Distinctive architecture, which once served to identify peoples and places, has now, across the world, been subject to the standardising forces of history. Built environments still reflect the conceptual, spatial and physical construction of communities, though straightforward correlations between particular forms of architecture, places and people can no longer be taken for granted. This article explores these notions through discussion of several Southeast Asian examples, seeing how the relationship between architecture and culture might be framed by each of them, and then how definitions of culture might be differently expressed depending on each context. The first context is the village. Here, recent buildings are produced within a traditional, rural culture, generally without recourse to architects. Indigenous symbolism is overlaid, but not necessarily subsumed, by imported typologies and ideologies. The second context is urban and more formalised and involves self-conscious architectural attempts to straddle tradition and modernity, as well as notions of broader collective identity. The third context is one of a more diffused globalisation. Issues of conservation and heritage are complicated by the imperial or colonial histories of many urban environments, as well as by the pressures of economic development and population growth. In cultural terms, however, it is the life of cities that is foregrounded here. This disparate collection of architectural projects and agendas reflects a region where the forces of essentialism and fragmentation continue to be in creative tension (Ashraf 2005).