Hidden deep within the Ewha campus, right behind the President’s residence, is a small yet beautiful Korean traditional house. The closer you get, the lovelier it looks. Its name is Ah-ryung-dang, and it has left its mark on generations of Ewha alumnae.
According to the Ewha Centennial History Book, the name Ah-ryung comes from the name Al-young, wife of Park Hyuk-geo-se, the founding father of the Shilla dynasty, as she is regarded as a symbol for female power and independence.
Built by the architect Shin Young-hoon, who built many Korean cultural assets during the 1940s, Ah-ryung-dang initially served as a practice hall for the then-existing College of Home Management. It was built in 1936, when the school moved to Shinchon to replace the old Songwoldong on the Jeongdong campus with donations from Ewha alumnae and Dean Mylum of State University of Oregon. It was modeled on the Youngyeongdang of Changduk palace which consists of a living room, kitchen, restaurant and a washroom.
However, the original Ah-ryung-dang was destroyed during the Korean War, and then rebuilt in 1955. But this is because was built using only traditional Korean materials, meaning no such materials as nails were used to build the house. Thus, all the rooms at Ah-ryung-dang show the traditional beauty of Korea. Construction in 1985 to expand the Ah-ryung-dang to the current size cost 272,000,000 won ($27,000). To get a rough idea about the cost of enlarging the Ah-rung-dang, it took Ewha Womans University Kindergarten 366,584,000 won ($36,658) to build a building seven times larger than Ah-ryung-dang’s size.
“I used to learn and practice etiquette at Ah-ryung-dang. One day when my friends and I sat down on a wooden table inside the hall. Our professor chastised us for sitting there, since the table was made out of extremely expensive material. Since then, I was always very careful not to make mistakes there,” said Park Ji-hyun (’85, College of Home Management).
When the College of Home Management was changed to the College of Health Sciences in 2002, the Ah-ryung-dang began to be used as a convention and conference hall to hold events such as dinner banquets with government officials or a debate competition between Tsinghua University of China and Ewha. Since the place has only been used for these kinds of big events and holds great cultural value, the hall is usually locked up and people may only enter with permission.
At the gate of Ah-ryung-dang, there is a small garden with flowers on the side and flat stones planted to guide the way into the hall. Then, there is a big living room with a door dividing the room into two parts. Right behind the living room are small rooms, a kitchen and a washroom aligned to greet guests. Ah-ryung-dang has the spirit of Ewha and Korea deeply embodied in it, mysterious, beautiful and marvelous.
“I still remember Ah-ryung-dang as one of the most beautiful buildings at Ewha and I believe it is a symbol of the beauty of traditional Korean culture. I am proud that Ewha has such valuable cultural assets,” said Park.