The Colonial Architecture Project aims to make images available online of European colonial buildings from around the world from ca. 1500 to ca. 1960, a period of intensive global colonization by Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and others. These buildings are a critical part of European architectural history yet are much less familiar than European buildings from the same period. They are also important to the architectural history of the non-European regions where they were built, since they influenced, were influenced by, and interacted with indigenous architectural traditions to various degrees. Although images are widely available of the major monuments, colonial buildings are often neglected in studies of European and non-European architecture because they seem not to “fit” into either category and because many of them are in locations which are less frequently visited. Simply put, good pictures of colonial buildings are often hard to find. Many structures are also in very poor repair and we hope that this project will draw attention to the need for preservation. Many buildings on this site have already been destroyed.
This project is not a celebration of European colonization. By conquering and settling non-European regions, European powers destroyed or devastated entire civilizations, forced people to change their religion, took their land away from them, and compelled them to work for them, most notoriously through the slave trade which brought enslaved Africans to the Americas in the millions. In fact many of the buildings illustrated on this website were built by forced labour. But this architecture is of great importance. It bears witness to an important episode of human history that helps us better to understand the increasingly global and interconnected world of today and what happens when cultures come into contact with each other. The buildings on this website are a testament to the often vastly conflicting goals of the people who designed, built, and used them. Many were built by non-Europeans and they even include non-European building types such as mosques or Buddhist temples that adopt European styles. This website also includes pre-colonial structures which were appropriated by Europeans, whether by changing their function or claiming them as their own patrimony (as the French did with Angkor Wat in the 19th-early 20th centuries). The outstanding importance of colonial architecture to our understanding of human society and regional cultural interactions is recognized by UNESCO, which has declared many of them World Heritage Sites. More than 70 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are represented on this web site. For more information about these sites, please click here to visit the UNESCO Interactive Map.
The Colonial Architecture Project is primarily limited to buildings constructed when the region was still a colony of the European power indicated. Thus, for example, buildings in the Thirteen Colonies, now the United States of America, are mostly pre-1783 (Treaty of Paris when the USA achieved independence) although we have included the early Independence Era as architects still work in a profoundly British style for decades after Independence. Some regions changed hands and so you may need to look for buildings in a single region under different empires. Buildings in places like India and Sri Lanka appear in the sections for Portuguese, British, and Dutch (and in the case of India, French). The same applies to Quebec: anything before the 1763 Treaty of Paris goes under the French Empire but anything after goes under the British Empire, when it was known as Lower Canada. Since Canada remained a "Dominion" of Great Britain even after Confederation in 1867 we include buildings as late as the 1890s in the section on Upper Canada. In the case of Saint-Domingue (Haiti), we have included post-Independence architecture (after 1804) because it closely resembles models and counterparts in France and the French Antilles and architects went to Paris to train. We have also done so because it is very difficult to find good pictures of Haitian architecture. This website also only includes buildings which are still standing, even if in ruins. We only include buildings which have been reconstructed if they are done to very high standards. Reconstructed buildings are always indicated in the captions.
Our project was also inspired by the need to look at colonial architecture in a comparative way. People tend to be familiar with the architecture of single regions or empires, with the result that few who have studied colonial Spain consider the architecture of colonial Denmark, and specialists in colonial buildings in Asia rarely look at those in Africa or the Americas. By providing detailed views of colonial buildings from a wide variety of regions we hope to make it easier for people to find parallels and connections between the architectural traditions of many different colonies. These links can be related to style (e.g. Baroque, Neoclassical) but they can also relate to materials and building techniques (metal frame, half-timbered), types of building (church, townhouse mosque), and in the case of churches, by far the most largest category, denomination or affiliation (Jesuit, Methodist, Anglican). The project also includes neocolonial architecture, buildings constructed after independence in a colonial style, reflecting nostalgia for the colonial period. This database will create an easily accessible tool to make visual comparisons between buildings from different cultures and on different continents, demonstrating their variety but also their unity.
All buildings are listed in folders by European colonial entity and subfolders according to political entities within those empires. Thus, Peru goes in the folder “Spanish Empire” and then the subfolder “Viceroyalty of Peru.” Because the northern tip of Chile once belonged to Peru, you need to look under "Viceroyalty of Peru" for northern Chile and "Captaincy-General of Chile" for the rest of Chile. Within the subfolders the sites are divided according to basic function “Religious,” “Civic and Military,” and “Domestic.” For ease of searching buildings can also be looked up according to the names of modern-day countries as well by keyword. The images will be linked to an ever-expanding series of keywords as the website grows, allowing visitors to look up and cross-reference buildings in a variety of different ways. The website will also have a timeline and glossary with the most important terms.
In 2020 we inaugurated a section called "Perspectives on Architectural Preservation," with invited texts from architectural heritage experts from around the world to provide a variety of opinions about strategies for preserving colonial architecture and the challenges posed by governments, private interests, and tourism (among others). We will continue to add to this section as we invite more people to participate.
Gauvin Alexander Bailey is Professor and Alfred and Isabel Bader Chair in Southern Baroque Art at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. A specialist in colonial art and architecture of Spain, Portugal, and France, he has taught in universities in the US, UK and Canada and has held several prestigious fellowships including one from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. He has written nine books, co-authored seven more, and written 85 articles on architecture and arts globally. His latest book is Architecture & Urbanism in the French Atlantic Empire: State, Church, and Society, 1604-1830. http://www.mqup.ca/architecture-and-urbanism-in-the-french-atlantic-empire-products-9780773553149.php
Peta Gillyatt Bailey made the project happen: she researched and tested a number of image management databases before she found Piwigo, which does just about everything we wanted to do. She uploaded the first few hundred photographs, some of which are her own, and continues to provide photographs, most recently from Southeast Asia.
Erica Chan, Madeleine Dempster, and Madeline Legg are (or were) graduate students at Queen's University, working on updating the site with more scholarly content, particularly by creating bibliographies for further reading and by inviting international heritage experts to contribute texts. Other graduate students who have contributed to the site include Brianne Gascho, Jillian Lanthier, Anna-Maria Moubayed, and Kennis Forte: they helped conceptualize the project, provided technical assistance, and scanned images from non-digital formats. Other students and former students, including Madeleine Dempster, Molly-Claire Gillett, Lauren Mathieson, and Teresa Sarocca, have also generously shared their photographs, and former undergraduates at Clark University, Tiffany Racco and Erica Cook, were the first to scan hundreds of slides into jpeg format.
The Colonial Architecture Project is grateful above all to the financial support of an Insight Development Grant and an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and two Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), without which this project would not have been possible.
We would also like to thank the generosity of various colleagues and friends who have shared their own photographs, including Mozart Bonazzi, Paul Clammer, Stephanie Curci, Fernando Guzman, Kelly Purpura, and Anne Wilson, whose photographs of early New England architecture have filled in many important gaps.