Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Windows in Thai Architecture Part One

Although cheap bungalows and many open plan restaurants and bars in Thailand don't use windows very much in their architecture, the window is important to Thai architecture. In old Ayutthaya architecture the Bot had narrow vertical openings high up on the walls instead of windows. Later windows with wooden panels were added. Nowadays, doors and windows in Bots are decorated with ornamental frames in stucco which are gilded and enriched with glass mosaic.

For secular Thai architecture windows have become an essential consideration. Most fundamentally, windows let in natural light - turning a dark unfriendly space into an open and inviting area. Conversely, large windows let in alot of heat and contribute to solar gain. Obviously this is where curtains come in.

Continuing on the theme of energy, windows which can be opened can provide natural ventilation saving the need for 24/7 air-con. At night with the emergence of mosquitos this is less practical.

Windows often form part of the natural flow of a Thai house, in the sense that they often serve as doors leading onto a balcony or garden. Sliding glass doors and folding windows are thus very popular in modern Thai architecture. They create the illusion of uninterrupted space between indoors and outdoors. This is a key element of the modern tropical style found throughout Thailand and South East Asia.

Another key aspect of windows in Thai architecture is to create interest. A plain wall can be monotonous and uninviting. Windows break up this uniformity. Often windows have interesting shaped frames, coloured glass, shutters and other features to make the building look more desirable.

In villa design, especially villas with an elevated view, windows are used to highlight and show off the breathtaking vistas of the beach, mountain, river or sunset. In which case the windows are often floor to ceiling constructions.

To sum up, windows are one of the most noticeable and important aspects of Thai architecture. Windows in Thailand date back to the Ayutthaya period and have remained central to Thai architectural aesthetics ever since.

Below are a series of photos of various styles of window design. A comment is added below each photograph.

Windows used as a decorative feature of a pagoda style roof. The overhang of the roof reduces solar gain.

Here opening glass doors below windows set in a teek wooden frame create a beautiful side entrance to a restaurant and allow for dinners to get a breeze and see the view of the beach.

This house is on an elevation and the series of windows upstairs and downstairs maximise the views and provide a pleasing continuity to the overall feel of the house.

Windows with stucco decorations around a domed upper part to the window. Unfortunately, the pink paint job gives the building an overdone, ersatz quality.

This dramatic villa perched on a hill in Koh Samui has a modern feel to it. The plain white walls and right angles are made interesting by the extensive use of oversized windows allowing you to see straight through the house. Furthermore, a small ornamental balcony has been fixed to the side to create a modern tropical sense of intermixing indoor and outdoor spaces.

Here European style window design with shutters has been used.

Windows can be unusual shapes. I presume these windows are intended to provide natural light for a stairwell.

This window uses a diamond shape in the frame to individualise the property.

Here a series of small opaque windows have been place around the top of the main window for a shower room. Thus providing more natural light while maintaining privacy.

An example of a minimalist approach to windows. Solar gain was obviously a key consideration in design. The windows you can see in the photo are road facing, and so privacy is protected.

Finally, here are slightly tinted windows in folding doors that provide access to the decking and pool area.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Pixel Art

This is a good example of how a problem can be viewed as an opportunity for creativity. The Bangkok Transit System 'Sky Trains' have changed people's perceptions of the city. Before nobody paid much attention to the fronts of apartment blocks, but now they've become exposed to commuters on the trains. Eye-level has been raised. The result is that tenants have lost their privacy and Bangkok 'looks' uglier.

Studio ELEVATION and Overdose have come up with a clever solution to the problem - pixel art. The idea is to add a light weight structure to the facade of a row of apartment blocks. The structure is a lattice which contains many small boxes like pixels. The pixels are designed to combine to create patterns. The tenants thus regain their privacy and train users have something interesting to look at. The design also brings together the community because the design of the pixel art only works through co-operation.

The facade 'pixels' are made from wooden crates sourced at the Port of Bangkok. The wood is treated to weather proof it. This is a good example of Green Architecture because it is using low-cost recycled materials.

The project also has an 'organic' and 'democratic' aspect to it because as tenants replace their individual pixels the pattern changes and develops. There is no top-down authority. Every 'pixel' is of equal value.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Some Concepts in Modern Thai Architecture

The word concept is a weighty and pretentious one that often invites obtuse and technical comment that leaves the layman baffled. Architecture can be very philosophical and abstract despite being a discipline that everyone is exposed to and influenced by.

Thus in this blog I don't intend to blind the reader with difficult terms and bore you with discussions of the relationships between architectural forms and society. Instead I will post a few pictures of buildings that I consider to be 'conceptual'. And by this I mean the opposite of 'generic'. The buildings are original in their design. They have an idea behind them; they are not merely re-workings of tried and tested formulas. Rather they display imagination and a desire to interact creatively with the environment.

So much of recent building in Thailand conforms to certain trends. Either it is the minimal look of 'modern tropical' or it is a re-hash of certain characteristics found in traditional Thai architecture. Or it is pure ugly and cheap functionality that is achieved. This is a great pity because there is an enormous wealth of great locations in Thailand, and an undoubted wealth of architectural talent.

So I hope you enjoy the following images, and like me can grasp the idea behind the structure.

(The comments for the photos are posted below the pictures.)

A wrap around balcony on a 'D' shaped house.

A tree house based design.

A playful variation on the multiple roof style found in Thai architecture.

A round house on a cliff edge that vaguely resembles a lighthouse.

A modern and striking restaurant using wooden posts instead of just glass and steel.

This nightclub turned out to be a failed business venture but the building is noteworthy.

This reminds me of the Pompidou Center in Paris.

An elegant interpretation of Chinese ideas of architecture.

Using the Thai idea of roofs at each of the cardinal points to make a star shape.

This is a gym. The simple glass and steel structure provides those working out an excellent view.

I'm not sure if I like this house. The roof is made from cheap materials; but it's certainly original.

This standard designed is made attractive by the upward sweep of the entrance roof.

This house sits perfectly on it's cliff- top perch. The 3 'turrets' maximize the views.

A modern and cool look created by the use of curves.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Some Notes on Thai Religious Architecture

Some of Thailand's finest buildings are built for religious purposes. The architecture found in Thailand's temples or Wats and other structures of a religious nature have greatly influenced secular Thai architecture. The clearest example of this is the high, steeply sloping roofs.

Below I will give a brief description of the various types of Buddhist structures found in Thailand.


The Wat or temple is the main religious building in Thailand. It is often in the centre of a compound surrounded by other buildings. Inside a wat will be found various stautes and images of the Buddha. Religious ceremonies and chanting are performed in a Wat.

Below is Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok, otherwise known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It is one of Thailand's most famous wats.

The Bot or Ubosot

This is the ordination hall where new monks take their vows. The building is characterised by 6 boundary stones called Bai Sema. A Bot usually faces east and the roof has a Chofa finial.


Chofas are elegant thin finials found on the roofs of Thai religious buildings. See my previous article about Chofas


A Chedi is a high domed edifice under which a relics of the Buddha or a revered teacher are buried.


A Prang is an Ayutthayan or Khmer Chedi. An Ayutthayan Prang tapers off smoothly to the peak whereas a Khmer Prang tapers off in clear steps.

The first picture below is an Ayutthayan Prang, the second a Khmer Prang.

Mondop / Mandapa

A Mondop is a Baldachin or Canopy of State that covers a Buddhist religious library. It is a square shape.

Ho Trai / Ho Phra

A small highly decorated building used to house the holiest scripts belonging to the Wat.


A Viharn is the sermon hall. Open to everyone, this often the busiest place in a Wat compound.

Below is Wat Suthat Viharn


A Naga is a mystical serpent that runs down the roof or embellishes staircases to Viharns or Bots. See my previous article on nagas

Friday, 15 May 2009

Example of New Thai Architecture

Young Thai architect, Aroon Puritat has designed a striking modernist house in Changmai. He is a former student of the world famous Thai artist and architect, Rirkrit Tiravanija. The architectural design is influenced by 'relational aesthetics' (the idea that the design is principally guided by the relationship between the structure and its location).

The building is U-shaped. It is constructed from glass and concrete. The floors are in wood and polished concrete.

The house is slightly raised off the ground. This slight elevation is playfully evocative of traditional Thai architecture. The raised wooden walk-ways around the building are reminiscent of Japanese architectural design. The use of glass and stell in the wall construction gives the bedroom a striking modernist look that stunningly compliments the jungle garden outside.

Overall the house is original and functional. It fits well with the surroundings and provides a good example of modern Thai architecture. Obviously Aroon Puritat is a name to watch out for in the future.

This article is based on an posting by Paul Schmelzer


Columns in Thailand are things to be shown. From the traditional wooden 'stilt houses' through to modern family homes, villas, shops and commercial buildings architects in Thailand continue to make a feature of columns. Whether the columns are integral to the structure of the building or are just embellishments columns are key features in the overall look of a building. In many ways they set the tone of the building. They provide the key vertical elements of a building. Often there is an entrance gate to a building and the columns to the entrance also become a key feature in the aesthetics of the whole site.

Columns were traditionally made of wood. Houses would be raised off the ground with columns or stilts to create space under the house. The reasons for raising the house are manifold. To provide protection from flooding; to put some distance between the inhabitants and the potentially hazardous jungle floor; to create a space for livestock and agricultural produce; and to facilitate building on slopped or uneven ground.

As seen in the example pictures below, columns are often decorated. They are painted with pictures in Chinese temples. They are cladded with wood. They are shaped. They are linked with curving arches. And they are tiled.

Because balconies are important living spaces and key features in Thai architecture, the columns supporting the balcony covering are often prominent. Moreover, since Thai buildings are often without walls, the columns often become more prominent.

Thus columns are fundamental to Thai architecture. They hold the house up and are key components to the aesthetics of a building.