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LAOS ARCHITECTURE

GEOGRAPHICAL
 A landlocked nation in Southeast Asia occupying the northwest portion of the Indochinese peninsula,
Laos is surrounded by China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thai land, and Burma.
 It is twice the size of Pennsylvania. Laos is a mountainous country, especially in the north, where
peaks rise above 9,000 ft (2,800 m).
 Dense forests cover the northern and eastern areas.
 The Mekong River, which forms the boundary with Burma and Thailand, flows through the country
for 932 mi (1,500 km) of its course.

GEOLOGICAL
 Wood or bamboo - Traditional Lao houses are made of wood or bamboo and are built on stilts above
the ground. People live on the first floor of houses raised on timber stilts. Lao Loum houses are
built on wooden piles with the floor from one to two-and one-half meters above the ground.
 Thatch- Traditionally the houses had steep thatched roofs and verandas.
 Thatch, bamboo, wood shingles, or corrugated steel roofing sheet - Depending on the wealth and
resources of the family, the walls and floor may be made of woven split bamboo or sawn wood; the
roof is constructed from grass thatch, bamboo, wood shingles, or corrugated steel roofing sheet.
 Clay tiles - Some older houses in well-off villages are roofed with clay tiles, but this style was no
longer common in the early 1990s.
 Timbers - It usually takes twenty people a day or two to assemble the frame and raise the heavy
timbers.

CLIMATIC
 Laos has a tropical monsoon climate, with a pronounced rainy season from May through October, a
cool dry season from November through February, and a hot dry season in March and April.
 Rainfall varies regionally, with the highest amounts—3,700 millimeters (150 inches) annually—
recorded on the Bolovens Plateau in Champasak Province.
 City rainfall stations have recorded that Savannakhét averages 1,440 millimeters (57 inches) of rain
annually; Vientiane receives about 1,700 millimeters (67 inches), and Louangphrabang (Luang
Prabang) receives about 1,360 millimeters (54 inches).
 Rainfall is not always adequate for rice cultivation and the relatively high average precipitation
conceals years where rainfall may be only half or less of the norm, causing significant declines in
rice yields. Such droughts often are regional, leaving production in other parts of the country
unaffected.
 The average temperatures in January, coldest month, are, Luang Prabang 20.5 °C (minimum 0.8 °C),
Vientiane 20.3 °C (minimum 3.9 °C), and Pakse 23.9 °C (minimum 8.2 °C); the average
temperatures for April, usually the hottest month, are, Luang Prabang 28.1 °C (maximum 44.8 °C),
Vientiane 39.4 °C).
 Temperature does vary according to the altitude, there is an average drop of 1.7 °C for every 1000
feet (or 300 meters).
 Temperatures in the upland plateux and in the mountains are considered lower than on the plains
around Vientiane.

RELIGIOUS
Buddhism was introduced to Laos beginning in the eighth century by
Mon Buddhist monks and was widespread by the fourteenth century. A
number of Laotian kings were important patrons of Buddhism.
Beginning in the late 1950s, the Pathet Lao attempted to convert monks
to the leftist cause and to use the status of the sanghato influence the thoughts
and attitudes of the populace. The effort was in many ways successful,
despite efforts by the Royal Lao Government to place the sangha under close
civil administrative control and to enlist monks in development and refugee
assistance programs. Political scientist Stuart-Fox attributed the success of the Pathet Lao to the inability of
the Lao Loum elite to integrate the monarchy, government, and sangha into a set of mutually supportive
institutions.
Popular resentment of the aristocracy, division of the sangha into two antagonistic sects, the low level of
its religious educationand discipline, and opposition to foreign (i.e., Western) influence all contributed to the
receptiveness of many monks to Pathet Lao overtures. The politicization of the sangha by both sides lowered
its status in the eyes of many, but its influence at the village level augmented popular support for the Pathet
Lao political platform, which paved the way for the change in government in 1975.
Religious Practices
Traditionally in Laos males would become novice monks at some point in their lives, giving them the
opportunity to gain both an education and religious merit. Laos also has a somewhat unusual belief among
Buddhist countries that merit (boun) is transferrable among people, thus a son or daughter may
make merit for a parent by temporarily entering a monastery. Lay persons are expected to feed and care for
the monks of their local community, with the morning processions of monks (tak bat) who walk to collect
offerings. Monks renounce material possessions and labor, thus the community and the monastery (wat) are
bound in a mutually reinforcing relationship.

Monks gathered at evening prayer


Contributions of Buddhism in Laos Architecture
Theravada Buddhism is central to Lao cultural identity. The national symbol of Laos is the That
Luang stupa, a stupa with a pyramidal base capped by the representation of a closed lotus blossom which
was built to protect relics of the Buddha. The shrine has been rebuilt several times since being created in the
thirteenth century by the Khmer, with the largest expansions by King Setthathirath in the 1500s as part of a
nationwide building campaign.
Pha That Luang according to the Lao people was originally built as a Hindu temple in the 1st century.
Buddhist missionaries from the Mauryan Empire are believed to have been sent by the Emperor Ashoka,
including Bury Chan or Praya Chanthabury Pasithisak and five Arahata monks who brought a holy relic
(believed to be the breastbone) of Lord Buddha to the stupa. It was rebuilt in the 13th century as
a Khmer temple which fell into ruin.
Pha That Luang and its situation in Vientiane

POLITICAL
 As a traditional society until 1975, Laos was a conservative monarchy, dominated by a small number
of powerful families. In 1975 it was transformed into a communist oligarchy, but its social makeup
remained much the same.
 In the 600-year-old monarchy, the Lao king ruled from Louangphrabang (Luang Prabang), while in
other regions there were families with royal pretensions rooted in the royal histories of Champasak
(Bassac), Vientiane (Viangchan), and Xiangkhoang (Tran Ninh).
 They were surrounded by lesser aristocrats from prominent families who in turn became patrons to
clients of lower status, thus building a complex network of allegiances.
 The king reigned from Louang phrabang but did not rule over much of the outlying regions of the
country.

ARCHITECTURAL CHARACTER
FIVE ROOF TYPES IN L AOS: VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE IN
PERSPECTI VE
 The Katu
Since a very long time ago, the Katu tribe has lived together in small villages. Their houses are arranged in a
circle and oriented to face one another. Each house has two entrances — one in front, the other at the rear.
The traditional Katu house is raised on piles with a thatched roof that extends to cover the front porch,
balcony, and stepladders. The entire roof is covered in thatching made from dried vegetation, such as broad-
leaved grasses and Ceylon oak leaves. There is an animal figurine on the ridge of the gable roof. According
to tradition, the small figure is believed to have supernatural power capable of protecting the building and
people living in it.
There are no room dividers of any kind. Family members live under the same roof and share the same
interior living spaces. Nowadays traditional Kratu homes can be found in Sekong, Salavan, and Champasak
provinces in the south of the country.
 The Akha
Homes of the Akha tribe are crafted largely of local materials, like timber and earth. Basic roof frames and
support beams are fastened together using vines harvested from the natural surroundings. The gable roof is
covered in thatching made from dried Ceylon oak leaves. The Akha home features extended roof eaves on
all four sides, which help divert the water flow away from the building. What’s unique is that it has no
windows. This and other features combine to effective protect the interior living spaces from the elements
especially during winter months. The Akha tribe lives mostly in the northern country known for its
temperate climates. The region includes the provinces of Phongsali, Luang Namtha, and Oudomsai.
The Akha tribe believes men and women should live separately. Thus entering the territory of the opposite
gender is forbidden. That explains why room dividers are a must in the Akha home, where each gender is
entitled to its own private space.

 The Oi

Similarly, homes of the Oi tribe are houses on stilts made of timber and thatched roofing. The difference lies
in its interior design. The Oi house typically comes with a bedroom reserved for the married couple that live
there. There is a separate space that is used either as shared bedroom or as living area for unmarried family
members. The kitchen space lies also part of the interior.
The Oi house offers two balconies – one in front, the other at the rear. Tradition dictates that adult males and
females live separately until they are married off. The Oi tribal is a small ethnic group living in the southern
country, mostly in Phu Luang District.

 The Taliang
The Taliang tribe lives in thatched houses made of bamboo pallets in generally cooler and wet climates of
the Lao PDR. That pretty much explains why their houses are windowless. Roof thatching is made from
dried vegetation, such as broad-leaved grasses and Ceylon oak leaves. Unlike those of other ethnic groups,
the Taliang home comes with three doorways, one on each porch. The entire family sleeps together in one
big hall that is a shared bedroom. The interior offers a fireplace to keep warm during winter months.
Taliang houses are arranged in a circle similar to those of the Katu village. There is a center court where
tribal ceremonies and rituals are held. The Taliang live in the hill country in southern Laos, which includes
the districts of Dak Jung, Lam Mam, Thateng in Sekong and Champasak provinces.
 The Khmu

The typical Khmu house is raised on short piles only about one to two meters above ground. The front
façade boasts an awning roof that protects the entire front porch from the elements. Unlike those of other
ethnic groups, the Khmu house is accessible via a single set of stepladders. The Khmu thatch-roof house has
no windows. The crossbeams that are parts of the roof frame also double as storage for household essentials.
Exterior walls are crafted of bamboo pallets, while the interior space consists of a large bedroom, small
bedroom, living room, and kitchen. Men and women gain access to the house via the single entryway.

The Khmu tribe lives in the high country about 500 meters above sea level. To avoid gusty winds on the
highlands of northern and southern Laos, the Khmu have learned to keep their houses low to the ground.
Interestingly enough, aerodynamic design comes naturally to them.
Religious architecture
The styles of these Laotian Sanctuaries are determined by their positions in the community and the layout of
the roofs : the vihans (sanctuaries) with circular naves, nearly all situated in the area of Luang Prabang, are
in the style of this province. For the others, it is possible to differentiate the three principle styles :

 The style of Louang Prabang, is characterized by its huge pointed roofs made from flat tiles which
are put down in successive layers, normally two or three, stopping only a few metres from the
ground.
 The style of Xieng Khouang, presents an accentuated form of the characteristics described above :
the roofs come nearly all the way down to the ground, and their cross sections are almost perfect
pentagons. We can see in this style a provincial version of the Luang Prabang style, structures built
in this way are nearly all situated in the province of Xieng Khouang, to the South-East of Luang
Prabang. You can also see the original style of the Lao vihans, the style of Louang Prabang only
representing the result of a long evolution; it would appear that the old vihans of Luang Prabang
belong to the Xieng Khouang style.
 The style of Vientiane is a more tapering style, the part that the roof plays in the structure is less
important here and the openings are higher.

Below, you can see the examples of these different styles in Louang Prabang :
Luang Prabang's best-known monastery is centred on a 1560 sǐm(ordination hall). Its roofs sweep low to the
ground and there's a stunning 'tree of life' mosaic set on its western exterior wall. Close by are several stupas
and three compact little chapel halls called hŏr. Hŏr Ɖąi, shaped like a tall tomb, now houses a standing
Buddha. The Hŏr Ɖąi Pha Sai-nyàat, dubbed La Chapelle Rouge – Red Chapel – by the French, contains a
rare reclining Buddha.

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