Thursday, 25 July 2013

Beach Architecture

The majority of visitors to Thailand head for the beach. They might stop for a few days in Bangkok and Chiang Mai but for most the focal point of the holiday is going to be a beach milieu. It is thus the buildings found at beach resorts that are going to inform people’s ideas of Thai architecture; that and Thai temples.

The more developed the beach resort area the more the hotels and resorts move away from basic wooden bungalows made of local materials such as bamboo and coconut thatch. It is a shame that the next step up from coconut thatching seems to be the ugly corrugated iron roof.

Since the weather in beach locations is so clement many public buildings consist mostly of columns holding up a roof – walls are unnecessary and prevent natural ventilation. Often the only architectural flourish is the architrave which might be a feature borrowed from temple architecture or some wooden paneling with a ‘Thai’ motif.
Poppies Restaurant in Koh Samui

5 Star hotels in Koh Samui and Phuket might use a Chinese column and arch or Thai sala. These are more nods to the location rather than an attempt at exciting Thai architecture. The desire of the architect is to fulfill the guests’ expectations of luxury and ‘tropical living’ spending resources to make big outdoor areas, unusual swimming pools and what is known as ‘indoor / outdoor’ spaces. The ultimate in luxury seems to be a private swimming pool that comes up to the bedroom window and maybe inside the villa. It is all fairly superficial and governed more by fads in fashion than innovation in architecture.

In places like Koh Phangan where beach accommodation is generally upgrading the focus is still on providing air-con, outdoor baths, swimming pools, hot water and other facilities that can justify a rise in prices.

At beaches moving from the budget to the mid-range such as Haad Salad Beach it is hard to find any structure that stands out architecturally. Perhaps this is as it should be since the star of the show is the white sand, the turquoise sea and the towering palm trees. This might be a better situation as more concrete only increase the heat of an area, and the prices.
Haadlad Prestige Resort and Spa

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Bangkok Architecture

The typical experience of Bangkok architecture is one of randomness and ad hoc alterations as you move around the city. It is a short distance from modernist centers like Siam and Chidlom to shanty housing thrown up along the klongs and the train tracks.

Often the glare and the loud music, not to mention the razzmatazz, of certain places masks old and functional buildings, quickly put up. All over the city you see 'stacking' - blocks of concrete units, often hotels, laid next to each other overlooking narrow roads.

Around the city you see odd attempts at architectural statement. Besides the famous examples of the National Stadium and the famous religious buildings of the capital there are plenty of small details that strike you as not quite successful and perhaps dated.

The boom years in the 2000s when the world property market was bouyed by record high share prices meant a lot of money was available for big building projects. Moreover building condominium units allowed agents to sell to foreigners freehold titles.Along the waterfront of the Chao Phraya River from Khao San down to Sukhumvit and beyond you see skycrapers with modernist and bold touches. Really selling itself and the city.

There is now an over-supply of top-end accommodation in Bangkok and so major Bangkok commercial projects have slowed down. Investment is down and the Baht is in danger of becoming too expensive for export and so major public works is less.

Despite all these shortcomings, Bangkok remains the benchmark for South East Asian architecture and town planning. The city continues to change and throw up buildings that typify a style and a new trend.


River Shanty


Mock Italian

Waterfront development


Dated 2000s architecture

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Fad with Unpainted Concrete

I am always surprised when I visit a new place in Thailand. I invariably stumble across a building with unpainted concrete. I can see no evidence of building work so I can only presume that the concrete has been left unpainted deliberately. Why do people do that?

It is not just in Thailand. I have seen the same thing in Japan as well. I suppose there is a certain appeal to polished concrete. It can pick up quite an attractive sheen. Sometimes polished concrete can work well for flooring areas; however, to build walls using concrete, and then to leave all the concrete bare and unpainted does not appeal.

The idea I think in many instances is not to save money but to create some type of effect. That is the case, for example, at See Through Boutique Resort in Haad Yao. You can see below it is a row of joining hotel rooms on two levels. The architect has used a zigzag design to create a small amount of privacy between each unit. The long pool stretches for the entire length of the hotel building. This is impressive. It harks back to classical ideas of architecture of using water to reflect buildings and to add grandeur.

See Through Boutique Resort markets itself as exclusive and high end. For Haad Yao the design does make it stand out. The interiors of the rooms are comfortable without being accused of being luxurious. The best thing about them from the point of view of interior design is that they use splashes of color.

It is just a shame that the color motifs were not used on the outside of the building - grey looked cool and minimal about 8 years ago. It is not fashionable or boutique any longer. It just looks cheap. Moreover bare concrete soon gets rain stains and looks very far from boutique.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Experiencing Thai Architecture in Hotels in Bangkok

One good way of discovering the variety of architectural styles to be found in Thailand is to stay in carefully chosen hotels in Bangkok that typify certain designs. I am not talking about staying in big ‘identikit’ chain hotels that look the same all over the world; rather I am talking about the numerous ‘boutique’ hotels in the capital. The great thing about Bangkok is that it is great value for 3 and 4 star hotels. If you hunt around websites you can often find promotional prices that let you stay in some truly wonderful places at really reasonable rates.

The Sukhothai

The Sukhothai is usually classed as one of the best hotels in Bangkok. It is a riverside hotel near all the famous tourist attractions. The facilities and amenities are very modern but the styling of the buildings is based on the architectural style found in the city of Sukhothai (a former capital). The buildings have sharply sloping roofs; the garden has replica stupas and water features are used to reflect and compliment the look.

Chakrabongse Villas

This used to be the private residence of Prince Chakrabongse. It is just 300 meters from the Grand Palace. It was converted into a small hotel in 2008. The buildings, constructed 1908, are made of teak and present an excellent example of how Thais make wooden houses. There are curved roofs and large eaves. This is the ancient alternative to guttering and necessary during the torrential downpours during the rainy season.

The main building features a marble floor and a carved wooden staircase. The common areas are a treasure trove of Thai antique furniture. By staying in Chakrabonge Villas you get an insight into Thai royal life; you even get a chance to try royal cuisine at the restaurant.

Ariyasom Villa

This is a gem of a hotel. It was designed by the famous Thai architect and engineer Kun Phra Chareon. This was the man who designed the iconic National Stadium as well as the first runway at Don Meung Airport.

This hotel represents one of the first attempts to combine indigenous and Western styles of architecture. The large sloping roofs are Thai but the supplemental roofs with windows are a Western touch. The narrow windows to keep out the heat are Thai but the concrete frame is definitely Western. The ideas of Phra Chareon can be seen repeated throughout Thailand. He was a visionary.

Shanghai Mansion

The Shanghai Mansion has won several travel awards and has been featured in numerous articles about boutique and original hotels in Bangkok. It is sometimes classified as a ‘themed’ hotel. This is because it replicates in its interior design and furnishing 1930s Shanghai style. The place has an art deco classiness that takes you to the Far East. There is a Chinese water garden, paper lanterns and lots of antique furniture. Some of the rooms have 4 poster beds and the color scheme is both daring and traditionally Chinese.

Shanghai Mansion is located in Chinatown in Bangkok. It is not an area that sees many tourists as the street businesses are not geared towards tourism as is the case in Khao San and the Sukhumvit area.

The exterior of the hotel combines modern concrete high rise with a series of small roofs to give a pagoda effect. This is complimented by lantern style lights on the outside of the building. This is one of my favourite hotels in Bangkok partly because I love dim sun.


For a look at modern architecture in Thailand stay at Tenface in Chidlom. It is a very cool hotel with top notch amenities. It is geared at a hip crowd. The bar has a DJ and the hotel makes strong use of stylish branding and eye-catching interior design.

Architecturally what is of note is the front of the building. It is a concrete building using the principles of squares. Each square represents a room with balcony. Clever use is made of floor to ceiling windows to give light to the rooms. The concrete beams jut out and overlap to create a modernist pattern to break up the monotony of the box design. Moreover, wooden struts are used to combine levels of the building. Sadly wooden cladding has been overdone in Thailand and is destined to quickly look out-of-date but here it is used to good effect.

These are just a few examples of great hotels in Bangkok that give you architectural pause for thought, and should fill you with ideas if you are thinking of designing your own house in Thailand.