About the Colonial Architecture Project



The Colonial Architecture Project aims to make images available online of European colonial buildings from around the world from ca. 1500 to ca. 1840, an era which scholars call the “early Modern period.” This time marked the first phase of intensive global colonization by Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, and the Netherlands. 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 of European and non-European peoples, colonial buildings are often neglected 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.

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 African slaves 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. Their outstanding importance to our understanding of human society and regional cultural interactions is recognized by UNESCO, which has declared many of them World Heritage Sites.

The Colonial Architecture Project is limited to buildings constructed when the region was still a colony of the European power indicated. Thus, for example, post-1776 buildings in the Thirteen Colonies, by then the United States of America, are not included. It also only includes buildings which are largely intact. This is a more difficult criterion since it is often difficult to know how much of a building is original. When in doubt we leave it out. We also do not include buildings which have been largely or completely reconstructed (e.g. colonial Louisbourg in Nova Scotia). Although many reconstructions are done to very high standards, they cannot substitute for an original building as they have only limited evidence to work from.

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 Holland, and specialists in colonial buildings in Asia rarely look at those in Africa or the Americas. By providing a small number of significant 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 (wood, stone), building techniques (ashlar masonry, tongue-and-groove), and types of building (church, house). 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.” Within the subfolders the sites are divided according to basic function “Religious,” “Military and Civic,” 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.

The Team

Gauvin Alexander Bailey is 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 seven books, co-authored seven more, and written 75 articles on architecture and arts globally and is working on a new book on the architecture of the French Atlantic Empire entitled Architecture and Urbanism in the French Atlantic World, 1604-1830: Ideology and Reality in the Other Latin America.

Peta Gillyatt Bailey listened to what we hoped to do and researched and tested a number of image management databases before she found Piwigo, which does just about everything we wanted to do.  She learned how to use Piwigo by uploading the first few hundred photographs, some of which are her own, and made the project happen.

Brie Gascho, Jillian Lanthier and Kennis Forte are graduate students at Queen’s University. They have been involved with the project since the beginning, helping to conceptualize it, and also scanning images from non-digital formats, which will soon be added to the site.


The Colonial Architecture Project is grateful above all to the financial support of an Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), without which this project would not have been possible.