Scroll Top
10 Old Grimsbury Rd, Banbury OX16 3HG, UK

How does culture affect architecture between Thailand and Europe?

Task Brief:

You are required to write a 2000-word piece where you outline and describe the structure of your dissertation. It is important that you include key images and a bibliography that will help you develop your argument.

RESEARCH PROPOSAL

Abstract

In the land of colonies, Thailand was an outlier. Previously known as Siam, Thailand, sandwiched between French and British territories, escaped the direct onslaught of colonialism. However, it could not avert ‘cultural colonialism’ that penetrated its socio-political, economic, and cultural domains. European influence is clearly manifested in Thailand’s architectural marvels designed in the 19th century. It is widely believed that Thais appropriated elements that suited their interests and adapted them to prevailing situations. The proposal attempts to examine these hybrid structures through pictorial cross-referencing. It also demonstrates how physical-spatial space influences culture and, in turn, gets influenced by it. The study will also explore how traditional Thai architecture can resolve contemporary climate challenges and serve as a guide to regenerative design in architecture.

Introduction

The intersection of Siamese anti-colonial and Western colonial movements was crucial to the nation’s modernisation trajectory. The fusion of European and Siamese artistic styles produced some of Thailand’s most well-known architectural creations. The aforementioned places comprise Chakri Maha Prasat, Anantha Samakhom Throne Halls, and centres of political power such as the National Assembly, which houses the Parliament, the Government House, which serves as the residence of the Prime Minister, the Supreme Court building, the Bureau of Public Relations headquarters, and provincial government headquarters. Extensive use of Western architectural designs by those at the helm of power demonstrated that Thailand was a civilised and well-governed nation on the path of progress. Following the Siamese Revolution of 1932, which brought an end to the Chakri dynasty’s monarchy, the newly established democratic government deployed modern architecture as a ruse to signify the transition from absolutist Siam to a democratic Thailand founded on constitutional monarchy.

Koompong Noobanjong has argued that ‘political developments that unfolded concurrently in two dimensions had a bearing on Siamese architecture. On the international front, cultural appropriation of Western architecture helped to fend off the expansion of the European powers. Siam’s use of Western architecture is evidence of the nation’s aspirational identity and contributes to the anti-colonial narrative. It also helped the ruling elite further their political agendas. Whereas, on the domestic front, modern architecture fostered the political ideology of democracy. Modern architecture in Thailand resulted in a clash between two political propagandas’. International style was widely used for government and civic buildings when socialist and democratic governments were in power. To the contrary, a hybrid of modernism and traditional Thai architecture usually took precedence when nationalist and military governments came to power (Noobanjong, 2003).

Noobanjong has laid out the extent of Westernisation or Siamization of the architecture in his research via colour coding.

The present study has been divided into four chapters.

Chapter One deals with the traditional Siamese architecture present before Europe cast its shadow. Religion, mythology and a faith on super-natural powers occupied a dominant theme in architecture.

Chapter Two draws parallels between palaces in Thailand and similar structures in Europe in order to trace architectural similarities.

Chapter Three delineates the impact of European architecture on public buildings and structures meant for common masses such as railway station and university.

Chapter Four concludes the study by delving into the lessons for regenerative design which can be learned from Siamese architecture.

Literature review

Any culture’s tale of urban planning showcases a long history of continuity when it comes to the emergence of ideas of social policy, social and cultural values, the allocation of power, and the ensuing development of political institutions. ‘Urban planning was exported to many non-European societies via colonialism, a process often referred to as “dependent urbanisation” by Manuel Castells’. This involved not only the export of ideologies and techniques but also the establishment of proper communication links between the colony and metropolitan society. Professional organisations with engineers, surveyors, and architects were established for this purpose (King, 1977).

Anthony D. King’s study of the colonial bungalow compound complex in India is an apt example of how colonialism penetrates the host country and reproduces hybrid structures. To come up with solutions to the problems of housing and environmental control, the cultural patterns of metropolitan British society were imitated. It eventually led to the establishment of hill stations in Shimla and Dalhousie. Residential urban forms were being juxtaposed, giving birth to compartmentalised housing with separate living, dining, and sleeping rooms. ‘The residential spaces were embellished with “identity props” that had historical connections and preserved for their owners a continuous identity, a tangible record of achievements, and accolades received’ (King, 1974).

Chomchon Fusinpaiboon has demonstrated how Siamese architecture has been affected by opposed values of modernity and tradition, adopted simultaneously by Thai society. He challenged the Western-centric way of understanding modern architecture in non-Western contexts. Fusinpaiboon, like Noobanjong, also considers the transplantation of European architectural values in Thailand as a product of contemporary socio-political circumstances. The economic recession under the Chakri dynasty influenced Siamese architecture. The European architects employed by the ruling class departed from Thailand as the government reduced the expenditure on buildings and hired recent Thai graduates from European universities. Meanwhile, local Thai architects who had previously lost their jobs had new chances to demonstrate their abilities and adaptability. The rise of Nazism, Fascism and Japanese imperialism on the global landscape also had a bearing on the minds of the ruling elite that ultimately gets reflected in the architecture. This process of hybridization led to the construction of an idea of authentic Thai architecture (Fusinpaiboon, 2014).

Supasai Vongkulbhisal asserts that following the Second World War, Thailand underwent a cultural shift as ‘American Cold War strategies replaced European influences in architectural styles’. This phenomenon has been referred to as “crypto-colonialism”. America entered Southeast Asia’s political scene to prevent Communists from assuming power after European nations left. Urban infrastructure expanded quickly during the 1960s and 1980s, largely as a result of American economic assistance, but American spatial interests dominated architectural design during this time. The tourism industry saw the biggest implications, which eventually helped Thailand’s service sector expand. The first hotel chains were built after Bourne Associates International arrived under the patronage of John W. Rifenburg. Some of the masterpieces include the Oriental Hotel, Montien Hotel, and Siam Bayshore Hotel in Pattaya. A fine example of American culture being transplanted in  Thailand is Don Mueang International Airport. (Vongkulbhisal, 2022).

Traditional Siamese architecture

Humans’ fundamental needs, such as those for clothing, food, shelter, and medicine, inspired all forms of architecture. Initially, humans did not use imagination extensively in this regard. However, as civilization evolved, people started to beautify their utilities according to their tastes and beliefs. Each community eventually created its own unique artistic identity. Choti Kalayanamitr has emphasised that traditional Thai architecture amply conveys the connection between Thai residents’ way of life and the surrounding environment (Boonjub, 2009).

Wattana Boonjub has highlighted notable characteristics of traditional Siamese architecture. In flood-prone areas, inclined stilt structures are prevalent. Stilts are bent towards the core of the house for structural integrity, creating a triangulation effect. Buildings typically stand on elevated platforms because it adds a sense of grandeur and keeps the building cooler. Latticework is widely used, allowing for both privacy and vertical and horizontal airflow. Additionally, heat reduction strategies are used. The inhabitants construct decked open-air platforms, called “chen ruen.”

Teak wood, which is pest-resistant and exquisitely carved for beauty, is typically used as a building material. Exteriors are decorated with patterns made of moulded stucco with scenes from Thai mythology and history. Roof corners typically have decorative finials, which give the buildings an elegant shape. The roof’s curve is reminiscent of the lotus flower’s upward-curving petals, which are a Buddhist symbol of purity. It is similar to the classical Corinthian order, which uses a pattern of Acanthus leaves for foliage decoration. Multi-tiered rooflines symbolise the hierarchy of heavens. Columns of timber or bricks support the roof. Spirit houses, or San Phra Phum, are shrine-like buildings created to serve as sanctuaries for the spirits that dwell on the land.

Drawing parallels: The palaces of Thailand

Grand columns, symmetrical facades, decorative finials, the use of wrought iron, red brick, arched windows, stained glass windows, and stucco work are the notable elements of European architectural style evident in Thailand. This becomes more clear with the cross-referencing of buildings below. The pictures on the left are from Thailand whereas the right ones are their counterparts from Europe.

Fig: Aphisek Dusit Throne Hall, Dusit Palace.
(Fig: Aphisek Dusit Throne Hall, Dusit Palace. )

Italian architect Mario Tamagno designed the palace. The hall is a perfect example of ‘gingerbread houses’ that were in vogue during the reign of King Chulalongkorn, the fifth monarch in the house of Chakri. Its design was based on an H-shaped plan. Such architectural designs with fretwork can be traced in Victorian-era houses built in Cape May.

It was constructed at the behest of Rama V in an eclectic Romantic style.

Italian architect Annibale Rigotti used Carrara marble to construct it in the Renaissance style. Marble and granite were sourced from Italy, metalwork from Stuttgart, Viennese ceramics, tapestries, draperies and carpets from England. St. Peter’s Basilica served as inspiration for the dome’s design.

Fig: Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall
Fig: Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall

The John Clunich-designed structure has a marble façade similar to the Italian Renaissance style and a roof made of multicoloured tiles in the Thai style with three spires, each with seven descending levels. The rooms feature portraits of the Thai monarchy and are furnished in a late 19th-century European style with marble columns.

King Rama V’s consort, Princess Dara Rasmi built this arts-and-crafts-style mansion. A similar architectural style can be traced in The Red House, designed by Philip Webb and William Morris in London, England. The style emerged in reaction to the ornate styles of the Victorian era.

Designed in the Jugendstil or Art Nouveau style by German architect Karl Döhring. It was the residence of Queen Sukhumala Marasri. A similar architectural style can be seen in Bloemenwerf House, the residence of Belgium architect Henry van de Velde.

Also, designed by Karl Döhring in the Art Nouveau style. Generally, edifices in this style have T- or I-shaped plans, red roof tiles, and cream colours with fresco paintings.

Built by Mario Tamagno in the Neo- Baroque architectural style.

The Public buildings of Thailand

In Melaka, the Portuguese row-house style was initially implemented, and it quickly expanded along the trading routes. Following the contributions of the Chinese, Dutch, and British, the structure evolved into a hybrid style. Shops are located on the ground floor, while families reside on the second floor. Over the lower floor, the upper storey acts as a covered arcade. This is the “Five-Foot Way,” an urban design element Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles came up with in colonial Singapore to lay out a pedestrian path adapted to the climate (Nithi Sathapitanon, 2012).

Mario Tamagno constructed the station in a Neo-Renaissance Italian style with stained glass windows and ornamented wooden roofing.

Fig: Democracy Monument (Source: Wikipedia, by Jonas Bunsen)
Fig: Democracy Monument (Source: Wikipedia, by Jonas Bunsen)

Chitrasen Aphaiwong designed the monument. Corrado Feroci built the relief structures surrounding the base of the monument.

Italian architect Annibale Rigotti began the construction of this building and Corrado Feroci completed it. Elements of neo-Venetian Gothic architecture with Byzantine art are evident in the building.

Conclusion: Regenerative design

The benefits of traditional Siamese architecture are manifold. If contemporary builders adapt them, it could help in rectifying the “sick-building syndrome”, that afflicts modern architecture. Unventilated spots in houses, the need for electric lighting, and artificial cooling can be reduced to a large extent. Unfortunately, present-day houses rarely apply traditional wisdom during construction. Elevation is not provided at the base of the house, and it ultimately becomes a wind barrier. Kalayanamitr has criticised contemporary architecture of Thailand for contributing to a ‘crisis in cultural identity through its emphasis on abstract composition, sculptural forms, functionalism, and Western technology while neglecting traditional Siamese architectural heritage, historical contexts, local climate, indigenous materials, and construction methods’ (Noobanjong, 2003).

Fusinpaiboon’s study of the shophouses highlights the immediate need for regenerative design in Thai architecture. These Sino-Portuguese-influenced structures have repeatedly become a cause of disorderliness and traffic jams in the city. The alterations in shophouses and their immediate surroundings have significantly exacerbated the present chaos. Plausible solutions include the creation of more usable space, adequate ventilation for daylight to penetrate, appropriate drainage of rainwater, and heat management to reduce energy consumption. Traditional Siamese architecture offers much-needed solutions (Fusinpaiboon, 2022).

Bibliography

Arkarapotiwong, P., 2021. Historical Western and Political Influences on the Architecture of Thailand’s Chiang Mai Courthouses. Journal of Urban Culture Research22, pp.181-194.

Boonjub, W., 2009. The study of Thai traditional architecture as a resource for contemporary building design in Thailand. Bangkok: Graduate School, Silpakorn University.

Fusinpaiboon, C., 2014. Modernisation of building: The transplantation of the concept of architecture from Europe to Thailand, 1930s–1950s (Doctoral dissertation, University of Sheffield).

Fusinpaiboon, C., 2022. Strategies for the renovation of old shophouses, built during the 1960s and 1970s in Bangkok (Thailand), for mass adoption and application. Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering21(5), pp.1697-1718.

Herzfeldl, M., 2010. The Conceptual Allure of the West: Dilemmas and Ambiguities. The ambiguous allure of the West: Traces of the colonial in Thailand1, p.173.

King, A.D., 1977. Exporting ‘planning’: The colonial and neo-colonial experience. Urbanism Past & Present, (5), pp.12-22

King, A.D., 1974. The colonial bungalow-compound complex: A study in the cultural use of space. Journal of Architectural Research, pp.30-43.

Noobanjong, K., 2003. Power, identity, and the rise of modern architecture: From Siam to Thailand. Universal-Publishers.

Sathāpitānon, N. and Mertens, B., 2012. Architecture of Thailand: A guide to traditional and contemporary forms. Editions Didier Millet

Vongkulbhisal, S.,2022. ‘Subordination’ in Modern Thai Architecture, 1960s-1980s: Case Studies of Crypto-Colonialism. Proceeding of ConCave Ph.D. Symposium.

Related Posts

Leave a comment