A rich continent like Asia comprises unique techniques of construction and architecture, many influenced by ancient religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. With Silk Road trade routes flourishing, cultural exchange became possible between countries— allowing for the construction of temples, mosques and sanctuaries to gradually spread. Some teachings have been more prominent, explaining how Buddhist architecture, originating in India, spread to far-flung places like Korea, Japan, Cambodia and Indonesia—each with their take on the original idea.
From 3,000 BC to 1,600 BC, two ancient Indian cities dominated in all aspects— Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Extraordinary urban planning with a sewer drainage system created functioning settlements. However, most Asian architecture was influenced by religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. Buddhist temples included large pavilions, which accommodated prayer or meditation for large groups— requiring acoustic elements in their design.
400 – 500 CE: Along the Silk Road trade routes to China, Buddhism quickly spread, soon arriving in Korea and being made the primary religion. Soon after, Buddhism reached Japan, influenced by Korean architecture and produced the early period of Japanese Buddhist architecture. Meanwhile, the Gupta rulers of North India fused British practices into their own to firm Hinduism.
700 – 800 CE: Tibet established Buddhism as the state religion. Meanwhile, Islam spread to Xi’an, China, where the first mosque in China was built.
800 CE: Southeast Asia expanded trade links with China and India, where India mainly spread its variants of Buddhism and Hinduism to the Southeast regions— as Hindu and Buddhist temples were erected in Indonesia.
1000 CE: Islam started spreading through Southeast Asia through trade routes from Western Asia to the Far East.
China is the largest Asian country, and its architectural influence goes beyond its borders. In Chinese temples and palaces, animals and creatures like dragons were carved, while many homes and public buildings were decorated with ornamentation. Palaces and temples were considered the chief building type, with diverse architecture caused due to irregularities in the geographic and climatic conditions.
Yellow was reserved for Imperial buildings, being the official colour of the Emperor. Structures were widely characterised: U-shaped buildings with courtyards, open pavilions, and pagodas housing artefacts and texts. As China conquered more land, Chinese architects and engineers designed according to the Emperor’s desire.
Some principles of design include:
Yin-Yang is meant to be the interaction of two opposing and complementary principles, with ‘Yin’ being feminine and dark while ‘Yang’ being masculine and bright.
Feng Shui optimises on arrangement of architectural elements so that they are in harmony with nature. The goal of Feng Shui is to promote positive energy (chi’i) flow within the structure.
Jian is an essential measure in construction. It is the standard unit of space marked by adjacent frame supports.
Duogong is an interlocking method used in traditional Chinese construction. It satisfies both structural and decorative purposes.
Throughout its history, India has seen a multitude of architectural styles. Identified through Hindu and Buddhist monuments and structures, Indian architecture is characterised by motifs and carved ornamentation. Some examples are Mughal architecture, temple architecture and Dravidian architecture. Principle building materials of early Indian structures were wood and brick. Over centuries, Indian architecture has advanced from rock-cut cave shrines to massive temples.
Early Indian civilisations, dating back to the third millennium BC, showed excellent town-planning skills, such as Harappa and Mohenjodaro. The cities are equipped with a rectangular grid pattern layout. An advanced drainage system and well-planned roads and houses make it easily noticeable that an evolved culture existed in India. Three main types of buildings were constructed: dwelling houses, pillared halls, and public baths. Evidence of fortifications walling the cities, providing the citizens with security.
The Harappan civilians were exceptional engineers, evident through their large buildings and public baths. There is evidence of large buildings, which are assumed to have been public buildings, business centres, pillared halls and courtyards. Public buildings included granaries used to store grains, giving rise to an organised collection and distribution system. Moreover, public baths were a great attraction in the civilisation. The existence of public baths comes from the importance given to cleanliness in the culture. You’d like to know that the ‘Great Bath’ is still functioning, with no leakages and cracks in the construction!
Japanese architecture is characterised by multiple ideas from China and native conditions. This distinct style is light, delicate and refined. The proportioning system used is called ‘Ken’, a linear unit initially equal to 1.818 metres but later varied depending on the tatami mats. A building distinctly related to Japanese Architecture is the shrine.
Shrines, also known as Shinto shrines or jinja, are places of worship and gods’ dwellings. It features multiple components, like:
- Torii: Shinto shrine complexes are entered by passing through these wooden gates.
- Sando: A pathway leading from shrine compound to the front of the structure.
- Chozuya: A place for washing hands and rinsing the mouth before entering the shrine— its purification rituals use salt, fire and water.
- Honden: The space which houses the god.
- Haiden: Also known as the oratory hall, it is used for ceremonies and worship. It is usually the most impressive building at the shrine.
- Heiden: It is located between the honden and the haiden. The building is used for prayers and making offerings to the gods.
Also known as Muslim, Muhammadan or Saracenic architecture, this style boasts rich surface decorations, “stalactite” decoration from the ceiling and glazed tiles on interior and exterior surfaces. Mosques are a distinct structure of this type, with characteristic features like domes, tunnel vaults and round and horseshoe arches.
Also known as masjid, it is a place of public worship for Muslims. The mosque is divided into many parts, like:
- Minaret: A tower along the mosque where the muezzin calls for people to pray.
- Iwan: A large vaulted portal leading to the mosque’s central courtyard.
- Mimbar: The pulpit, where the imam delivers his sermons.
- Qibla: The wall in the mosque facing Meccah.
- Sahn: The atrium.
- Fawwara: Fountain provided for washing before prayer.
- Online sources
Citations for websites:
Dušan Cvetković (2021). Evolution of Asian Architecture: The Condensed Guide. [online]. Available at: https://howtorhino.com/blog/asian-architecture/ [Accessed 02 September 2022].
Gohighbrow (n.d.). Asian Architecture. [online]. Available at: https://gohighbrow.com/asian-architecture/ [Accessed 02 September 2022].
Chandni Bhatt (2021). A Brief Introduction to Ancient Indian Architecture. [online]. Available at: https://www.artshelp.com/an-introduction-to-ancient-indian-architecture/ [Accessed 03 September 2022].u8i9u8i9o0`1234
Citations for Social Media:
Architerrax, (2021). Religious Centre Feature: Japanese Shrine Architecture [Instagram]. Written 23 June 2021. Available from: https://www.instagram.com/p/CQb6sAzBI9_/?hl=en [Accessed 03 September 2022].
- Images/visual mediums
Citations for images/photographs – Print or Online:
Kartapranata, G. (2014). Expansion of Buddhism, originated from India in VI century BCE to the rest of Asia until Present. [map]
Andy, M. (N.D.) Main building at Horyu Temple, Ikaruga, Nara prefecture, Japan. [photograph].
Turtle, M. (2020). Prambanan Temple, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. [photograph].
Zucker, S. (2008). Forbidden City. [photograph].
Shuang, H. (2020). Roof Detail of the Forbidden City. [photograph].
Bulseco, RM. (2014). Detail of the gopuram of Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore. [photograph].
Gospodino, P. (2022). A photo of the Indus Valley Civilisation’s large settlement, Mohenjo-Daro. [photograph].
Ducos, J. (2021). Torii at the entrance of a shrine in Nara prefecture. [photograph].
Sopian, Ariff. (2016). Putra Mosque, Putrajaya. [photograph].
- Other source types
Citations for presentations/lectures:
National Institute of Open Schooling. (2022). Indian Architecture.