昌慶宮 (Changgyeonggung) Grand Greenhouse

Brief introduction

The Japanese governor-general in Korea built the 昌慶宮 (Changgyeonggung) Grand-Greenhouse (Figure 1) in 1909 arguably to demote the dignity of the royal palace (Jeon, 2017). The Japanese had built it complete with a zoo at the 昌慶宮 (Changgyeonggung, emperor’s residence), turning it into a place of recreation. Thus, 昌慶宮 (Changgyeonggung) Grand Greenhouse is one of the best examples to show how Korean people have perceived the Daehan Empire imperial legacy related to Japanese colonial rule amongst modern cultural heritage sites.

Figure 1. 昌慶宮(Changgyeonggung) Grand Greenhouse (Source: http://www.heritage.go.kr/).


The Grand Greenhouse in Changgyeonggung was constructed by the Japanese colonial government in 1909 (Figure 2) under the pretext of comforting emperor Sunjong, who was the last emperor of the Daehan Empire [2]. It was designed by Hayato Fukuba (福羽逸人, 1856-1921), a Japanese horticulturist and designer (Song et al., 2007). Constructed by a French company (Hanri Martnet), this western style greenhouse has a steel frame and wood structure, which is covered in glass (Choi, 2008). This architectural style is reminiscent of the Western Victorian, plain, self-assembled glasshouse tradition (Hartley Botanic, 2015), bearing a similarity between the figures 3 and 4, 5 and 6. The greenhouse was built in Hoowon (後苑, the rear garden of Changgyeonggung). While the greenhouse was repaired three times, it has changed (Figure 3) such as the size of windows and position of the catwalks and a boiler room (Song et al., 2007).

Figure 2. Original shape of Grand Greenhouse (Source: Song et al., 2007).
Figure 3. Current Grand Greenhouse (Source: Song et al., 2007)
Figure 4. The English Victorian-styled greenhouse (Copyright © 1938-2021 Hartley Botanic)
Source: https://hartley-botanic.co.uk/magazine/a-history-of-the-english-glasshouse/
Figure 5. The Front Door of Grand Greenhouse (Source: Song et al., 2007)
Figure 6. The Front door of the English Victorian Glasshouse
(Copyright © 1938-2021 Hartley Botanic)
Source: https://hartley-botanic.co.uk/magazine/a-history-of-the-english-glasshouse/
Figure 7. The Garden of Grand Greenhouse (Source: Song et al., 2007)
Figure 8. The Inside of Grand Greenhouse Garden (Source: Song et al., 2007)
Figure 9. Fountain and front gate of Grand Greenhouse (Source: Song et al., 2007)
Figure 10. Grand Greenhouse (大溫室) information panel (Source: Photographed by the author, 2020)
Built in 1909, it was opened to the public as an enclosed botanical garden. The sharply pointed arch and window frames were made with long, thin wood frames, and glass panels were inserted. The overall view is similar to modern architecture’s Crystal Palace design, which was popular in the West at the time. However, the ridge of the roof is decorated with repeated plum designs typical of royal motifs. In front of the greenhouse, a Renaissance-style fountain and labyrinth-style garden were created.
The content of information panel of the greenhouse


It is the first Western-style greenhouse in Korea, which was completed in 1909 [2] and arguably the largest greenhouse in Asia at that time (No, 2017). At the time of its completion, it exhibited rare plants, including tropical coronary plants, such as chrysanthemum and peony, which were used for ornamental and sellable purposes (Kim, 2015). After the restoration of Changgyeonggung Palace in 1986, it displayed Korean native plants, such as Ulleung chrysanthemum, Bupleurum lastissimum, and Demidova tetragonioides [3] and was designated in recognition of the only remaining legacy of Western architecture which is related to the end of the Daehan Empire as Modern cultural heritage No. 83 in 2004 (No, 2017).

Unlike its beautiful appearance, it has a complicated history and thus, leads to different viewpoints. Song et al. (2007) argue that Itō Hirobumi (伊藤 博文1841-1909), Prime Minister of Japan from 1885 to 1901, ordered the Grand Greenhouse to be built for the purpose of belittling Korea’s royal family. He did this by changing the most dignified and symbolic place of national sovereignty, into a place of entertainment (ibid) under the pretext of marginalising the last Emperor Sunjong (純宗 1874-1926) of the Daehan Empire (Gondo, 2007). However, the building of this grand greenhouse bears similarity to the practices which were being undertaken in the West at this time so that the suggestion of Song et al. (2007) that Itō Hirobumi had an intention of demoting the dignity of the royal palace by turning it into a recreational place is debatable.

It could be said that the construction of the Grand Greenhouse signalled a new period at that time. Considering its architectural style and the function of the greenhouse, it could be interpreted as a representative building of Korea, which reflects the late Victorian (1837-1901) and Edwardian (1901–1910) traditions of collecting exotic plants and species from world travels to put into greenhouses [10]. When discussing this with British colleagues, they saw it as part of a typical Western practice at the time which was being adopted by Royalty themselves and so to them (the UK people) it was a normal cultural practice.

Nevertheless, Korean people regarded this building as something the Japanese built to slight Korea’s royal family to exert Japanese authority, because of the symbolic meaning and implication of the palace (Changgyeonggung) (Song et al., 2007). Thus, how people view this heritage arguably depends on how people perceive it.

Personally, I think it is not entirely feasible to perceive colonial heritage, like this grand greenhouse, objectively but I could try to better understand how different people view this complicated heritage in different ways by exploring a balanced account of this difficult heritage. Plus, I must admit that I tend to regard the grand greenhouse as the legacy of Japanese colonial ruling in the past. This view might be influenced by the history education curriculum of South Korea or personal stories of my grandparents. However, the more I studied, the more I believe there is no definite answer for this question.

Interesting note: Korea is one of the earliest countries that initiated a significant glasshouse development. Around 1450, fully ‘active’ (temperature controlled) houses were built, as written by Soneui, Jeon (the special doctor especially for the king of Joseon) in his 1459 cookbook, Sangayorok (山家要錄) (Jeon, 1450). Another reference can be found in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, which depicts mandarin trees being grown in a traditional Korean glasshouse in the winter of 1438 (Joseon dynasty, 1438). According to the records, an ondol heating system was used to raise the temperature of the glasshouse during the cold winter months. Active glasshouses like this would not yet appear in Europe for nearly 300 years (Hartley Botanic, 2015).

© 2021 Minki Sung


[1] Choi, A. S. (2008) A Study on the Materials and the Construction Methods of the Greenhouse in Changgyeonggung. Master’s Thesis, Seoul National University.

[2] Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea. (2017) Changgyeonggung Palace’s Grand Greenhouse, which opened more than 100 years ago, reopened to the public. Available at: https://www.cha.go.kr/newsBbz/selectNewsBbzView.do;jsessionid=7TKC5Be6Tbxxe1665lzQCFA8mmL6x66jL8z7nFUfjJAdFekc0XEYi4h8mhzK49V8.new-was_servlet_engine1?newsItemId=155700520&sectionId=b_sec_1&pageIndex=35&mn=NS_01_02&strWhere=&strValue=&sdate=&edate= (Accessed: 29 March 2021).

[3] Cultural Heritage Administration Royal Palaces and Tombs Centre of Korea (2017) Preview of Changgyeonggung Palace. Available at: https://cgg.cha.go.kr/agapp/public/html/HtmlPage.do?pg=/cgg/01/virtual_01.jsp&pageNo=79010000&siteCd=CGG (Accessed: 12 March 2021).

[4] Gondo, S. (2007) Secret History of Daehan Empire. Edited by Lee, Y.S and Shin, M.H. Seogwipo: lmago Publisher.

[5] Hartley Botanic. (2015) ‘Way Back When: A History of the English Glasshouse’, Hartley Magazine, 3 September. Available at: https://hartley-botanic.co.uk/magazine/a-history-of-the-english-glasshouse/ (Accessed: 23 April 2021).

[6] Jeon, H.J. (2017) ‘How about going out on a cold day, Changgyeonggung Palace?’, Seoul&, November 23. Available at: http://www.seouland.com/arti/culture/culture_general/2758.html (Accessed: 5 February 2021).

[7] Jeon, S.E. (1450) Mountain, House, and Important Recordings. Translated from 山家要錄 by Minki. Sung. Seoul: Joseon Dynasty.

[8] Joseon dynasty. (1438) The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, the Annals of Sejong, 81(5).

[9] Kim, J.E. (2015) ‘The Image of Changgyeongwon and Culture of Pleasure Grounds during the Japanese Colonial Period’, Journal of the Korean Institute of Landscape Architecture, 43(6), pp. 1−15.

[10] Lotzof, K. (no date) Walter Rothschild: A Curious Life. Available at: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/walter-rothschild-a-curious-life.html (Accessed: 23 April 2021).

[11] No, H.S. (2017) ‘Humiliation of Sunjong Changgyeonggung grand greenhouse reopended as it was.’ Hankyoreh, 7 November. http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/culture/culture_general/817916.html#csidx76263910a1206c095a4c40fc03f8eb5 (Accessed: 29 March 2021).

[12] Song, I.H. et al. (2007) Report on the Record of the Grand Greenhouse in Changgyeonggung Palace. Daejeon: Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea. Available at: https://m.korea.kr/expertWeb/resources/files/data/document_file/2007/%ec%b0%bd%ea%b2%bd%ea%b6%81%20%eb%8c%80%ec%98%a8%ec%8b%a4%20%ea%b8%b0%eb%a1%9d%ed%99%94%20%ec%a1%b0%ec%82%ac%20%eb%b3%b4%ea%b3%a0%ec%84%9c.pdf (Accessed: 10 March 2021).

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