgung Palace; Chinese vs Korean Architecture

6 thoughts on “Forbidden City vs Gyeongbokgung Palace; Chinese vs Korean Architecture

  1. David Kim says:

    Very interesting. I would be interested in learning more about the similarities and differences among the traditional architecture in East Asian countries (China / Manchuria / Mongolia / Korea / Japan / Vietnam in particular). I wonder if climate ever played a role. I did once hear that royal residences in Korea had blue-tiled roofs, to somehow camouflage the building and thus hide the royal family from any evil spirits flying by.

    1. Hey. Thanks for your comment. Yeah, climate definitely played a role especially in terms of the materials used and even the roof design! Actually the pitch roof and the tiles can be said to be a climate response in terms of distributing the snow fall and rainfall. Interesting about the blue tiled roof. Will have to look into it! 😀

  2. Myra says:

    Hey as a side note,(I know that there is some cultural sensitivity around this)– but just another reason is that Korean used to be a tribute state to China for hundreds of years until the early 1900s. They were placed under many restrictions. For example, their ruler was not allowed to be called “emperor” since that title can only belong to the Chinese. They were only allowed to call their rulers “kings”– which was regarded as below the emperor.
    Unfortunately the restrictions also fell upon their architecture too. To put it simply, the Koreans were not allowed to build their palaces “prettier” than those in China. To be frank it was difficult for them at the time too. There were enough wars/conflict etc. in the region (including the Japanese colonization of Korea during the first part of the 1900s) for the architecture and other cultural relics to be unstable/partially marred or destroyed. Korea was not the economic powerhouse in the past as it is today. They also would have some difficulties building their palaces and certain other architecture. These are all broad summaries in a nutshell. The point is that history and context of the country itself may also be considered when studying the architecture.

    1. Justin says:

      This touches on the truth, but it’s a little simplistic.

      It’s not that Joseon could not build “prettier” palaces than those in China. Gyeongbokgung was grander (in terms of area) than Chinese palaces until the completion of the Forbidden City. Just an FYI.

      There are certain features, however, which were not allowed during palace building in the Joseon Dynasty–one of which is the amount of figures on the eaves of the buildings. You’ll notice that the maximum amount of figures on the eaves is 8. 9 was not permitted because 9 is an Imperial number reserved for the Emperor of China only (but you’ll notice later-built buildings do include imperial aspects and even display 5-claw dragons, another symbol of the Chinese Emperor). The stone platforms under the main halls of the palace (ex: Geunjeongjeon in Gyeongbokgung) could also be no greater than 2. There are other instances, but these are primary examples. The only restrictions were *ideological* and have nothing to do with the size or majesty of the palace itself (and honestly, very little to do with the geo-political situation).

      You have to remember that Joseon was an extremely orthodox Neo-Confucian country, so the palace reflects these values–that’s why there are not many 2-tier or large buildings. Large buildings were shunned in court ideology as they represented ostentatiousness and wastefulness. Neo-Confucianism emphasized modesty (this is also why Koreans earned the name “white-clad people,” precisely because the majority of the people wore white as part of a Neo-Confucian tradition).

      If you go back to Goryeo (unfortunately since Gaeseong was the capital and is now in North Korea it is hard to find a ton of architectural information on the dynasty), you’ll see that many large and tall structures were built, as Buddhism was the main ideology. These palaces also featured ideological representations of the Korean monarch as emperor (using multiples of 9 in architectural designs, etc). Manwoldae was the name of the Goryeo palace in Gaeseong and you can find some pictures of miniature recreations online.

      1. Yi Bang Won says:

        1. Nope, it was the truth that during the construction of Gyeongbokgung, Yi Seong Gye (first Joseon King) and Jong Deo Jeon (first Joseon PM) can’t and would never want to do anything that would make China attack them. Afterall, they still needed Ming dynasty’s support to defend Korea from the leftover Mongols from overthrowned Yuan dynasty.

        2. Before Forbidden City, there was Daming Palace, the much bigger and grander palace than Forbidden City. The smaller size of Forbidden City itself made Ming Dynasty population at that time questions Emperor Yongle’s power.

        3. Bricks was actually considered as luxury resource during the first reign of Yongle Emperor. Joseon dynasty would never be able to either buy it from China (the last Goryeo King exhausted the countries’ treasury) or make it locally because they do not have the technology. Thus, just build the palace using what the nature already has given, stones and woods.

        4. There is no reason on how Confuscianism connected to the building of the palace, although Jong Deo Jeon was a Confucian scholar and the one who designed and built the palace, because Yi Seong Gye himself was a devout Buddhist.

        5. What you are talking about might refer to Changdeokgung instead of Gyeongbokgung. Gyeongbokgung was meant to be built as a grand palace, whilst Changdeokgung was built to appease the Confucian officials who thought that their King was actually a greedy pig.

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