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.