Besides the shiny silhouettes of Buddhist Temples that dominate Luang Prabang’s landscape, the city’s different housing styles also made it worthy of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Ethnicity, cultural beliefs, social status, the environment, and political contexts influenced residential architecture. I reserved this article to present two examples of houses from Luang Prabang, a traditional Lao house dated at the beginning of the 1900s, and a modern house built during the French colonial era.
View of Luang Prabang from Mount Phousi
Traditional houses in Luang Prabang were elevated from the ground on stilts. People of meager means utilized Bamboo to construct walls while houses of wealthy families consisted of wood with roofs of wood shingles or tiles. Families used the open area below the elevated house to store tools and livestock or as a place to rest during the hot season. Being raised from the ground also prevented homes from flooding. The French colonial period (1893 – 1953) introduced different methods of using existing materials and new housing styles to the urban landscape. Bricks, mortar, and stucco, previously reserved only for religious buildings, were now applied to the constructions of residences, commercial spaces, and government buildings.
1. Heuan Chan endures as one of the few surviving examples of traditional Lao houses in Luang Prabang. In the 1900s, Thong Sayasith or Phanya Muang Sene, who was the head of the royal council and the justice department, ordered its construction on the land that he received from the king as a wedding present. Thong Sayasith and his wife had eighteen children so about thirty people consisting of immediate family members and servants usually occupied the house.
The home has an open terrace, a covered veranda that served as a reception area, a ritual room, bedrooms, a kitchen, and a working area. Like other traditional houses, little furniture was used, banisters of the terrace and veranda served also as chairs. Mats, mattresses, and cushions provided comfort while sitting or sleeping on the floor until the furniture was introduced in the 1940s.
You’ll find out more about the hospitality rituals of Lao people and about their traditions if you visit the museum that was founded around this house. At the end of your visit, you could spend some time in their yard drinking an amazing Butterfly pea flower tea. The entry fee is 15.000 KIP but the atmosphere is magical, I’ve spent there half a day.
2. The Luang Prabang’s French Institute is one of the most sophisticated buildings elevated during the French Protectorate in Laos. It was built in 1922, as an official accommodation for the adjacent French School’s Headmaster, on land provided to French administration by Luang Prabang royal’s family.
The roof shape, the porch, and several details on the facade are borrowed from the local religious architecture. The pediment for instance displays a reinterpretation of a Buddha, see in the picture below.
The building illustrates the aspect of the French colonial style at that time. It mixes multiples influences beyond the surrounding Laotian architecture. Architectural components borrowed from other cultures can be seen: Vietnamese dragons along the stairs, diamond shapes reliefs, pilasters, and capitals from combined influences and tiles whose casting and delicacy are unique in Luang Prabang.
Nowadays, the building it’s an annex of the Vientiane’s French Institute and it is attached to the French Embassy in Lao PDR. The French Institute in Luang Prabang works in two fields: linguistic and cultural; offering Lao and French lessons and organizing cultural events.
If you’re interested in Luang Prabang’s History and Architecture, I invite you to visit these two interesting houses as much as other buildings in this beautiful area.