Although most people wear Western clothes such as suits and jeans, hanbok, the national costume, is worn by many Koreans during national holidays. The hanbok is one of the most visible aspects of ancient Korean culture, and images of it can be seen in 1500 year old tomb paintings. Koreans have traditionally worn white clothes, reserving colors for the upper class and festive occasions. Designer shoes and sneakers have since replaced rubber shoes and sandals, but the modernization of footwear has not changed the fact that good manners require the removal of one’s shoes before entering someone’s home.
Much of Korean culture has been shaped by Confucian notions of harmony, and its architecture is no exception. Korean architects have long tried to integrate characteristics of the natural world into the built environment. Korean architecture has also been affected by Taoism and Buddhism, by the conceptual relationship of opposites known as yin yang, and by the interpretation of the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth). The great tiered pagodas commonly associated with East Asian architecture were first built about 2000 years ago. Their design was initially borrowed from China, but deviations from the Chinese form soon led to a purely Korean aesthetic.
As Korea modernized, much of its architectural tradition seemed to vanish. Thousands of anonymous skyscrapers and highrises were constructed in Korean cities, and while the resulting urbanism was certainly modern, it was difficult to see just what about it was identifiably Korean. This situation is thankfully changing, as a new generation of internationally trained Korean architects are developing a new vernacular style that brings traditional architectural wisdom and concerns into the modern age.