Another important element of the traditional Korean house is the board-floored room (maru) located at the center and used for multiple purposes. The room is usually larger than other rooms and is raised from the ground to allow air to freely circulate under it, creating a cool living environment during the warm summer season. The smart system combining ondol and maru makes the traditional Korean house a comfortable living space for its residents not only in the harsh winter but also in the scorching summer. The roof is typically covered with either ceramic tiles or thatching. While most of the roof tiles are dark gray, some exhibit more vibrant colors as demonstrated, for example, by the Official Residence of the Korean President Cheong Wa Dae, which literally means “Blue House” because, as the name shows, it is covered by blue roof tiles.
While traditional Korean houses are generally wooden structures, they can survive as long as other buildings made with other materials if properly taken care of. Presumed to have been built in the early 1200s, the Geungnakjeon Hall of Bongjeongsa Temple in Andong, Gyeongsangbukdo Province is Korea’s oldest remaining wooden building. As an ideal location for their house, Korean people preferred a site protected by hills or mountains on three of its sides, with a stream or river passing in front, thus providing easy access to water. Houses built in such a place create a great harmony with the surrounding environment, attracting more and more admirers not just in Korea but outside it as well.
These days, over 60% of Seoul’s population live in modern apartments but, interestingly, these tall, multistoried buildings are almost without exception furbished with a heating system inspired by the age-old ondol system. Similarly, newly built detached houses are also reliant on the legacy of the ondol system of heating the floor, although the traditional heat passages are now replaced by under-floor metal pipes with running water heated either by gas or electricity. This heating system has now begun to be exported to other countries with wide variations in daily temperature.