Visualizing Southeast Asian Architecture
Among the numerous reasons to visit Southeast Asia is its architecture! It is easy to distinguish one for its carved rhythmic moldings and figures on the exteriors.
Much of the landscape of Southeast Asia includes temples most of these were built in the 13th century. For one, the city of Pagan in Myanmar is filled with brick and stucco Buddhist temples and stupas which were built in 1056-1287. Another example is the Indian royal temple which was built with a terraced plinth, upon which towers could multiply.
Pagan in Myanmar
This connection between Southeast Asian architecture and India goes way back. Long ago, Southeast Asian communities and cultures had direct contact with India through trading channels. The two regions were so close that during this time, in fact, the Pali and Sanskrit languages, as well as Indian script and Hindu epic literature (such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata) were passed on to Southeast Asia.
Moreover, if you would pay attention to the walls of buildings in Southeast Asia, you would likely notice the monumental reliefs that were used as decorations. This utilization of sculpture in their designs has been greatly influenced by Indian techniques. Most applications of this technique depicted religious themes, as well as court and battle themes, and themes portraying the daily life of people. If you want to personally see these monumental relief sculptures, you can find its most famous examples in Southeast Asia right in the 9th-century Buddhist temple of Borobudur in Java, Indonesia.
Architectural Wonders in Southeast Asia: Featuring Unique Styles of Southeast Asian Architecture
One of the best parts of visiting Southeast Asia for its architecture is that it’s almost like traveling to other parts of the world! While in just one region, you can discover an ornate tapestry of landscapes in Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines with influences from India, Sri Lanka, China, Europe.
This monument in Cambodia is actually the largest religious one on the planet. The strange thing about Angkor Wat is that it is positioned facing to the west, which, in Hinduism, is a direction that is usually associated with death. It does give off a creepy vibe, doesn’t it? But worry not, you’ll surely find it appealing every late afternoon in this monument because it faces the sunset which adds to its beauty.
- Cambodian khmer - Angkorian architecture focuses mainly on religious architecture and was constructed with poorly exploited materials. However, Angkorian temples and other religious buildings were built with stone. Considering this, think about it this way: the Angkorian buildings and temples that lasted to our present time are naturally religious.
Angkor Wat Temple
Borobudur is a Buddhist temple that consists of nine stacked platforms---six square and three circular ones---and a central dome at the top. You’ll find it on top of a hill, from which you’ll have a view of the plains below as well as distant hills. Want to know something interesting? There is no written record of who built this temple near Magelang in Java, Indonesia, or what it was built for.
- Buddhist - A lot of Gupta-influenced architecture can be seen in this structure. As a matter of fact, Buddhist architecture in this temple is evidence of the many impacts of India in Southeast Asia. Additionally, to emphasize the role of religious harmony in Indonesia, the Indonesian government launched a campaign promoting Borobudur as a global Buddhist tourism destination.
Vietnam’s St Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi
Perhaps you can call this neo-Gothic church a “fan-favorite” if you’re a fan of Quasimodo, Esméralda, and Captain Phoebus. The most famous landmark of the colonial era in Hanoi, St. Joseph’s Cathedral was designed after the renowned Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
- French Colonial - you’ll find this style in Southeast Asia, in the former French Colonies. To be more specific, it is predominantly in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Phnom Penh in Vietnam.
- Neo-Gothic - Born in the mid-18th century in England, neo-Gothic was influenced by Medieval architecture. Some of its easily distinguished characteristics are the pointed arch used in windows, doors, porches, dormers, and roof gable; and steeply pitched roofs and front-facing gables with vergeboards/bargeboards.
St Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi
Philippines’ Casa Manila in Intramuros
Inside the famous “Walled City” in the Philippines is the Casa Manila Museum. It is a replica of a late 19th-century Spanish colonial mansion in Manila. Stepping inside this museum is like going back in time and witnessing how the upper-class Filipinos lived during the colonial era in Casa Manila. Period furniture and furnishings of Philippine, Chinese and European origins fill this beautifully reconstructed traditional Spanish colonial home within the walls of Intramuros, in the heart of Manila.
- Spanish Colonial - as plainly obvious in the name, this architectural style is found mainly in the former Spanish colonies like the Philippines, as well as in some parts of America. This style is renowned for its white stucco walls, red clay roof tiles, and rustic appearance.
Casa Manila in Intramuros
The National Gallery Singapore
Visit and learn about Singapore’s culture and heritage, as well as its relationship with other Asian cultures in this leading visual arts institution in the Downtown Core district in Singapore. Its objective is to provide an understanding and appreciation of art and culture through different forms of media.
But wait, the National Gallery is not just about all that Singaporean culture education. The panels in the ceiling inside are actually a pool above. They are garden ponds on the rooftop of the City Hall Wing. Indeed a great place to go on a date with your lover, what makes it even more romantic are the skylights of the wing where the natural light passes through.
- Neoclassical, Baroque, and Art Deco - these architectural styles are prevalent in British colonies. A rich combination of these can be observed in Singapore, Malaysia, and Myanmar. Grand scales of buildings, simplicity of geometric forms, the Greek (Doric in particular) detailing, dramatic columns, and blank walls are what describes neoclassical architecture.
The National Gallery Singapore
We can’t possibly deny the role of religion in the birth and growth of the most prominent architectural works throughout history, with humans in search of a place where they could be closer to a divine being. From this endeavor stemmed the colonization of powerful countries from which came various influences in many aspects of the colonized cultures including their culture.
Perhaps due to the colonizations not being the best pages of Southeast Asian history books, tourism authorities have rarely addressed or focused on issues concerning the colonial architectural heritage in the region. In addition to that, it was probably difficult to accept that foreign cultures really had their influences and it’s possible for such influences to be a part of a country’s identity.
Fortunately, Southeast Asian governments of today are more inclined to promote their legacy from colonial times. As the most tangible one, architecture is now more appreciated as a tourism asset. As a matter of fact, the number of different colonial architectural styles makes Southeast Asia unique from other regions. The most fascinating thing about it is that we can still witness this diversity today.
We hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into the history and architecture of different Southeast Asian countries. As we appreciate its beauty and dive into its roots, may we recognize the cultural context that influenced it, and see the value of the narratives behind its design and structure!