In one of the few bibliographies of Southeast Asian architecture, titled “Nation, Identity and Architecture in Southeast Asia: a select bibliography,” published in the Journal of Southeast Asian Architecture (2000), librarian Lim-Yeo Pin Pin took on the challenging task of defining sub-categories.1 The result was a short list tabled under subheadings, the first being “Southeast Asia” for works dealing with this larger geographical scope. This was followed by works listed under individual “contemporary” nation states and other geographical subheadings. The range of publications surveyed included monographs, journal articles and other essays, an immediate assessment of work done for the period under scrutiny. Lim-Yeo listed a rather inclusive field of writers’ works that provided a good base to start discussion of Southeast Asia through spatial schemes. However, it is soon evident that there were still inconsistencies arising perhaps from the histories of such writing or even the political history of Southeast Asian places. The subheading “Indochina,” for example, collapsed the three nation states under former French colonization, while Brunei was absent. The range and number of publications listed by Lim-Yeo is also noticeably uneven across the countries that she names.
The spatial historiography of Southeast Asia now needs to be re-examined, in scope and subject. An understanding of the modes and contexts of the production of texts and the authorial positions of their producers may allow us to better situate future work. The roles that colonial and national frameworks have played in most of these writings historically, especially, must be scrutinized. The two conditions continue to haunt and undergird new writing on the various sub-fields related to architecture, landscape, urban planning and design. This essay aims to take stock of the different forms of spatial writing about the region. It is primarily a survey of texts shaded under different spatial and temporal themes, scopes and frames. While it begins a consideration of the large body of relevant work, it cannot claim completeness since the sources examined are mainly in the English language and those in local or other colonial languages are excluded.