(in no particular order)

Southeast Asia as imperial border region: a carceral geography of the Pacific War

Anoma Pieris

Melbourne School of Design, The University of Melbourne

Anglophone histories of the Pacific War are largely written as national projects, representing Allied perspectives. Counter narratives of the same period by postcolonial historians tend to offer multiple perspectives of diverse ethnic groups within national histories. Both approaches adopt epistemic structures conceived for national sovereignty after the war. Imperial/colonial power is taken for granted and race categories persist.

This paper offers a different reading of Southeast Asia as a contested border region within a Pacific geography, fought over by imperialists and defended by Britain’s allies in a contest for European or Japanese political domination. It describes the emergence of a pervasive carceral archipelago of prisoner of war (POW) and internment camps in which power was inverted and colonisers became victims. This reversal of entitlements cast Europeans as “others” stripping them of property, status and political power. In these temporary spaces where their authority was suspended, colonials were made subalterns, were confined in places designed for containing colonised populations and made to suffer the indignities of subjugation. Prison buildings and military cantonments that had once signified British imperial cultural authority converted to perverse symbols of colonial political impotence and their inability to protect colonial subjects. Allied POWs were used as menial labourers across this newly forged territory. Military censorship restricted communications. Sedition was punishable by death. The war enlarged those features of colonial disciplinary power that when linked to military apparatuses and imperial ambitions convert to lethal weapons against political enemies. Former colonists and their defenders were the unwitting hostages of this uncanny cultural alterity.

This paper examines the affective impact of this suspended cultural alterity through an unusual collection of artefacts published by David Tett, and uses it to construct an alternative geography of the Pacific War. Titled, A Postal History of the Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees in East Asia During World II, the collection of five volumes describes the camps for Allied prisoners through a postal distribution network. Heavily censored letters sent from prisoners to their families criss-crossed the region leaving prohibited spaces and concealed locations. They made these environments visible, highlighting key penal institutions and camp locations. The letters provides insights on how POWs and civilian internees negotiated incarceration across these subaltern spaces.

This paper theorises the prisoners’ postal network through a form of archipelagic thinking that conjectures an episteme of diverse locations and cultures violently connected by imperial hostilities. The heterogeneous carceral environments that host these scenarios are presented as unstable border conditions and presentiments of the national boundaries that harden post war. The paper’s main focus is the Changi Prison Camp as a nucleus in this distribution network, and a central feature in the imperial military contest. Anchored by such architectural artefacts, prison facilities and camps across Southeast Asia emerge as critical spaces for decolonising colonial subjectivity while providing containments for Japanese imperial sovereignty, racism and violence. The resultant realignment of imperial borders and political loyalties recast carceral sites as spaces for de-territorialising/re-territorialising power.


Buddhist Fundamentalist and Ultra-royalist Ideologies in Thai Architecture after the 2006 Coup d’état

Chatri Prakitnonthakan

Faculty of Architecture, Silpakorn University

The 2006 coup d’état was a milestone in the cause of massive socio-political changes in contemporary Thailand. Architecture as a product and a representation of the society, it could not be escaped this impact. Architectural projects which launched by Thai state in the past 10 years, their concepts and architectural styles, are being built in association with this socio-political crisis. This paper aims to study the ideological and political struggles in architecture through the four buildings of state architectural projects; New Parliament Building, New Supreme Court Building, Rehabilitating Project of the Royal Field (Sanam Luang) and the Seven Great Kings’ Memorial Park (the Ratchaphakdi Park). The paper suggests that the state architectural projects were built on the Ultra-royalist and Buddhist Fundamentalist ideologies that rising significantly after the 2006 coup d’état, including a latest coup in 2014, which strongly supported by the Thai junta, a group of traditional elites and upper middle class. The architectural spaces and forms of state buildings were designed to buttress the political ideologies of the state, Ultra-royalist and Buddhist fundamentalist ideologies, and to oppose the pro-democracy movement of lower middle class that is increased distinctly for more than 10 years.

Window Displays and Movie Screens: Architectural Interfaces and Media Ecologies of Capitalism in 1930s and 1960s Metropolitan Manila

Elmo Gonzaga

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Looking into historical entanglements among the configurations and imaginings of modernity and capitalism in Southeast Asian cities, I start with the shopping mall, which has been described as the paradigmatic space of neoliberal capitalism. Among many critical theorists and cultural geographers (Baudrillard 1988; Goss 1993; Tolentino 2001; Chua 2003; Crawford 2004; Augé 2009), the default assumption is that the building type of the shopping mall engenders the docility and atomization typical of consumer society. I would argue that this conceptual model originates from scholarship rooted in the particular topographies of North America, where malls are located in sprawling suburban areas, unlike in Southeast Asia, where these enclosed retail structures form the hubs of social life in bustling city centers. Instead of regarding capitalist modernity as having a coherent teleological evolution, I am interested in tracing its circuitous and fragmented variations across different milieus and ecologies. Examining the characteristic logics, functions, and processes of the shopping mall, I uncover their emergence and alteration in the commercial and leisure spaces that preceded it. In my paper, I focus on Metropolitan Manila, where three of the ten largest shopping malls in the world can be found. Metro Manila is the capital of the Philippines, which has been described in the international press as one of the booming economies in Asia in recent years, despite the global recession, due to strong domestic consumption fueled by the salaries of call center agents and remittances of overseas migrant workers.

Applying transdisciplinary methods from diverse subfields such as Media Archeology, Cultural Anthropology, and New Film History to study of urban architecture, this paper will ask how the shift in Manila’s main commercial street from Calle Escolta in the 1930s to Avenida Rizal in the 1960s corresponds with a transformation in the experience of capitalist modernity. Inquiring into the everyday practices of consumption and spectatorship in the typologies of the retail boutique and the movie theater, I analyze how technologies of commercial display and mass entertainment like the window display and the movie screen refashioned the prevalent modes of visual and spatial perception of local residents.

In terms of periodization, the 1930s and 1960s are important historical moments, whose constellations of social, political, and economic forces led to independence and dictatorship in the Philippines. In these periods, reconfigurations to the dominant architectural types and social practices were shaped by discourses and fantasies about the supposed failure of development amid the tentative promise of modernization. Previously embodied in the infrastructure, architecture, and technology of the cityscape, which only government and business were perceived as having the authority and resources to produce, modernity became transfigured as a dynamic force that ordinary Filipinos came to believe they could harness with their own autonomous capacities. Instead of treating the spatial and visual culture of capitalism as a dualistic terrain of domination and resistance, this paper will explore how the collective consumption of mass entertainment in commercial and leisure spaces can generate opportunities for negotiation, creativity, and self-transcendence.


States of exception: Unlawful violence and dwelling in private Indonesian detention centres

Jennifer Ferng

Faculty of Architecture, Design, and Planning, The University of Sydney

The plight of asylum seekers who languish in Australian offshore processing centres is quite well known, and in Indonesia, there exists a parallel, private network of detention centres in provinces like Lombok located next to Bali. Based on a case study of a hotel in Lombok, this paper highlights how asylum seekers and Indonesian business owners are entangled in a complex network of legal processes that involve local agencies, Indonesian citizens, and international organisations like the United Nations. I argue that this analogous network of detention centres operates outside of sovereign rules and in fact, acts as a shadow ‘other’ to the official jails and centres maintained by the Indonesian government. In this instance, hotels and other types of privately owned buildings are informally employed as detention centres for asylum seekers hailing from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam, who eventually try to arrive in Australia.

This paper proposes that southeast Asian countries like Indonesia must resort to local citizens to set up additional housing for asylum seekers and refugees who remain in provinces outside city centres. Interestingly enough, incidents of undocumented violence between the hotel’s inhabitants as well as basic living standards dictated by countries like Australia and the United States must be managed by individuals like the Lombok hotel’s owner. What makes this particular example so compelling is the Lombok hotel’s unsanctioned status as both a halfway house and a detention centre. This typology of an illegal detention centre signifies a loophole in the legislative processes endorsed by the Indonesian and Australian governments; buildings such as this ramshackle hotel are being used for substitutes for official housing, as an alternate pathway for asylum seekers seeking refugee status. The adoption and appropriation of other building types for detaining asylum seekers brings to light the difficulties of managing private spaces for government policy and the humanitarian challenges associated with housing illegal asylum seekers. I question how the contemporary politics in Indonesia surrounding migrants and refugees has given rise to these private detention centres as states of exception which transcend governance at the local, national, and international levels.

Private Housing as Type in Singapore Architecture

Lai Chee Kien

Singapore University of Technology and Design

Any purveyors of “comfort-food” type architecture in Singapore would generally patronize its successful and politicized public housing, or its globalized skyscrapers surrounding the Marina Bay. If they look beneath that, they might find the still-largely-intact colonial architecture or perhaps those from the age of industrialization peeping from beneath the food trays and beyond the greens, some semblance of purported sustainable design. Private housing usually provides eye candy for most as they are regarded as the domain of the rich – beyond their reach and lubricating several layers of class divide.

In this paper, I would like to examine the private housing estates as a type that mainly started during the island’s post-war era. Though presently termed private housing estates, the developers sometimes represent co-operatives (e.g. Teachers’ Estate) and even government-related agencies. Alongside individual developers and larger organizations, I argue that such private estate developments provided housing for an increasing middle class in Singapore, at a time when public housing was in the ambit of the Singapore Improvement Trust until 1960. The developers opened up land in the suburbs and provided requisite drainage and sewage facilities and expanded roads to hitherto remote areas from the town and central regions. I also suggest that they became the satellites from which communities emerged.

Autotopia: lust, mobility, and new leisure typologies in Cold War-era Bangkok

Lawrence Chua

School of Architecture, Syracuse University

This paper examines the impact of automobiles and consumer desire on the development of new urban typologies and public spaces in Bangkok by excavating elisions in official historical narratives of the city’s development. As state-promoted tourism during the Vietnam War era resulted in an explosion of new hotels and the renovation of royal monuments for tourist consumption, the Thai capital saw the proliferation of the automobile as an indispensable part of daily life. Fuelled by foreign investment, urban development expanded well beyond the confines of the old city and the population of Bangkok exploded for the first time since the late 19th century. This time, it was not Chinese migrants that filled the demand for urban labor, but displaced Thai peasants. Rural Thailand had large reserves of underutilized labor that could be transferred into the capital without permanent migration due to an infrastructure of roads and railways that was built throughout the 20th century. A new culture of consumption and desire that took advantage of this mobile network of labor, materials, and ideas transformed the appearance and experience of the city.

This paper draws on archival and field research to argue that infrastructure space, architecture, and consumer culture reconfigured the capital into a playground that privileged individuation, consumption and mobility and contributed to the reproduction of the labor force, the expansion of roads, tourism development, and the development of large factory units on the city’s perimeter. It reads architectural and urban design against representations of the city in both popular and tourist literature to tease out the voices of modern Bangkok’s “Others”: namely, the migrant laborers who fueled the city’s post-World War II growth. It examines the proliferation of the “pull-curtain motel” or rong raem man rud, a type of short-stay motel used primarily for illicit trysts and built to accommodate automobile traffic. Users of these motels could drive into parking bays in front of their rooms; motel staff would then pull curtains around the bays so that the car’s occupants could enter their room in privacy. It situates these hotels within the cultural context of Bangkok by reading graffiti on the Friendship Highway that connected remote US installations in the northeast of Thailand with the capital, lurid Ghost Guide novels which combined pornography and architectural history, and publications of the government’s Tourist Authority against population and labor growth statistics.

Urban Others: Making Do with the Singapore Archives

Loh Kah Seng

Independent Scholar

To write the social history of post-World War Two Singapore is to chart how urban planning by the state rendered squatters and slum dwellers into the ‘urban others’, who had to be rehoused in emergency public housing and socialised into model citizens. This history takes as its point of departure the social and mental worlds of the squatters, as well as the difficult and unequal real world they lived in. Yet, to write this social history is to tangle uncomfortably with issues stemming from the use of various archives: the documents of the colonial and postcolonial states obviously, but also what may be termed ‘alternative archives’: the oral histories of former squatters-turned-public housing owners. Researching the social history of the squatters is very much about ‘making do’ with these archives – reconciling with historiographical issues, dealing with presentist influences, and taking risks with the material. I was never entirely sure if I had failed to unpack the state’s perspective somewhere, or to adequately acknowledge countervailing voices.

This paper makes three points. First, it argues that in the Singapore context, reading against the archival grain to write the social history of the squatters crucially extends our understanding of modern Singapore and takes our vantage point beyond the political and economic elites. Still, this venture simultaneously reveals the archives as a technology of rule, containing the concerns and policy actions of the authors who, concurrently as urban planners, criminalised the squatters and deprived them of their agency and modernity. As an archive, the records of these author-officials deleted the history of the squatters while demolishing their housing and transforming their way of life. Second, the paper highlights how, unlike the public archives in liberal democratic states, the Singapore archives are classified and open to access in unequal parts, which add to the difficulty of writing social history. In Singapore, the real archives are what already exists, or existed, in the public domain; archival sources are quite irrelevant to History. Finally, the paper considers how the social historian also has to make do with obtaining and using oral history, which although useful in important ways still bear the influence of the official narrative, The Singapore Story. Singapore oral history is in part a voice of the past, and in part a product of the past that continues to shape the history and identity of Singaporeans.

Situated Identity and Negotiation of Space through Suvarnabhumi Airport

Pat Seeumpornroj

Department of Architecture, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University

This study examines the design of Suvarnabhumi International Airport as an exemplar of a city’s and nation’s “worlding” strategies to shape the global status of Bangkok and Thailand as part of the rising “global-city” competition (Sassen 2001, Roy and Ong 2011). Such strategies have resulted in the hiring of global architects to design high-technological airports in Asian cities at its height between the 1990s and 2000s. By taking into account the postcolonial critique of globalization discourse as a new mode of domination, I seek to expand the theoretical discussion about space and power (King 2004; AlSayyad 1992; Kusno 2000, among others), which provides a critical view to examine how architecture in the postcolonial period could achieve modernity and participate in global economy without falling back into the practices of “self-orientalization” (Ong 1999). Based on the case study of Suvarnabhumi Airport, I will present how national identity in the airport design by MJTA led by Helmut Jahn does not go beyond the stereotypical forms such as the traditional Thai artifact, pavilion and throne. I will propose my observation and interpretation of Thai identity in cultural practices situated at the airport as forms of resistance and negotiation of identity and space. I argue that the hiring of global architects as a city and nation strategy to achieve global status can be flawed, because the quest for global fame and prestige may undermine the cultural, economic and built environmental interests of the city and the nation itself.

Urban inventory in Southeast Asia: Emerging architectural types of the global city

Cecilia Bischeri, Griffith University

Silvia Micheli, The University of Queensland

Since the 1997 Asian economic crisis, Southeast Asian mega-cities have experienced acceleration in their urban growth, with the ambition of positioning themselves in the global network. Their main airports have become hubs (HKIA, Hong Kong and Changi Airport, Singapore) and their downtowns turned into plazas for international business, with a continuous flux of nouveax globalisés. Strategic operations of city branding have secured their reputation as centres of progress and innovation. Sign of this trend is the appearance of panoramic wheels, glittering gears in the relentless urban engine of growth.

The urban environments of Southeast Asian cities have changed accordingly, architecture and urban infrastructure playing a major role in the definition of their global image. Despite what is considered the unregulated growth of their inner city redevelopments, the use of an updated urban vocabulary including distinctive types has created a recognizable urban formula for the Southeast Asian global city. Beyond the privileged types characteristic of global cities around the world – such as international airports, shopping malls and office towers – this paper will critically reflect upon 5 “emerging types” that have become components of the urban formula of Southeast Asian growing cities: the “wonderland-garden”, “iconic bridge”, “landmark high-rise”, “entertainment arena” and the “integrated resort casino”. These urban elements, often combined and strategically located, have proven to be key factors in conveying a persuasive image of a dynamic city, attracting international visitors, investors and traders.

These emerging types are modifications of more conventional types. For example, gardens are regarded as an essential escape from the congestion of any global city. And yet, Southeast Asia cities have started turning their gardens into something more than just green-lungs. They have become wonderland-gardens, where nature and artifice are combined to generate public leisure destinations, as the Gardens by the Bay (2012) in Singapore and the Perdana Botanical Garden (work in progress) in Kuala Lumpur demonstrate. The landmark high-rise is the evolution of the conventional type of the tower, traditionally positioned in the very centre of the city. Defying the idea of centrality, Cesar Pelli’s Petronas Towers (1996), a mega-scale “landmark high-rise” that combines two towers linked by a sky-bridge, has reshaped Kuala Lumpur’s cityscape. Similarly, Moshe Safdie’s Marina Bay Sands (2010), with its 3 towers connected by a sculptural rooftop, has re-oriented Singapore urban development – in this case, height has become a secondary factor.

This paper aims to explore historically this new urban phenomenon through the comparison of three case studies: Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. It will show the evolution of the types under consideration – the wonderland-garden, iconic bridge, landmark high-rise, arena and integrated resort casino. The paper will also focus on the similarities and differences of these cities’ emerging urban inventories, thus reflecting on the circulation of architectural ideas and strategies in the region. Eventually it will challenge the assumption that Southeast Asian global cities are architecturally dependent on a dominant Western image, arguing, on the contrary, that their urban landscapes have grown according to precise strategies based on the logic of leisurization.

Yangon’s Modern Past: Tradition as an Elite and Imposed Inheritance

Jayde Lin Roberts

University of Tasmania

Until recently, Myanmar and its former capital were rarely thought of outside of the country. Military rule from the early 1960s to 2011 and international sanctions after 1988 effectively closed off the country, resulting in a period of isolation that has been interpreted as an unfortunate interlude in the march toward modernity. However, national reform initiated in 2011, elicited global attention and development aid. The current reframing of the country through a neoliberal development agenda has represented it as: a virgin market with untapped resources; a nation needing capacity-building to fulfill its unmet potential; and a place as yet untainted by the homogenizing forces of globalization.

Such characterizations are typical of a well-worn trope about “developing” countries, which continues to be deployed despite the clearly unequal outcomes of and contradictions inherent in development discourse. In the case of Yangon, this trope has been adopted by Burmese elite as a useful, if willfully naive, tool to save the British-designed downtown. Colonial modernity can thus be claimed as a tradition to counter the post-2011 tide of globalized modernization.

Calling on the former modernity of Rangoon to save a modernizing Yangon is a laudable maneuver. It turns the linear liberatory discourse of modernity back on itself, rendering it cyclical and therefore more traditional. This paper examines the “tradition of modernity” in Yangon as an imposed and elite inheritance, which was first instigated by the English East India Company, and then perpetuated by the city’s elite. In this retelling, modernity is both the past and the future of Yangon, while the present—often understood as not only the current period of transition from overt military rule to a civilian government but also the preceding five decades of decline—is shunted aside in favor of the teleology of progress.


Cruising Sauna: Space and “Gay” Male Sexuality in Bangkok

Brian Curtin

Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

This article draws a portrait of Cruising Sauna, a venue occupying a shop-house in North Bangkok that is marketed towards “masculine”- identified men and used exclusively by cis-gendered men. Exploring theories of localized and autonomous gender and sexual identities in relation to the basic structure and space of the historically multivalent shop-house, the article considers a distinctive relationship in view of observed performances of sexual conduct within what is typically listed as a gay sauna. The author has been an irregular visitor to the venue since it first opened in 2002 and through an elaboration of both the normative management of special events (including regulated naked days and scheduled circle-jerks) and the general movement and interaction of visitors, the article examines a dynamic between the functional diversity of the space and yet discursively produced differences for interior areas (e.g. “public” and “intimate”). This dynamic informs an unpacking of “gay” and “queer” as such frameworks can reflect or complicate localized social mores.

The architecture of the Bangkok shop-house as the space of a gay male sauna may potentially figure a variety of meanings and possibilities, but its discursive and extant spatial relationships arguably imbricate bodies and spaces in ways that claim constraint on social transgression. Employing, in particular, Judith Halbertstam’s and Sara Ahmed’s queer theories of space, time and phenomenology and also notions of worlding and counter-publics, the article ultimately pursues an insight into constraint that underlines a normalization of sexual conduct in Cruising Sauna, which in turn offers insights into autonomously “Thai” constructions of male gender and sexual identities. The article also aims to relatively complicate mythologies of western bathhouses as spaces of liberation and affirmative difference.

Of Karsten and Concrete: Reclaiming Colonial Modernity through Heritage Activism in Semarang, Indonesia

Lauren Yapp

Department of Anthropology, Stanford University

On the evening of May 9th, 2015, Pasar Johar – hailed at its 1939 opening as the most state-of-the-art market in Southeast Asia – burnt nearly to the ground, leaving behind only the sagging concrete bones of the colonial architect Thomas Karsten’s monument of tropical modernism. Even before the smoke had cleared, this moment of destruction became a flashpoint for a broad range of activists, academics, and artists in the city of Semarang, who gathered to pressure municipal authorities to restore this bangunan cagar budaya , or heritage landmark, to its original form and function. Their successful use of the cause of heritage preservation as a tool for demanding that the government live up to its legal and moral responsibilities to the public (that is, in this case, not to simply demolish what was left of Pasar Johar, evict remaining traders, and sell the land to developers) was not a one-off campaign. In recent years, there have emerged an increasing number of publicized efforts to “save” Semarang’s historic sites, many of which have opened up fora for wider critiques of the city’s contemporary governance.

What is striking about this kind of heritage activism in Semarang is not only its growing popularity, but its primary focus: structures that once stood as conspicuous markers of colonial modernity in the final decades of the Dutch East Indies. Ageing train stations, abandoned company headquarters, half-buried tram lines, and various experiments in concrete even older than Karsten’s – all are today attracting local interest and debate as newfound “heritage” that requires recognition, explanation, and protection. Based on nearly two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Semarang, this paper explores the phenomenon of heritage activism that aims to celebrate and preserve the remains of late colonial modernity, as seen through the controversies that emerged over the fate of Pasar Johar and similar crumbling structures under threat of erasure elsewhere in the city. Responding to the second theme of the conference (teleology fractured and abandoned), this paper illustrates the ambiguity of these not-quite ruins within the wider cityscape, being simultaneously old (“heritage”) and new (“modern”), containing for some the potential to speak to a reimagined golden past of cosmopolitan Semarang, but equally to be a referent for the paranoias and exploitations of the colonial project in Indonesia. Such ambiguity, however, has proven here to be productive, as it allows heritage activists to use the material remains of this century-old modernity as a means to express dissatisfaction with and expose the failures of the kinds of modernity promised by the city’s politicians, bureaucrats, and developers today. But while Semarang’s progressives have found in the buzzword of heritage and the charred remains of Pasar Johar an avenue to potentially discredit contemporary discourses of modernity in urban Indonesia as destructive and undemocratic, this paper proposes that this strategy also runs the risk of uncritically resurrecting and reifying the colonial-era narratives of “progress” that built such structures in the first place.

The Subversive Suburbs: Quezon City during the Marcos Era

Michael D. Pante

Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University

Right from the start, Quezon City was meant to be a space to serve the state. It was founded in 1939 as a purpose-built, planned settlement to relieve the housing congestion in the capital city of Manila, provide a new home for the state university, and serve as the future capital of the soon-to-be-independent, modern nation-state. Successive postcolonial regimes, however, saw the subversion of these objectives. Even Pres. Ferdinand Marcos’s authoritarian rule could not reverse this development; in fact, it only heightened the antistate potentialities of Quezon City’s built environment. Housing projects dominated Quezon City’s landscape throughout its early history, but these projects were beyond the reach of those who badly needed them. Yet, as geographical fate would have it, the city became the home for thousands of income-poor households, including evicted squatters from Manila, migrant-refugees escaping from the ongoing insurgency in the countryside, and even former communist rebels. They disrupted the modernist fantasies endowed to the national capital and turned it into the country’s premier slum hub, home to some of the most organized and militant urban poor organizations in the Philippines. The University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City, was picked primarily because of its distance from the original site in Manila, away from the distractions of urban life. Nevertheless, the seclusion of the campus could not prevent it from becoming the bastion of anti-Marcos student activism, which Quezon City’s slum communities nurtured through the years. The establishment of the Diliman Commune in 1971 was one key episode that demonstrated the value of spatial politics (especially with regard to the use of barricades, a la Paris Commune) to student activists, who had to contend with state violence. Despite its status as capital city, which it gained in 1948, Quezon City remained a sleepy suburb of Manila with generic-looking homes, bereft of street action and urban activity. Nonetheless, it was this anonymity that made the city a refuge for anti-Marcos elements, including those who participated in the underground movement and armed struggle against the regime. Quezon City’s convents and churches became oases for activists, while the numerous middle-class housing subdivisions made for perfect hideouts and headquarters for organizations with ties to the Communist Party of the Philippines. Quezon City in the Marcos era (1965–1986) was thus a space of contradictions. On the one hand, its suburban character made it a critical locus for the social reproduction of the dictatorship. Its upper- and middle-class residential areas and military camps were bases of support for the regime, while its civic architecture and commercial centers legitimized state claims to urban modernity. On the other hand, it was a subversive space that aided the rise of radicalized students, Church-based activists, urban poor groups, and even anti-dictatorship forces among the middle class. These groups would eventually coalesce in a mass uprising in Quezon City in February 1986, which led to Marcos’s downfall.

The other ‘other’: Re-framing and -defining research on Southeast Asian colonial and post-colonial architecture and urbanism

Pauline K.M. van Roosmalen

TU Delft, Delft (The Netherlands)

My paper develops from four observations and their subsequent considerations. The first observation concerns the (justified) critique from Indonesian colleagues about the Eurocentric perspective of my research on late- and immediate post-colonial architecture and planning in Indonesia and the question why I, a non-Indonesian, study Indonesia’s built heritage. The second observation is that many studies on colonial and post-colonial architecture and urbanism are ‘nationalist’ in nature. Although attempts at transnational research are being made, most studies continue to be bi-lateral at best: something between the former colonised and the former coloniser. The third observation is that while many Western architecture historians meticulously analyse and describe the history of European and North-American architecture and urbanism along national and cultural boundaries, these very same historians often conceive Asia as being one, or at best two entities: Asia, or East and Southeast Asia. The fourth and last observation is the crucial role of language in facilitating, sharing and exposing research and research findings.

As this conference aims to take stock of current research on architecture and urbanism in Southeast Asia and discuss ‘the other’, I think that, given my observations, there is a need to discuss the academic, socio-political and cultural considerations that generate, frame, steer, and ultimately disperse research and research findings on colonial and post-colonial architecture and urbanism in Southeast Asia. Taking my observations as a point of departure and Gyanendra Pandey’ ‘excluded’ and ‘exiled within’ as a reference, my paper will argue that rather than discussing the architecture historical research methodology,, we need to discuss how research is directed and how research findings are shared. To achieve this, my paper will discuss the current state of research on colonial and post-colonial architecture and urbanism in Southeast Asia through an analysis of the frames and definitions that frame and define this research field.

Genesis of colonial otherness

Pedro Guedes

School of Architecture, The University of Queensland

Malacca (Melaka) entered the modern age violently on July 1st, 1511, when Afonso de Albuquerque captured the city. The siege, based on slim pretexts, was short and ruthless. Its success gained by 1600 men and fifteen ships took the locals by complete surprise. Even though the Portuguese had only been in Asia for just over a decade, they were quick to appreciate Malacca’s strategic importance as a trading hub. A point of exchange for valuable cargoes from the archipelago to the South and Chinese ports to the East, it was located strategically between two legs of the monsoon trade cycles. Controlling the Straits fell in with Albuquerque’s ambition to regulate and tax all shipping on this route by the savage enforcement of ‘cartazes’. Superior naval gunnery gave him control of these sea routes, in effect making them Portuguese Crown territory.

As soon as Malacca had been sacked and burnt, Albuquerque fortified his position with palisades and set about building masonry fortifications, importing stone and making lime mortar by burning seashells. He even quarried masonry from the city’s mosque. The first fortifications were mediaeval in character with a tall tower dominating an enclave containing a small garrison, facilities to repair ships and warehouses for Royal merchandise under the care of a Factor. Trading under the threat of violence was new to the area, resulting in the departure of most Gujarati and some other merchants to Ache but the city prospered under the new regime. The settlement that grew out of this incursion into Southeast Asia was similar to many established by the Portuguese on the African coasts, Arabia and the Indian sub-continent. It set a pattern for future coastal polities established by European traders long before colonization through territorial conquest. In Malacca a small number of Portuguese military, its crown employees and Catholic priests occupied the settlement now fortified with masonry buildings and stone ramparts under constant renewal. Outside these walls traders from throughout the region were grouped together. Here they depended on the protection of the Portuguese but were also vulnerable to brutality during any concerted attack. They were the ‘Other’. Essential for trade but treated suspiciously.

This paper will follow the evolution of Malacca during the period before the Dutch seized the city, drawing upon contemporary Portuguese written records as well as a series of plans and views from the mid sixteenth century to the 1640s. In response to several devastating sieges and bombardments Italian experts upgraded the fortifications. It will show how different populations were restricted to specific extramural areas of Upeh, Hilir and beyond and how discriminations and divisions were maintained. Parallels with other settlements of less importance will be drawn, showing how similar morphologies creating places of ‘Otherness’ were pervasive in the arrangements of early modern European trading enclaves. The pattern that evolved in Malacca became the template for nearly every colonial city founded on the littoral of Asia. The Portuguese themselves became the ‘Other’ in the eyes of subsequent regimes.


Mass Burial Site of Malaysia’s May Thirteenth Victims in Sungai Buloh Leprosarium: Segregated Memories and Abandoned Monuments in the Othered Space

Por Heong Hong

University of Malaya

This paper aims to untangle memories of the 1969 May Thirteenth riot in Malaysia by reading and studying the mass grave of the riot’s victims, which is placed inside the Sungai Buloh Leprosy Settlement (SBLS), as an archive of the event. Contemporary Malaysia’s politics have been profoundly shaped and overshadowed by the May Thirteenth riot, yet the public have been denied access to related archives, the mass grave thus constitutes an important source of information regarding the riot.

Located in Klang Valley, SBLS is not only home to those who are afflicted by leprosy and those who have survived the disease, it also houses burial sites for both the deceased leprosy patients and the political victims who died in the state sanctioned May Thirteenth riot in Malaysia in 1969. Historically speaking, leprosarium is a medically designed space for segregating the pathologized “others” in both colonial and postcolonial era, it was built as such so that those who lived inside were to be out of sight. The fact that the mass grave of political victims of the May Thirteenth riot, which was built “by the courtesy of the Malaysian government”, is found in the same space, yet remains unknown to many, raises several questions: Why SBLS was chosen as a burial site for the bodies of May Thirteenth victims? What are the links between medically produced others and political others in such a space? If cemetery is meant to keep monuments of departed lives, so that the living ones can keep memory of the dead, does burying May Thirteenth victims in a segregated space like SBLS imply unannounced effort to keep this potential visual reminder of political memory out of public sight?

By using May Thirteenth mass grave as a case study, this paper attempts to tease out the relations between locality of cemetery, social taboo, memory and political violence. In addition to reading the architecture and the space of the mass grave, this paper will also include oral histories of the victims’ families and the residents of the leprosarium. These interviews will reveal the challenges these families faced in finding out where their loved ones were buried after the riot, and how they relate the riot and their post-riot lives to the mass grave.

Locating the Domestic in Vann Molyvann’s National Sports Complex

Roger Nelson

University of Melbourne

The proposed paper troubles established teleological accounts of 1960s Cambodian modernist architecture as an heroic progression from an idealized and monumentalized Angkorean past. It instead attends to the hitherto overlooked centrality of the domestic as a locus of meaning in the construction and interpretation of post-independence public works. Taking Vann Molyvann’s National Sports Complex (completed 1964, Phnom Penh) as a case study, the proposed paper responds to the conference theme of “teleology fractured and abandoned” by arguing for the importance of the domestic as a counterpoint to the monumental, and thus as evidence of the primacy of coevality in constituting the (architecturally and spatially) modern in the Cambodian context. The argument is based both in analysis of built form (as considered through art-historical spatial and iconographic approaches, with a focus on the trope of references to the stilted wooden house in Molyvann’s concrete structures) and consideration of the politico-cultural “Cold War” context of Sihanouk’s neutralism (drawing on archival research in Cambodia and the United States, including attention to the project’s unusual and previously undocumented funding source, and its multiple and transnational design contributions).

The reputation of Vann Molyvann (born 1926, Kampot, Cambodia) as an exemplary modernist architect has, in recent years, increasingly spread beyond Cambodia. Here, he has long been acclaimed as the nation’s first Western-trained architect, and as embodying a polymathy that was typical of the Khmer nation-building project. He served not only as the chief state architect for Prince and Head of State Norodom Sihanouk, but also as his Minister of Culture, and in this capacity he oversaw ambitious cultural and artistic initiatives including the transformation of colonial institutions and their integration into regional networks.

Khmer and Anglophone scholarship on Molyvann’s designs, and especially on the National Sports Complex, has consistently emphasized the numerous references to the temples of Angkor: iconographic, spatial, technical and rhetorical. Such an interpretation is in line with Molyvann’s own nation-building rhetoric. This is articulated also in statements such as that “Modernity should not be inspired superficially by Western ideas that destroy all traces of the past. New building should bring tradition and heritage back to life.” Such views teleologically posit Khmer modernism as built on a foundation of Angkorean monumentality.

The proposed paper’s attention to visual and spatial references to stilted wooden housing disrupts this historiographical consensus on progressivism, and pivots the interpretative method away from adherence to the architect’s own views, toward a more contextually attuned approach, rooted in interdisciplinary archival work and visual-spatial analysis. A design vocabulary established in Molyvann’s large-scale public projects, including the National Sports Stadium, is shared in anonymously authored private homes built in the same period. Such domestic echoes, viewed in light of the references to older forms of stilted wooden housing, are revealing of the multilayered coevalities that comprise the spatially modern in Cambodia.

City of Water: Politics of Infrastructure in Phnom Penh

Shelby Elizabeth Doyle

Department of Architecture, College of Design, Iowa State University

The legacy of Cambodia’s numerous political regimes reveals an evolving relationship with water and the politics of water control through urban design and planning policies. Located at the confluence of the Mekong, Tonlé Sap and Bassac rivers the city of Phnom Penh provides evidence of centuries of water control strategies. The urban record began with the twelfth-century Khmer capital of Angkor and accelerates in the mid-19th century when Cambodia becomes a French Protectorate, followed by a brief period of independence, and in rapid succession, the Second Indochine War to the east, a civil war within, the Khmer Rouge Regime, Vietnamese occupation, and the present-day autocracy of the Cambodian’s People Party.

With little remaining historic record, (as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s depredations of Cambodia’s intellectual past), the city of Phnom Penh becomes the primary source for the nation’s history: a medium for communicating the accretion of politics, economics, and environmental control acting upon the city since its inception as French capitol. Describing Phnom Penh begins as an intermediary task: a city in-between land and water, in-between architecture and landscape, in-between static and dynamic, mediating the cyclical floods that define the physical context and conceptual landscape of Phnom Penh. Through design analysis both contemporary and historic — drawings, maps, photos and videos—the evolution of Phnom Penh is documented through its changing relationships to water as it relates to its political history. The drawings and text endeavor to cut through the skin of the of the city and to uncover how architecture and urban design serve as methods of governance from tools of nation-building to instruments of genocide. This record reconnects the city to its severed intellectual and creative past, as well as its history of designing and living with water.




Dato Fatimah in Chinese Bodies: A House Temple typifying Homely and Unhomely Presence

Simon Soon

University of Malaya

In the worship of Malay genius loci (Datuk Gong) amongst the Chinese community of Malaysia, reverence paid to Dato Fatimah for the past century as a principal deity of a house temple in Klang, Malaysia, bears a number of unique characteristics. In iconographic form, Dato Fatimah is identifiable as a female figure who wears the hijab and conforms to the ideals of a pious Muslim woman even as she is invested with a crown that signifies her temporal sovereignty. Expositions on such forms of worship are often reduced to expressions of cultural hybridity. However, arguments can also proceed from a discourse of ‘the other’. As suggested by this paper, it is by thinking through ritual possession as a lens to consider geographic and metaphysical spatial imaginations, that the religiously embodied ‘other’ complicates the modern narrative of a national multiracial citizenry.

Ritual possession brings into embodiment, metaphysical sentience that would otherwise remain otherworldly. In its ability to fulfil certain intercessory promises, the competence of mediumship also establishes the claim to a community. One could say that the ceremonial procedure is spatial in character since ritual action interacts within a set of geomantic principles that determines the arrangement of religious statues and objects. Moreover, such principles spell out the unresolved tension inherent to ritualised a form of communication such as mediumship, because the familiar domestic space is unsettled by the invitation of an entity that while associated with the temple, is also by its very supernatural nature, foreign to our cognition of physical reality.

How does a religious space that facilitates Chinese mediumship of this type sustain the tension between concepts of homeliness and its counterpoint? Often within such enactment of belonging, one also detects the anxiety ofunheimlich, or the unhomely/uncanny. The power to revise existing prescription of race, gender, cultural boundaries, could be said to unmake certain assumptions about established customary conventions so that plaintive assertions can be heard. If as argued by surrealist poet Andre Breton in his Haiti Lectures, ritual possession intersects a number of disciplinary inquiry – namely politics, anthropology, art, history, psychology – the consideration of architectural type and function situates the inquiry of ritual possession within a history of spatial politics.

Here the temple dedicated to Dato Fatimah, establishes royal feminine prestige as a cipher of autochthonous domesticity and serves as a double counterpoint to court and colonial histories. Through this example, I suggest that the house temple as a spatial type that accommodates the mediumship of a Malay female deity speaks of a desire for a form of atavistic allegiance that could be rooted in a certain claim of belonging at the same time as such desire is already checked by an ever-present political anxiety that threatens to thwart its fulfillment.

The “Dream Palace” as the Site for Collective Engagement

Simone Chung

National University of Singapore

Built in 1921, the Coliseum theatre has become the longest-running cinema in Malaysia. Located on the main thoroughfare of Tunku Abdul Rahman Road in Kuala Lumpur, it sat strategically on the territorial boundaries of the Indian Muslim textile trade, Chinese retail shops and neighbourhood mosques. Its endogenous neoclassical features signified a formal function that differed from the traditional trades in the area. Initially a theatre used for Bangsawanperformances in the 1930s, it was leased through an unusual partnership between a management company and Cathay Organisation to screen Hindi and Malay films from 1947. Having borne witness to successive political transitions and triumphantly resisted large-scale commercial incursion as well as the threat of compulsory purchase from city council, it continues to thrive as an independently-owned cinema venue. Throughout its near centennial existence, the building and its compound have continuously served as a social hub, for the British officers who patronised its eponymous café during the colonial years, hosting street vendors and mobile eating stalls in its square in the mid-twentieth century to unsanctioned appropriation by skateboarding youths when the cinema was temporarily closed. The Coliseum’s social history discloses its capacity to perform as a physical container showcasing the politics of accommodation and offers a counter-narrative to ‘unassailable’ official history.

Bruno (2008) views the cinema theatre as “a place of encounter where a community of strangers gathers to practise public intimacy”. The configuration of cinema buildings was designed to spatially mediate the psychological transition from the realm of reality to one of escapism. It is unsurprising they were referred to as ‘dream palaces’ by interwar cinema-goers in Britain in the 1930s (Richards 2009). Furthermore, cinema space emancipates its audience from real time and the social reality outside its envelope and restructures qualitative time spent within differently, to the extent where social, racial and gender divisions could be temporarily suspended. Studies on the multi-ethnic audience composition of Malay films in the 1950s and 1960s evidenced an erosion of pluralism that is no longer as pronounced today. In the case of Coliseum cinema, this is made legible through oral history sources and grey literature from the period.

Cinemas are acknowledged hallmarks of modernity and a distinctly urban phenomenon. A figure-ground study of the Coliseum’s full and partial façade isovists demonstrates how a building engages with the public on street level (see Hillier 1996): despite major adjustments to the area’s urban morphology, it continues to exhibit a dominant street presence all the way to Jalan Raja Laut, another thoroughfare. Its visibility along main transport links allows the cinema to emanate a presence beyond its immediate surroundings. Conversely, its pronounced architecture remains an indispensable landmark during wayfinding for visitors within and outside the local community.

By considering the Coliseum’s history and spatial analysis to illuminate implicit social and urban relationships alongside business decisions made by its owner to ensure economic survival, the case study adumbrates heterogeneous layers of unspoken tensions and sensitive negotiations to enrich our understanding of its raison d’être beyond the architectural fact.