Sarangbang is perhaps a Korean equivalent to the “Western reception room”, except for a wide scope of functions it can accommodate from guest reception to sleeping. Sarangbang is also gender specified, built only for men1. It used to be the focal point of the male living quarter as men and women needed to occupy the house separately under Neo-Confucianist ideologies. Sarangbang therefore associates itself with ‘male activities’ of Joseon period, mostly related to literature. It is usually positioned in a narrow space and its interior was visually organised through refined lines and surfaces.
Its particularity arises from a strict set of principles that derive from the ever-changing social and cultural circumstances during the Joseon Dynasty. One example of particular significance is the Japanese Invasions of Korea (임진왜란 : 壬辰倭亂) from 1592 to 1598. The war, amongst many things, changed how the Jesa-the memorial for the ancestors-was practiced. Jesa became much more of a household focused activity than a communal one and this essentially led homes to become more private2. The proportional increase of private spaces in a household graudally led to a strict separation between men’s and women’s quarters, neatly fitted with the prevailing Confucianist thoughts. Sarangbang, a focal point head men’s activities, was now placed to the front of the house when Anbang, a space for head women, was pushed to the back garden. Although they needed to be visually separated from one another and create hierachy, Sarangbang and Anbang were often connected through pathways. This model of households prevailed until the Japanese occupation of the 20th century(일제강점기), accompanied by the influx of Western culture.
With the western model of working came the vacancy of men for the majority of the day. The notion of men’s quarter gradually disappeared and the housewives became the main occupants of homes throughout the day. With most of Koreans now taking their residence in westernised flats, the living room in a typical Korean home combines most functions found in all traditional Korean rooms apart from bedrooms.
With rapidly changing society and gender roles, Sarangbang invites sensitive and complex topics to be discussed that stand in between tradition and modernisation (be it good or bad). How could we re-occupy this particular traditional space in Korean culture that evolved with social and cultural changes and eventually disappeared. How would you use what is left of Sarangbangs in respect to its position of being at the front of the house, separated from the “women’s quarter”. Where gender specific places are disappearing, the Sarangbang loses its core value as a typology and becomes a newly occupiable space.
1 : An Illustrated Guide to Korean Culture – 233 traditional key words. Seoul: Hakgojae Publishing Co. 2002. pp. 178–179