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Hybrid Colonial Architecture in Southeast Asia Essay

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Updated: May 5th, 2022

Introduction

The territories of Southeast Asia were under the rule of colonists during a long period of time. This fact influenced the art, culture, and architecture of this region greatly. The architecture of Southeast Asia is characterised by the remarkable diversity because it can be discussed as the combination of different architectural styles and various approaches to building. That is why, the architecture of Southeast Asia is traditionally analysed as the hybrid colonial one. To understand the modern tendencies in planning towns and constructing buildings in the region, it is necessary to examine the particular features of the hybrid colonial architecture’s development. It is important to note that the architecture of Southeastern countries is influenced not only by European culture but also by other Asian cultures, contributing to the mixture of Western and Eastern approaches to architecture, design, and decoration. From this point, it is significant to discuss Dutch East Indies style as the reflection of European trends in constructing and building in its relation to the other cultural impacts. Although the architecture of Southeast Asia could be considered as rather authentic and vernacular during the pre-colonisation period, the colonialists made it significantly diverse because of the influence of the European views on architecture.

The Development of Hybrid Colonial Architecture in Southeast Asia

The diversity of Southeast architecture depends on definite historical and social processes such as invasions, colonisation, and migrations of different cultures and nations’ representatives. The Southeast region was open to new impacts, and a lot of different approaches to architecture, various building styles with unusual techniques were utilised in the Southeast countries. Thus, the Southeast territories had experienced the influence of such cultures as Indian, Chinese, and Arab before the colonisation period began. The Europeans’ invasions resulted not only in changing the aspects of social life but also in influencing culture and architecture. It was the period when the traditional Southeast approaches to architecture developed under the impact of the Eastern cultures were influenced by the European traditions and provided the unique hybrid colonial architecture of the Southeast region1.

During the pre-colonisation period, the Southeast architecture was characterised by the active usage of timber as the main material for building all the residential areas. However, coming to the Southeast countries, colonialists begin to use stone as the major material not only for constructing the civic and religious buildings as it was earlier. The period between the 16th and 17th centuries becomes the time of the most significant changes in the architectural styles, standards, and principles which are used in the Southeast countries. The European traditions were actively used to replace the architecture influenced by Chinese, Indian, and Arab traditions which were reflected in the styles of many administrative buildings. Residential or domestic architecture also was influenced by the approaches and traditions of these neighbouring cultures. Moreover, religious buildings were constructed with references to the Eastern cultures because of the spread of these countries’ religions at the territories of Southeast Asia.

It is important to note that the European colonialists planned and constructed the buildings according to their traditions intentionally, in order to impose the particular features of their cultures upon the colonised population. These buildings reflected the power of imperialism that is why they often did not meet the specific requirements to building in the region in relation to the climate. The first administrative buildings worked out by the European architects were characterised by complexity and monumental structures, and this approach was atypical for the architecture of the region2. Following the European architectural traditions, colonists developed masonry towns using row planning, but without paying much attention to the climatic and specific regional characteristics of these cities. The combination of Portuguese and Dutch architectural styles with accentuating masonry and monumental buildings and of Chinese traditions to build rows of shophouses led to developing a new hybrid style according to which colonialists constructed and planned residential territories in towns3.

The European colonialists imported a lot of materials to build and decorate new administrative buildings and their private houses because these elements reflected the social status of the owners. The power and authority of the European colonialists were accentuated not only with the help of constructing many buildings which resembled fortresses but also with using architecture and design as the ways to impose the new lifestyle on the population. However, the power of the European colonialists was also emphasised with building a lot of fortresses to preserve the territories from the foreign invasions. These constructions were not typical for the architectural styles of the region that is why the architecture of fortifications did not follow the hybrid of styles, and it reflected the European traditions in constructing fortresses and walls for preserving territories.

The Portuguese colonialists used a lot of stone, and their towns were characterised by the spread of fortified brick. That is why, the local population associated the European architectural traditions with the active usage of stone in contrast to timber as their traditional material for building. In spite of the fact that constructions made of timber were not as strong as those ones made of stone, the usage of timber could be explained by the region’s specific climate. However, a lot of buildings in the Southeast regions which were made of timber were regularly destroyed by fire4. That is why, the population of towns in the region was interested in the active usage of stone to build new houses. The next positive feature of the European influence was the development of drainage systems in towns and settlements. The first colonialists did not pay attention to this significant requirement to planning the Southeast towns, but later the Europeans begin to use their knowledge in order to work out effective drainage systems.

The Dutch East Indies Style and the British Impact in the 18th – 19th Centuries

The next stage was the development of the Dutch architectural traditions in the Southeast region during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Dutch architects reflected the accents on monumental stone structures supported by the Portuguese colonialists, but the Dutch architectural style was used with references to the local traditions developed under the impact of the Eastern cultures. That is why, the Dutch East Indies style can be discussed as the most typical hybrid colonial style developed in the region. The end of the 19th century in the region was characterised by the spread of the British culture and architectural traditions in the region because the Dutch administration was changed with the British administration, and new colonists presented their own vision of architecture in the Southeast countries5. The British colonists concentrated on planning the public buildings, and they actively used the advantages of the technological development in the 19th century, presenting to the local population a lot of new approaches to constructing buildings effectively. The wooden structures became less and less popular in the region because of the threat of fire and their active replacement with stone buildings6. New buildings designed by the British architects appeared among the fortresses constructed by the Portuguese and Dutch specialists, and they were planned according to shophouses which were typical for the Chinese architectural tradition.

The elements of the architectural traditions which were spread in Southeast Asia previously were combined with the styles typical for British culture. Thus, Moorish, Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic buildings appeared in the streets of the Southeast countries. The British style was also dominant for the architecture of the Southeast Asia during the first part of the 20th century and influenced greatly the modern architecture of the region. The main accents were made on planning modern public buildings such as railway stations and administrative or business offices.

The Features of Dutch East Indies Style in the 19th – 20th Centuries

The buildings constructed in relation to the Dutch East Indies style are presented in Indonesia which territories were the Dutch colonies. The Netherlands controlled these lands till the middle of the 20th century. That is why, the Dutch East Indies style has been the dominant architectural style there for a long period of time. The characteristics of the hybrid colonial style typical for the architecture of the Southeast Asia can be discussed with references to the Dutch East Indies style which combined the Chinese and Portuguese traditions with the European classicism developed in the Netherlands. However, it is necessary to note that the Dutch administration in the region intended to build houses according to the architectural style which was typical for the residential areas and public sector in the Netherlands. The principles of the neoclassical architecture were followed by the architects who worked in Indonesia during the first years of colonisation7.

It is important that all the changes in the architectural styles which were characterised for the art development in the Netherlands were also reflected in buildings constructed in Indonesia. Nevertheless, it was necessary to respond to the peculiarities of the tropical climate, and architects began to combine the elements of the traditional Indonesian culture and architecture with the accomplishments of the Chinese culture. The base for this style was classicism and neoclassical movements developed in the Netherlands. That is why, it is possible to state that the Dutch East Indies style reflected all the characteristic features of the hybrid colonial architectural style according to which it is appropriate to discuss the other styles and approaches used in the architectural tradition of the Southeast Asia8.

The houses which were planned according to the Dutch East Indies style after during the first part of the 20th century could be discussed as meeting the climatic requirements of the region in spite of the fact they followed the elements of the traditional European design. The combination of styles was realised in constructing large and louvered windows in houses which were often symmetrical and planning wide porches and in using timber doors characterised for the classical style. The walls were made of bricks and stone when roofs were made of timber because of the climatic requirements.

To adapt to the specific climate, architects began to construct buildings with wide porches and verandas. Moreover, it was more useful to follow the longitudinal organisation in planning houses and streets. Thus, Eastern timber roofs and large windows were constructed for traditional Dutch houses with solid walls and doors, and classical columns. Such houses were the most typical examples of the Dutch East Indies style spread in Indonesia during the 19th – 20th centuries. The houses which were built according to the Dutch East Indies style were designed to be cool and practical for the tropical climate of Indonesia and to be solid to respond to the classical and neoclassical tendencies. The Dutch colonists also paid much attention to planning the towns and cities with developing their drain constructions and working out different zones in order to divide the residential and public districts with a lot of administrative offices9.

Moreover, all the international movements in the architectural styles, for instance, Art-Deco, were also reflected in the design of buildings in Jakarta, Bandung or Surabaya. The planning of streets of towns and cities resembled European cities with their row houses and wide avenues. Those houses which were built by settlers were the replicas of the European houses and mansions, but many of them combined the features of several architectural styles which were characteristic for different Western and Eastern cultures. That is why, a lot of traditional domestic buildings in the Southeast Asia acquired a lot of features of typical European villas, but they could be also discussed as the examples of the hybrid colonial style.

Conclusion

The architecture of Southeast Asia was significantly influenced by colonists’ different visions of the style according to which it was necessary to construct new residential areas and administrative buildings. That is why, the formation of the hybrid colonial style was caused by the combination of the architectural elements which were typical for various cultures. It is almost impossible to speak about the original architectural style which is characteristic for Indonesia or Malaysia because these countries’ approaches to architecture were developed with the impact of Eastern and Western traditions. It is important to note that European architectural styles were more influential in such countries as, for instance, Indonesia or Malaysia than their native approaches to architecture because of the colonists’ domination in the region. Many buildings which were developed in Southeast Asia during the period of colonisation reflected the vernacular forms and designs as well as Chinese and European architectural styles.

In spite of the fact the first buildings which were planned by the European architects were only the replicas of those constructions spread in Europe, the further development of the architectural styles and their adaptation to the territorial and climatic conditions resulted in the appearance of the hybrid colonial architectural styles which were characterised by the combination of the typical elements form two or more styles. The Dutch East Indies style was developed as the reflection of the architectural traditions followed in the Netherlands and as the attempt to respond to climatic peculiarities of the countries in Southeast Asia. Thus, administrative, public, and religious buildings were constructed with references to traditional classical or neoclassical style when residential areas were planned to be suitable for living in the countries with the tropical climate.

Bibliography

Achmadi, A. & Boersma, M., The past in the present: architecture in Indonesia, NAi Publishers, Indonesia, 2007.

Akmal, I., Indonesian architecture now, Borneo Publications, USA, 2005.

Beal, G., Island style: tropical dream houses in Indonesia, Periplis Editions Ltd., Hong Kong, 2002.

Heath, K. W., Vernacular architecture and regional design: cultural process and environmental response, Architectural Press, Oxford, 2009.

Knapp, R. G., Chinese houses of Southeast Asia: the eclectic architecture of sojourners and settlers, Tuttle Publishing, USA, 2010.

Powell, R., The Asian house: contemporary houses of South East Asia, Select Books Pte Ltd, Singapore, 1993.

Tettoni, L. I., Tropical Asian style, Periplus Editions, USA, 1997.

Footnotes

  1. A. Achmadi & M. Boersma, The past in the present: architecture in Indonesia, NAi Publishers, Indonesia, 2007, p. 89-100.
  2. I. Akmal, Indonesian architecture now, Borneo Publications, USA, 2005.
  3. R. G. Knapp, Chinese houses of Southeast Asia: the eclectic architecture of sojourners and settlers, Tuttle Publishing, USA, 2010.
  4. R. Powell, The Asian house: contemporary houses of South East Asia, Select Books Pte Ltd, Singapore, 1993.
  5. A. Achmadi & M. Boersma, The past in the present: architecture in Indonesia.
  6. K. W. Heath, Vernacular architecture and regional design: cultural process and environmental response, Architectural Press, Oxford, 2009.
  7. R. Powell, The Asian house: contemporary houses of South East Asia, Select Books Pte Ltd, Singapore, 1993.
  8. G. Beal, Island style: tropical dream houses in Indonesia, Periplis Editions Ltd., Hong Kong, 2002.
  9. L. I. Tettoni, Tropical Asian style, Periplus Editions, USA, 1997.
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