Vernacular Prefabrication in the Colonial Context: The 1862 Bintulu Type Fort in Sarawak

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookConference contribution


The design, procurement and implementation of the Sarawak government’s 1862 fort in Bintulu (on the northwest coast of Borneo) represented modern approaches. It was a standard design that appeared to contrast with vernacular and indigenous typologies. Its primary structure was prefabricated in the capital, Kuching,before being shipped out for erection. While defensive, it also introduced modern institutions to newly acquired areas. The Bintulu Type fort was also implemented at Sibu (1862), Mukah (1863), and Baleh (1875, moved to Kapit in 1880). Unlike most colonial jurisdictions, Sarawak’s government explicitly relied on the dynamic maintenance of political relationships with locals, and negotiations and collaborations with indigenous, regional migrant and colonial groups to maintain authority. Its governance was a hybrid of vernacular and modern systems, and its European leaders indigenised their rule. This hybridity and indigenisation extended to fort architecture. Second-generation British colonial buildings in Southeast Asia emulated metropolitan designs while masking local involvement. However, the vernacular materials and construction of the Bintulu Type fort clearly show the involvement of regional migrant and indigenous actors. While prefabrication and remote manufacture can be considered modern, the vernacular carpentry traditions adopted for the forts were demountable and therefore appropriate for remote reconstruction. Using historical ethnography methods and fieldwork at the last extant Bintulu Type fort at Kapit, this paper explores how vernacular and modern approaches were brought together in the procurement and implementation of the Bintulu Type forts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDistance Looks Back
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand
EditorsVictoria Jackson Wyatt, Andrew Leach, Lee Stickells
Place of PublicationSydney
PublisherSociety of Architectural Historians Australia New Zealand
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventDistance Looks Back: The 36th SAHANZ Conference, 10-13 July 2019: Society of Architectural Historians Australia and New Zealand - Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 10 Jul 201913 Jul 2019


ConferenceDistance Looks Back: The 36th SAHANZ Conference, 10-13 July 2019
Abbreviated titleSAHANZ 2019
Internet address


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