Architecture, Traditional


Architecture, Traditional
   Although Burma is best known for its religious architecture, the country has a long tradition of secular architecture, including both royal palaces and what is often known as "vernacular architecture," that is, architecture of the common people. Because both royal and common dwelling structures were built of wood or thatch, they were not especially durable because of the tropical climate and the frequent outbreak of fires, which often devastated (and continue to devastate) residential areas. Most of the older surviving structures, including Buddhist monasteries, date from the 19th century. Nothing remains of the old royal palace at Pagan (Bagan). Except for its extensive brick wall and gateways surmounted by tiered roofs, Mandalay Palace was destroyed during World War II.
   Royal palaces, constructed mostly of teak, were immense complexes built according to a strict design that reflected Indian concepts of the structure of the universe; at their center was a multitiered roof tower (pyat-that), representing Mount Meru or the "center of the universe," below which the principal royal throne was placed. Both palace buildings and the houses of commoners were raised above the ground, supported by pillars or (in the case of humbler dwellings) stilts, a design found throughout Southeast Asia. A house thus raised was protected from flood and unwanted intruders.
   The simplest sort of village house, also found in the poorer, outlying districts of large cities like Rangoon (Yangon) and Mandalay, is made of thatch, woven grass, and bamboo, and is often shielded from the hot sun by large trees. The ground floor is used for storage, while the living space is on the floor above. The spare design of well-maintained thatch houses rivals the traditional Japanese house in its beauty and simplicity. More substantial dwellings are made of wood, often elaborately carved and joined together. Sometimes several wooden houses are grouped together on a single large platform. Before the British colonial period, strict sumptuary laws governed the design of the houses of commoners and court officials. They were forbidden in any way to imitate the style of the royal palace.
   Zayat (rest houses), also made of wood with high roofs, are a common architectural form. Many are found near important Buddhist sites, such as the Shwe Dagon Pagoda and Mandalay Hill.
   See also Architecture, Modern.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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