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.