Page C1.1 . 05 April 2006                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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Asian Legacies

by Ian Morley

Southeast Asian cities embody many contradictions. They possess, for instance, an indelible amalgam of traditional and contemporary architecture. It is not unusual in cities such as Hong Kong and Taipei to see bamboo scaffolding swaying as workers climb to what appear to be irrational and dangerous heights.

Even in such highrises, the overall design is often guided by ancient philosophies. Feng Shui still influences architects and property developers in Hong Kong. The 101 Tower in Taipei was designed to resemble an unfolding bamboo shoot, an auspicious Chinese plant, and was formed with eight main sections the number signifying prosperity and confidence.

This symbolic marriage of past with present, of history and ancient philosophy with modernity combined with their pace of life and increasing size in area and population gives Southeast Asian cities a distinct character.

However, one significant aspect of Southeast Asian urbanism, the colonial past, is often mistreated. In architectural terms, this can mean the degradation of once-grand buildings or the rewriting of the city image.

Blending Past with Present

The mixing of tradition with modernity in Southeast Asia has brought out both the best and worst of modern urban development. For instance, local citizens use old buildings such as temples more intensively than Westerners use churches. But the rapid growth of many Asian settlements has led to a lowering of environmental and aesthetic standards.   >>>

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The front elevation of the monumental Scott Market in Yangon, Myanmar. One of many surviving colonial buildings, it is suffering from neglect.
Photo: Ian Morley

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Many of the former British colonial buildings still retain their public use, often as national government offices.
Photo: Ian Morley

 

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