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Architecture marvels of South-East Asia

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South-east Asia geographically consists of the countries south of China and Japan and east of India. These regions have a rich cultural fabric and their architecture is a mesmerizing blend of the old and new. Read on to find out some of the most prominent styles of architecture that you might come across in an architectural tour of the countries of Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines where influences from India, Sri Lanka, China, and Europe have made their landscape an ornate tapestry.

During the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, European nations began to consolidate naval routes into Southeast Asia, whereby India was used as the main trade route for ships to stop and refuel or trade. Over this time, mostly during the 19th century, various Western Colonies began to gain influence in various countries and construct colonial architecture in Southeast Asia. This period saw many classical buildings constructed in the neoclassical and French Colonial styles of architecture. Southeast Asian art and architecture include works from the geographical area including the modern countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. The area is also known as Indochina.

Prominent architectures in South-East Asia:

  • Cambodian Khmer: Developed under the influence of the Khmer kings who ruled Angkor from the 8th century CE to the 15th century CE. This style is characterized by gigantic carved black stone Shaivite temples and timber dwellings. They are characterized by elements like bas-relief panels, blind openings, colonettes, corbelled arches; and motifs inspired by their Gods. The most famous structure of this style of architecture is the Angkor Wat Temple.
  • Buddhist:  Theravada Buddhism followed Hinduism into the Thai, Burmese and Cambodian regions, while Mahanaya Buddhism spread in Indonesia and Malaysia by the influence of the Gupta Empire in India. The Angkor Vat Complex has beautiful Buddhist Stupas but the most famous example of the Buddhist structures in Southeast Asia is Borobudur.
  • French Colonial: This style can be found in the former French colonies in Southeast Asia- predominantly in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Phnom Penh in Vietnam. Prime examples are the Presidential Palace, the Opera House, St Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi, the City Hall, and the Saigon Central Post office building in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Neoclassical, Baroque, and Art Deco: Predominant in regions under British colonization, there is a rich strain of fusion architecture running through Singapore, Malaysia, and Myanmar. Some fine examples are The National Gallery and Anglo-French Gothic Chapel in Singapore, and the former British Customs Office in Burma.

Some very prominent buildings in the art deco style are the Central Market in Phnom Penh and the Asia Insurance Building (now Ascott Raffles Place) Singapore, Villas in Bandung, Indonesia, and some cathedrals in Manila, Philippines.

  • Vernacular: Contemporary architecture in South East Asian countries has developed with increasing concern for sustainability and is deeply rooted in their indigenous practices. They use earth-friendly materials like mud, timber, and bamboo with the minimum, but efficient use of concrete and steel. They pay attention to detail and create spaces that are open and airy.

Southeast Asian architecture includes buildings of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Most of Southeast Asia’s great temples were built by the 13th century. The Indian royal temple, which dominated Southeast Asian culture, typically stood on a terraced plinth, upon which towered shrines could multiply. Construction was ideally of stone but could be brick sculpted with stucco.

Architectural projects, after having halted for a few years, were coming back providing new opportunities for Asian practices. Sharing optimism as well as anxieties, Southeast Asian architects and scholars were looking forward to the future as well as once again taking a glimpse back at their recent architectural past, roughly from the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century. With this opportunity, they decided to take a moment to reflect on how Asian cities, landscapes, and their architectural heritage were shaped, altered, grown in the process of Asian societies embracing modernity.

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