Rethinking Thai architecture and cultural identity

Tharavichitkun, B. 2011. Rethinking Thai architecture and cultural identity. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Architecture and the Built Environment

TitleRethinking Thai architecture and cultural identity
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsTharavichitkun, B.

By the mid-19th century, in order to combat the threat of colonisation by western powers, the Thai king and the country’s social elite decided to adopt and implement western notions and technology as a superior ways to develop Thailand into a

civilised nation, since it was believed that a new modern image of Thai cultural identity would help the country to be regarded as equal to Europe. At the same

time, traditional Thai beliefs – especially the values of ‘pure’ Buddhism – were left behind as they were seen to be entirely different from the new western notions.

Ever since then westernised modes of thinking have been supported by several

generations of Thai rulers through a series of examples of imposed ‘top-down’

planning. This inappropriate and failed harmonisation of modern culture with

Thai tradition, a process which is increasingly influenced by globalisation, has resulted in a contemporary cultural crisis that creates many problems in different aspects of the Thai built environment.

The objective of this doctoral study is therefore to observe the results of these cross-cultural conflicts, and to find new ways to use architectural design to focus on a different approach from the westernised notions embodied in globalisation.

The ideals of eco-Buddhism and of localised, ‘bottom-up’ planning – together

with architectural participation by local people – thus become the inspirational ideas behind this study. The framework of the thesis chooses to investigate two

different dimensions of the cultural conflicts caused by unsuccessful hybridisation in Thailand: firstly, the extreme physical changes to the built environment caused by the western influences; and secondly, the specific Thai pheonmena that

illustrate the negative impact of cultural hybridisation on the mentality of local people. The cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai have thus been chosen as the two

main case studies because each exemplifies particular problems.

This thesis, as a PhD by Design will propose various small-scale architectural

projects which are expressed differently according to their background problems. These often simple projects – seen as ‘small changes’ introduced by architects

– are presented in the hope that their impacts would then be scaled up through

local participation and the latent creativities of the residents of these urban areas in Thailand’s two main cities.

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