Continental Wonders: Five architectural highlights of Asia

From secluded mountain monasteries to soaring steel towers, Asian architecture depicts not only where we come from but the dizzy heights we aspire to reach. The largest continent on Earth, it widely illustrates our achievements through its structures from past and present, allowing us to witness side-by-side the ancient wonders and modern masterpieces made possible by our most gifted architects.

Read on to review some of the most intriguing edifices found in this part of the world.

Paro Taktsang

Paro Valley, Bhutan

Situated high in the mist-shrouded Himalayas, this Buddhist enclave is also known as the Tiger’s Nest. Closely linked to the origin of Buddhism in Bhutan, legend states the Guru Padmasambhava flew to the mountainside caverns on the back of a flying tigress.

The present buildings clinging to the cliffside were built after 2000 following a fire in 1988. The blaze consumed much of the construction on site but the foundations of the original compound are still present. The temple complex consists of four buildings and eight caves. The temple buildings are interconnected by narrow walkways crafted from stone and a number of ramshackle bridges.

Paro Taktsang follows the ubiquitous Bhutan styling for buildings, bright white exterior facades topped with roofing of red shingles and gold. Inside the temple buildings, ceilings and idols can be found fashioned from gold and, within the great Hall of a Thousand Buddhas, a statue of a tiger stands.

The National Centre for the Performing Arts

Beijing, China

The NCPA is a centre for the arts that houses the Beijing opera house. Paul Andreu, the French architect, designed the ellipsoid structure, which is commonly called “The Giant Egg”. Construction commenced at the close of 2001, with the building opening six years later with its first concert in December 2007.

Andreu’s futuristic design caused controversy, as the site for the structure was close to the traditional landmarks of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The architect fought his case, praising the ancient architecture present but insisting an internationally important city like Beijing must incorporate a modern look too. The dome design was respectfully crafted to complement the red buildings nearby, allowing them to take centre stage.

Close to 12,000 square metres in size the NCPA contains three halls (concert, music and opera) and can seat 5,452 people. The theatre’s exterior is built from titanium-accented glass to form a dome that is entirely ringed by a manmade lake. The unique design was developed to create an iconic symbol that would be instantly recognised, and observers have stated it resembles an egg floating on water.

The vast dome itself spans a distance of 212 metres from east to west and 144 metres from north to south. The NCPAs main entrance can be found on the north side of the building; arriving guests access the theatre via a hallway that passes beneath the artificial lake above.


Java, Indonesia

Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and can be found within the central province of Java, Indonesia’s most populated island.


The gargantuan temple comprises nine platforms stacked atop each other, six of which are square and three circular. The temple is crowned by a central dome and is detailed with hundreds of statues of Buddha and thousands of relief panels. The centrally placed dome at the temple apex is circled by 72 Buddha statues that sit within perforated bell-shaped stupa.

The temple was constructed in the 9th Century and follows traditional Buddhist architecture in Java, blending Indonesian ancestor worship with the Buddhist notion of nirvana. When viewed from above, it resembles a massive Buddhist mandala and was constructed much like a pyramid in steps. In 1885, an additional hidden structure was revealed containing religious reliefs as well as ones to instruct sculptors working in the temple.

The Burj Khalifa

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Standing 829.8 metres tall, the Burj Khalifa remains the tallest building and structure in the world. The skyscraper was designed by architect Adrian Smith, whose firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill developed Freedom Tower.

The design of the towering superstructure is influenced by the regions Islamic architecture including the Great Mosque of Samarra. Function drives the design of the building; the tripartite Y-shaped geometry of its floor was crafted specifically to increase the available space for hotel rooms and residences. The staggering height of the structure is ably supported by wings and a centrally placed core which is buttressed for additional stability. The buildings structure is derived from Korea’s residential high-rise Tower Palace III.

Containing a total of eight escalators and 57 elevators, the Burj Khalifa uses vertical transportation almost entirely, save for stairs for egress housed in the wings. The skyscraper also utilises an innovative cladding system to protect it from the punishing summer heat of Dubai.

Taj Mahal

Agra, India

The white-marble monument stands on the Yamuna river’s south bank, built as a mausoleum for the favoured wife of Emperor Shah Jahan. Set in a 17-hectare compound, the tomb is centrally placed and surrounded by formal gardens and guarded on three sides with crenellated walling. An elegant guest house and stately mosque also stand within the grounds.

Commissioned in the year 1632, it was not fully complete until 1653 with an estimated cost of over 52 billion rupees. Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, architect to the emperor’s court, led a board of architects who in turn employed the skills of around 20,000 artisans to realise the construction.

Recognised as a Word Heritage Site by Unesco in 1983, it was described as “the jewel of Muslim art in India” and is widely considered to be the finest instance of Mughal architecture.

The vast continent of Asia is home to structures of equal enormity. Here you will find colossal temples and tremendous towers – all testaments to the imagination and skills of our species. Travel through these varied lands and behold the iconic buildings that identify the culture, religions and traditions of the Asian nations, and pay tribute to the craftsmen who built them.

Posted by Mark
June 26, 2019

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