The Contemporary Iban Longhouse: The Sustenance and Applicability of a Socio-spatial Culture

By David Beynon.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The use of architectural forms, symbols, and spatial layouts to represent identity is a selectively negotiated process. As contemporary built environments continue to develop, identity is increasingly contested, as is the notion of cultural sustainability. Indigenous cultures have the added difficulty of negotiating identities within a postcolonial context of nation building, ethnic/localised identity and internal/external notions of authenticity. In this context, this paper will explore the changing nature of the Iban longhouse in Sarawak, Malaysia. Unlike many traditional Asian building types, longhouses are still widely constructed by the Iban, though superficially, contemporary examples bear little resemblance to traditional ones. However, they retain certain culturally based socio-spatial qualities that indicate the maintenance of Iban cultural belonging and identity. The continuing presence of the Iban longhouse as a living spatial typology speaks of an ongoing dialogue between indigenous cultural tradition and globalised architectural idioms. They also indicate the ongoing cultural autonomy of the Iban and the successful adaptation of their traditional social patterns and practices into the contemporary world. More broadly, interest by contemporary architects in Iban longhouses suggests the wider applicability of their indigenous knowledge to the issues of socially sustainable housing.

Keywords: Cultural Sustainability, Architecture, Space and Culture

The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp.87-99. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.519MB).

Dr. David Beynon

Senior Lecturer/Architect, School of Architecture and Building, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria, Australia

Dr. David Beynon’s research involves investigating architecture as a social and cultural practice, particularly in the context of Australia's engagement with Asia and the architectural implications of migration and hybridity. Dr. Beynon lectures at Deakin University in the areas of Architectural Design, Architectural Practice and Austral-Asian Architecture. He is also a registered architect with AlsoCAN Architects and has practised in Melbourne, Brisbane and Singapore.