Architecture and urban planning have always been instruments of identity construction. ARCH+ Contested Modernities examines architectural modernism in Southeast Asia as an expression of the region’s struggles for a postcolonial future.
It also reminds us how closely architecture and ideology are intertwined, for better or worse. For worse, because modernism has been used, top-down, by rulers of various stripes to advance their nationalist interests. For the better, because a progressive notion of society was always associated with designs for the future. But to view architecture solely from the perspective of ideological superstructures would be to overlook the decisive aspect of its agency. Not only does architecture shape our thinking as a social narrative, it also intervenes as a substructure — as the material basis of people’s everyday life. Because of this dual nature, architecture is able to transcend not only ideologies but cultural boundaries as well. The multiform expressions, interpretations, and adaptations of modernism in Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Singapore, which are presented and critically discussed in this issue, illustrate this balancing act.