Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Beach Architecture in Thailand

Two of the main driving forces of construction in Thailand has been tourism and the private residence for foreigners sectors. Thai people tend to stick with the same house and often expand outwards. It is not that they are not house proud, rather it is that the banks are reluctant to lend money for housing projects. Moreover, Thais have a practical attitude to their homes –they are just places to rest your head. In villages people tend to stay on the verandas and porches in the shade but still interact with the world passing by. They love eating outside and being outside. It is not an indoor country in the way that say Sweden is.

There was a boom in the building of private villas in resort areas in Thailand such as Phuket, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan in the 1990s and first decade of this century. That all changed with the down turn in the world economy in 2008. There has been a small recovery but political uncertainty has held the market back. Many of these villas are now on the market for a reduced price. The problem is that few people want to buy a second hand villa in Thailand when they can get a new one for little more money – plus also estate agents are actually developers and they push their own products rather than their second hand catalogue.

Villas reflect hotel architecture in many ways in that they focus on outdoor spaces that run into indoor spaces. The focal points tend to be the outdoor pool, Jacuzzi and bedroom with great view. They are selling a lifestyle just as hotels are selling an exotic and pampered experience. The cross-over is complete with many villa rentals offering in-house catering and hotel services. People want their own private luxury but don’t want to clean or cook it seems!

The other end of beach culture is the traditional Thai beach bungalow made with local wood, bamboo and thatched roof. Back in the day these basic wooden bungalows on stilts didn’t even have a bathroom – it was more practical and hygienic to have a communal bathroom block.

Now many beach resorts have abandoned the traditional Thai architecture of the beach hut and built concrete units euphemistically called ‘villas’. They sometimes attempt a nod to Thai architecture with a Thai style steep roof or by using hardwood floors and Thai decoration. These are just superfluous flourishes and the process of upping rental prices is turning Thai beaches into soulless corporate hotel locations that embrace fake modernity, ersatz Thai culture and an insidious monoculture.

Thankfully places such as Koh Chang (off Andaman coast) and obscure beaches such as Mae Haad in Koh Phangan still keep to the traditional Thai beach architecture which is about upcycling, recycling, using local materials and blending into the environment. The point cannot be made strong enough – upgrading makes the beach ugly and does not bring prosperity to the local community.

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.


Futuristic


River Shanty


Stacking

Mock Italian

Waterfront development

Sukhumvit

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.