Lao architecture is mainly a harmonized combination of French colonial, Buddhist (in temples), traditional Lao and modern architecture, with some influences from Thailand and other countries.
Most traditional Lao houses were built of wood and raised off the ground on stilts appearing in rural areas whereas modern style houses are more common in urban areas. There are two types of important buildings in Laos: the wat (a Buddhist temples, sometimes spelled “vat”) and the that (a Buddhist stupa built to hold religious objects). Lao residents usually constructed their traditional houses of wood, which is often ravaged by the elements, and thus, not many old structures remain.
Secular architecture is well-known such as French-influenced buildings with pitched tile roofs and shuddered windows; post-Revolutionary structures with a socialist realist style; and neo-traditional style buildings like those at Luang Prabang airport and Vientiane’s National Assembly hall.
Laos is also famous for a plethora of distinctive monuments and architectural styles. The That Luang, the great Sacred Stupa, in Vientiane is one of the most notable structures due to its typical structure for monuments across Laos with dome-like stupa and four-cornered. Stupas serve to commemorate the life of the Buddha and many stupas are said to house sacred Buddha relics.
Different Styles of Lao Architecture
Styles of Architecture are different depending on geographical location, especially temples and monasteries.
Wats built in Vientiane are constructed of brick and covered with stucco in the shape of rectangular with overhanging roofs. The architecture style of temple features a large veranda with heavy columns, an ornamented, carved wood porticos and a carved wood shade along the top of the veranda, often with half-bird, half human kinnari against a background of stylized foliage.
In Luang Prabang, style temple architecture is similar to the northern Siamese Lanna style. It is designed with a pointed and steep roof at the top, which gradually flares and sweeps very low, unlike in Vientiane, almost reaches the ground. The Lao sometimes says these roofs resemble to the wings of a hen protecting her chicks. Many wats have gold-leaf-covered doors and outer walls.
Only a few examples of Xieng Khuang style in northern Laos remain these days. It features a multiple-level platform and a roof that sweeps low, wide and usually is not tiered. The Thai Lu style features whitewashed stucco walls, small windows, two or three red roofs, curved pediments and naga lintels over the doors and steps. Thai Lu stupas are typically gilded and octagonal in shape of are covered with Thai Lu fabrics.
Traditional Lao Houses
Wood or bamboo are the main materials used to build Traditional Lao houses, which are constructed on stilts above the ground. Traditionally, the houses had steep thatched roofs and verandas. The first floor of houses raised on timber stilts is often used to live while under the house the family often keep animals, craft equipment such as a loom and simple food processing machines. Around the house, there are family livestock and poultry, a rice granary, vehicles, fruit trees, a kitchen garden and maybe a kitchen shack under the house.
Lao traditional houses are built on wooden piles with the floor is 1-2.5 meters higher than the ground. This style not only keeps the living area above the mud of the rainy season but also supplies a shady area to work or rest during the day. 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 depending on the financial situations of the family.
Houses are typically built by hand using local materials. Householders also find their relatives and neighbours for helps in the house raising. In this work as well as farm labor exchange, the host family provides a meal to all those coming to help.
Temple Architecture in Laos
Wats are characterized by steep tiled roofs, with frescoes and mosaic decorations in the walls depicting the events of Buddha’s life. Wats are often clusters of buildings with the uposatha (ordination hall) being the most important structure. These have traditionally been built on a multilevel platform and are made of brick covered by stucco.
Thats (stupas) have a distinctive curvilinear, four-corned shape, that represents a lotus bud unfurled along with the steeple-like spire. One of the model of this style is Pha That Luang in Vientiane.
The high peaked roofs are layered in odd numbers according to Buddhist doctrines such as the three characteristics of existence and the seven factors of enlightenment. The edge of roofs are designed with a repeated flame motif with long finger-like hooks in the corners which is known as a way to catch evil spirits that fall on the building from above. The umbrella-like spires in the central roof ridge often have small nagas (serpents that protected Buddha) arranged in a double-step fashion said to represent Mt. Meru.