Is it possible to find a hanok, a traditional Korean house, in Europe? There are a few galleries that are adorned with Korean-style window frames, hanji (traditional Korean paper), or patterns, but there is only one hanok in all of Europe. It is called Goam Seobang, named after the Korean artist Lee Ungno, who worked as an artist under the pen name Goam. Located in Vaux-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris, France, the residence allows visitors to enjoy traditional Korean architecture against a picturesque natural backdrop, with a hill at its back and a commanding view of the Seine to the front. To this day, the house remains the only hanok ever to be built in Europe.
Goam Seobang was constructed by Lee Yoongse, a France-based painter and son of the late Lee Ungno, to cherish the memory of his father and raise awareness of Korea. The house was designed by the late Shin Young-hoon, a master carpenter who passed away last May. Shin is said to have completed the structure in Korea, before disassembling and taking it to France. The balanced structure consisting of the living quarters with wooden floors, two rooms, and a crossbeam embody the Korean aestheticism unique to hanok that is hard to find elsewhere in Europe. One is filled with an unusual sense of lyricism as one sees the Seine through the latticed door of the house or looks at the residence from the secluded forest path.
Across from Goam Seobang is an atelier built by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, a grand master of architecture. It is home to the Academy of Oriental Painting in Paris, founded by Lee Ungno. Particularly eye-catching is the building’s slightly slanted roof, which shows the influence of hanok architecture, creating a natural connection with Goam Seobang.
Goam’s cultural legacy, comprising Goam Seobang, the atelier, and the Lee Ungno Residence in Paris, still connects Korean artists and Europe, carrying on the late painter’s will to make Korean fine art more widely known around the world. Putting up the crossbeams of Goam Seobang in 1992, Shin Young-hoon engraved them with the word “mugungmujin” (무궁무진), meaning infinity. The late artist’s wishes to preserve and share Korean traditions and aestheticism with the outside world will remain as infinite as the beauty of hanok.
Written by Kim Moon-young
Photo: Courtesy of the Goam Arts & Culture Foundation in Daejeon