Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Chofa and Naga

Chofa literally means “bunch of air”, but is often more poetically translated as “tassel of air”. And such a poetic rendition suits this most distinctive feature of Thai architecture. On top of the mighty sweeping roofs of a bot (monks’ congregation hall) or vihan (worship hall) is placed an elegant upward curving finial. They are placed on the peek of a roof overhanging the edge. Although, they vary in style, they all possess an elongated ‘s’ shape which is suggestive of an animal form. Sometimes the head is half way up the chofa and sometimes it is at the end. More often than not the appearance is of a bird-like creature with a graceful horn.

The history and exact significance of ‘Chofa’ is disputed. The chofa could be a representation of a garuda – a Hindu mythical bird that is the ‘vehicle’ of the God Vishnu; or it could be a hamsa – which is a goose, gander or swan in Hindu mythology that is the mount or vehicle for the God Brahma.

Another possibility is that it represents a snake or naga. This last option is confusing because nagas are key components of Thai iconography that are found else where in temple compounds. The naga is the half sibling of the garuda and its sworn enemy.

As seen in the picture below, often nagas adopt the pose and style of a chofa and it might be possible to label such examples of Thai architecture as ‘naga chofas’. Naturally opposites in eastern thought are often just 2 sides of the same coin, different aspects of one reality - whether it is the one soul (Atman/Brahman) of Hinduism or the absolute nothingness of Buddhism. Indeed motifs seemed to be combined in creative ways. In one of the pictures below the naga body splits into buddha heads. Furthermore, the naga head often has a bent horn on it that is very much like a chofa. The replication of forms adds to the impressiveness of the architectural forms found in religious buildings in Thailand.

The Naga or snake motif is another important iconic motif in Thai architecture. They are most commonly found on the hand rails of stairs (especially in the ‘Lanna’ style of Northern Thailand); or running down the edge of a temple roof. The body is sometimes coiled, but the head is usually raised. Often there are multiple heads. For Thais the naga is a symbol of comfort and security because in the Buddhist scriptures a mystical serpent is described as protecting and sheltering the Buddha as he meditated.


Wat Hua Wiang Hong Son Naga

Karoen beach, Phuket

Naga Chofa at Wat Phra Singh

Friday, 10 April 2009

Thai Vernacular Architecture

Vernacular architecture refers to a way of building which uses local materials and addresses local needs. Vernacular architecture is often 'organic' in the sense that a building is not planned beforehand but rather develops as a result of the availability of certain materials and as a response to changing cultural and environmental factors.

The most obvious example of vernacular architecture is the Innuit eskimo. In Thailand fisherman's houses and basic bungalows in the jungle and on the beach owe alot to vernacular architecture.

I recently stumbled across an unusual example of Thai vernacular architecture on the
Phi Phi Design workshop site written by the Thai architect Rachaporn Choochuey. The house is made nearly entirely from materials found at the nearby garbage dump. The builder has carefully selected the materials. The roof is made from bits of metal cut to the right size. The columns are reinforced concrete molded by metal bins with the molds being kept after the concrete has dried.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Barai at the Hyatt Regency in Hua Hin

"Designed by the renowned Thai architect and interior designer, Mr. Lek Bunnag, THE BARAI is inspired by the Khmer cultural heritage. The architecture and interior design of THE BARAI represents the glory of the Khmer style of art, combined with the heritage of other art styles from this region."

So the official blurb goes. Well it's hard to tell whether the architect or the photographer is a genius. Certainly the colour scheme using the plums and reds is very attractive and looks spectacular at sunset and sunrise.

There's a combination of styles at play here. The first corridor shot below has a David Lynch surreal quality with the series of receding doors. The crinkly effect walls are also strange. The architraves used are western and on second inspection not very good. Whereas the other corridor that imitates the shape of a Thai roof is inspirational. The floor lighting through holes that follow the same design motif is very clever.

The McFarland House is a more traditional structure employing the wall-less wooden style that 100% shows the materials of the build and the internal structure of the roof.

I doubt if it's worth staying in the place or getting a spa there but it shows that Thailand remains a breeding ground for architectural talent and the big bucks of globalisation can occasionally be employed in the service of beauty (as well as attracting big spenders).

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Monday, 6 April 2009

Balconies in Thailand

Balconies in Thai buildings are very important because Thailand has a very hot and humid climate. It is often preferable to be outside rather than in. It is a communal space where people gather to socialize, eat and drink. A stunning balcony can often be one of the main "tricks" of a house. It sells a certain life-style.

Balconies are found in a variety of places on a house. Traditionally the balcony is often on the front of the building, incorporated into the main entrance of the house. This works well because Thai houses are usually raised off the ground, thus providing elevation for the front balcony.

Naturally a balcony is an ideal way to make the most of a spectacular view.

Balustrading is an important way to add ornamental beauty to a balcony. Often the balustrading incorporates wooden seating. Another nice touch is to use potted plants on the balcony to bring a "natural" feel into the house. The floor of the balcony is normally tiled or wooden.

To create shade and protection from the sun a covered balcony is preferable.

In terms of modern tropical design, balconies and decking are important architectural features which can be used to break down the distinction between 'in door' and 'out door'. Thus creating an organic unity between the inside and outside of a building.

The first four pictures are of Sri Achala House in Koh Phangan. The designer has gone for the daring option of a curved balcony that wraps around the front of the villa to truly capitalize on the sea views, and create a unique look to the house. The pictures clearly show how folding glass doors leading onto the balcony can really 'open up' the indoor space and create an uninterrupted flow between the inside and out of the building.

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Sunday, 5 April 2009

Thai Architecture - Architraves

posted at Thai Architecture blogspot

The architrave is a moulded or ornamental band framing a rectangular opening, most commonly a door or a window.

In Thai Architecture it is often a key ornamental feature that gives a building a distinctive look. Often intricate wood carving is used.
In modern Thai architecture a combination of glass and wood is sometimes used. The distinctive sharp sweep of the architrave can imitate the sharp gradients of the roof to bring unity to the structure.