A Hanok Hotel in the Mountains

At AWON Museum & Hotel, centuries-old hanok, contemporary architecture, art and design all combine against the backdrop of Jongnamsan mountain in a remote and peaceful village


In Korea, if the address of your destination includes the word ri, you can be assured that where you’re going is far from any bustling crowds. Ri, which means ‘village’ in Korean, are usually remote farming towns. According to the government’s administrative categorisation, the unit ri is reserved for the least populated areas of a province. ‘When I first arrived in Oseong, Daeheung-ri, 20 years ago, there were six houses and a total population of ten,’ recalls Jeon Hae Gap, an architect who specialises in repurposing rural pre-war buildings and villages. Jeon fell in love with Oseong’s picturesque scenery, where in the mornings fog can be seen rising from the reservoir against the backdrop of the dramatic Jongnamsan mountain. Shortly after his first visit, Jeon embarked on a 12-year-long journey that would culminate in AWON Museum & Hotel

‘I wanted to create a facility that allows visitors to experience this quiet mountainous village as purely as possible. That’s why I decided to go on a search for an old hanok that could be relocated here,’ Jeon explains. Following a self-imposed rule that the hanok should be at least 100 years old, the search took five years before he eventually found a suitable 250-year-old traditional hanok — comprising an anchae (main house) and a sarangchae (guest house) — in the city of Jinju in South Gyeongsang. 

With the help of traditional carpenters, Jeon dismantled the hanok to be reassembled at its new home. Along with the structure, he also brought along the original stone fences and bamboo trees from the original site. ‘A hanok is not a piece of architecture, it’s a furniture piece. The structure is held together by perfectly fitted joinery without nails, which makes it possible to relocate them,’ says Jeon. Once the wooden houses were reassembled, the architect designed a new L-shaped wing in raw concrete to envelope the historic beauty in modernity. This wing is now the AWON museum, a gallery space and cafe. In total, AWON comprises two original hanok from Jinju, one other hanok and the concrete wing that houses Cheonmok tearoom and the museum.

Shortly after AWON opened its doors, the county designated over 250,000 square metres of the surrounding area as a hanok village. Today, there are about 20 hanok, some newly built and some reconstructed, but all unique in their own way. ‘Nature isn’t always symmetrical, and a hanok should be tailored to that asymmetry. Every window frame is built according to natural elements and the building’s surroundings, and each room is designed to suit the resident. The result is bespoke architecture that caters to our emotional needs,’ Jeon concludes. 

Text / Jae Lee
Images / Courtesy of Awon Hotel & Museum

TravelJae LeeSouth Korea