SOAS University of London

Centre of South East Asian Studies

A tale of two pyres: parallel perspective, the cosmology of the Traiphum, and Siamese funeral architecture

Lawrence Chua
Dr. Lawrence Chua (School of Architecture, Syracuse University/Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies, Albert-Ludwigs-Universit├Ąt)

Date: 24 January 2018Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 24 January 2018Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4426

Type of Event: Seminar


This seminar traces “premodern” ways of conceptualizing, representing, and building space and their importance to later methods of architectural space-making in Siamese state funeral pyres or phra merumat. A symbolic representation of the center of the Vedic and Buddhist universe, Mount Sumeru or Mount Meru, the phra merumat was the site from which the physical bodies of powerful, meritorious people were traditionally dispatched to the upper echelons of the cosmos. By looking at 18th-century monastic murals, 18th- and 19th-century illustrated cosmological manuscripts like the Traiphum phra ruang, 17th- and 18th-century Thai-language poetry, and the plan and construction of 20th-century phra merumat, this paper argues that earlier modes of representing the spatial geometries of Buddhist felicities were accommodated by approaches to representation and construction that allowed older cosmological approaches to space and politics to not only survive, but flourish, in historical periods of turbulent social upheaval.

Speaker Biography

Lawrence Chua is a historian of the global built environment with an emphasis on Asian architecture and urban culture. He is an assistant professor at the School of Architecture, Syracuse University and is currently a fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität. His writing appears in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Fabrications, Journal of Urban History, Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, and Senses and Society. His current research project, "Bangkok Utopia,"investigates the accommodations between modern images of utopia and Buddhist felicities in the urban built environment of Bangkok from 1910 until 1973.

This event is made possible by generous support from SOAS's Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of South East Asian Studies

Contact email: