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.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Practical Considerations for House Design in Thailand

The best architecture is grounded in practicality. It is no use a building looking beautiful if it quickly disintegrates, becomes uninhabitable, infested or otherwise damaged. The challenge of Thai architecture is a lot to do with dealing with the extreme climatic conditions and the problems this throws up for building construction and maintenance.


Much of Thailand is in a tropical area that is hot and humid and subject to lots of rain. Moreover, the country experiences a yearly monsoon or wet season when water levels rise quickly. This has had a big impact on Thai architecture. Traditionally, many Thai homes are built on stilts, firstly made of wood and latterly made of concrete. Raising the floor level off the ground protects the house from flooding.

The steep roof is a common sight in Thai architecture. The multi-layered steep roof is one of the defining aspects of traditional Thai architecture, especially on temples or wats. The reason for the steep roof is that the rain runs off quicker and so has less chance of seeping through the tiling and damaging the inside of a building. Rain seepage can eventually lead to ceilings collapsing. Nowadays, gutters are a ‘must’ for a lot of building design because water runoff will leave a stain down the side of a house.


The most common color for houses is white. This is connected to the last point: water run-off stains walls; as does car fumes, mold and animals. If you paint a house in a non-white color the patch that has been most recently re-painted will look a different color to the rest of the house. With white this is not the case. When white paint dries it looks the same as the rest of the white paint.


One of the great natural resources that Thailand has is wood. There are plenty of hardwoods (including teak and other expensive hardwoods) that can be used for building construction and interior design. Wood looks much better than concrete or tiles. The only problem with wood is that it is food for a number of insects that are indigenous to Thailand. If your new home or holiday villa in Thailand is near a jungle then you have to apply several layers of varnish and sealant to protect the wood from insects. If the wood gets infested you need to spray can after can of insecticide into the wood to kill the wood-eating insects. Wood needs constant maintenance.


Often a Thai holiday villa is near a beach or is perched on a hill to gain a sea view. To make the most of the beautiful natural scenery it is tempting to install lots of windows or floor to ceiling windows. It makes an attractive selling point to the house. However, there are two major drawbacks. Firstly, solar gain means that the sun coming through the windows can make a room very hot. This drives up air-con bills. Secondly, the more windows means the more cleaning. And if the window frames are made of wood (as they normally are) then more maintenance is required to stop the wood cracking, warping or being eaten by insects.


A friend recently completed building a holiday villa in Thong Nai Pan. He bought turf for the garden. The grass didn’t seem to grow but lots of pretty butterflies could be seen flitting over the dying grass. It took him a couple of days to discover that the grass had been grown in seaweed, and that butterflies had laid their eggs in the sea weed. He eventually solved the problem, but it was a proverbial pain  for him at the time.

Having a lawn is high maintenance in Thailand. Local grasses grow quicker, as does tropical vegetation. Without constant weeding a lawn can soon be overrun with local plants. Traditional Thai gardens often do not use large expanses of grass or turf.

These are just a few important ways in which the Thai climate, weather and flora and fauna affect Thai architecture, and how you should design as house in Thailand with these factors in mind.