SEAARC Symposium Abstract 15: “The Vernacular Architecture of Kerala, South India — An Architecture Knowledge on the Cross-Road between Southeast Asia and South Asia”

by Dr. Indah Widiastuti, Institut Teknologi Bandung

The vernacular architecture of Kerala in India is explored to demonstrate a design case with Southeast Asian characters but situated beyond the agreed (modern) region of Southeast Asia. The elaborations are mainly based on ethnographic studies and observations, done between 2004 and 2010. To elaborate the discussion, the architecture of “Minangkabau” from West Sumatera and “Baliaga” from Bali, Indonesia are especially taken as comparative cases from Southeast Asia. The discussions would be drawn in three sections: 1) evidences of general convergence and divergence of the building typology; 2) evidences of shared social-spatial organization of the habitations that specifically brings up the importance of women; and 3) the shared claims of pre-Hindu characters and maritime culture. Indeed, the architecture of Kerala reflects a combination of Indic and Southeast Asian characters and it leads to critical questions on the relevance of geo-political distinction between Southeast Asia and its foreign counterpart, the Colonial assumptions of ethnic and nationality and the paradigm of Indianization, on the development of knowledge about Southeast Asian architecture.  Finally, the study would try to suggest a model of knowledge which principally suggests that for the case of Southeast Asia, with its unique cultural dynamic and multiplicity, it is more important to explore the processes of becoming that lend base to the emergence of the people, its habitations and architectural traditions, rather than examining the architecture within a given fixed territory. This model is tentatively addressed as the pre-modern vernacular architecture in the crossroad between Western Coast of India and the West Southeast Asia.


Indah Widiastuti is a lecturer and researcher at the Architecture Department, SAPPK Institute of Technology Bandung (ITB). Her research interests include theory of architecture, pre-Modern Indonesian and South India Architecture, Ethnography in Architecture. She is a member of Institute of Indonesian Architectural Historian Association (LSAI), Heritage Society of Bandung (Bandung Heritage) and Association of Researcher for Environment Behavior (IPLBI). She completed her Undergraduate and Post Graduate education in Architecture at the Institute of Technology Bandung ITB. She received her doctoral degree from Anna University, Chennai in India with a dissertation titled “Critical study of vernacular settlement-architecture of Kerala in India and Minangkabau in west Sumatra, Indonesia (Of Societies Practicing Matrilineal Kinship)” in 2011. In 2004, she received awards from “Asian Scholarship Foundation” (ASF) and Ford Foundation by which interests on researches about Architecture in Kerala in 2004-2005 had been initiated. The research was published in a book chapter “A study of living culture: Typo-Morphology of vernacular, traditional Houses in Kerala” in Himanshu Prabha Ray ed., Sacred Landscapes in Asia: Shared Traditions, Multiple Histories (New Delhi: India International Centre (IIC) and Manohar Publisher, 2007).

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