Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Unusual Hotels in Thailand

The Good

CC’s Hideaway in Phuket is a 4 star hotel with a unique design. The architect has made something more than just a rectangular accommodation block with a pool in the grounds. Instead the effect is open space. The yellow building has a series of open holes inviting light in at the front. At the back only the bare bones have been kept so that there is a seamless cross over from inside to outside. Most impressive is the massive curved awning on top of the building. This large space has a wooden floor and serves as a viewing deck for the ocean as well as a place to do yoga. Rooms feature original art work and the restaurant and bar both have a strong colour motif. This is not the final word in luxury but it is a pleasure to stay at CC’s Hideaway

The Average

Rin Beach Resort is a 3 star resort near the famous Haad Rin Nai Beach, venue for the famous Full Moon Party. The resort has a pool with accommodation set around the pool as well as a restaurant and bar. The stand out feature of the resort, however, is the boat house option. This is a line of ersatz boats set in a shallow pool. They are rooms. Inside each boat house is a room with rich wooden interiors curved as the ship’s hull. They are fairly spacious and some feature an indoor Jacuzzi. The roof of the boat house works as a private sunroof. The quality of the boat houses makes them more than just architectural gimmicks. They add something to the resort and to Haad Rin which despite its fame and large cash flow fails in the most part to dazzle in terms of hotel design. The idea is not new however, as the Imperial Boat House in Koh Samui also has boat shaped rooms around a boat-shaped pool.

The Ridiculous

From the average to the downright ridiculous is Baanphasawan, near the Myanmar border. The resort is the brainchild of a major fruit enthusiast. The 80 acre site has over 100 varieties of fruit under cultivation. The rooms are bungalows in the shape of fruits. It looks daft and the builds are not high quality. They look like giant carnival float pieces made of something I hope more than paper Mache.

The Green

Casa de La Flora is on the beach at Khao Lak. It is near the main market area of Bang Niang. This is a modernist eco hotel. The rooms are long and beach facing. The roofs feature immaculate strips of lawn. This is complimented by a large strip of grass leading down to the pool with sea views. The ‘green roofs’ make good sense in Thailand as they help to keep the temperature down inside the rooms. The benefit is that fewer resources are needed to be spent on air-con. This makes the carbon footprint for running hotel lower. From an architectural point of view, the only disappointment with the rooms is that they are essentially long concrete tubes with grass on top. They look cramped and lacking in complexity. From an aerial view they look like long bunkers with golf greens on top. However, they are unique.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Train Station Architecture in Thailand

Train stations represent towns and cities. They represent a centre, a hub. Often they demonstrate civic pride. In many cases rail stations are well funded building projects used to set the architectural tone of an area.  Famous architects have built memorable train stations. With this in mind, what do Thailand’s train stations have to tell us about Thai culture?

Hua Lamphong Train Station

Hua Lamphong Station (opened June, 1916) is the most important train station in Thailand. It was designed by Mario Tamagno, an Italian architect and lecturer who won a 25 year contract from King Chulalongkorn. Mario Tamagno was influenced by Italianate or Neo-Renaissance style. He also combined elements of the baroque in his work. While the central arch that runs through the building is very much in the vogue of train stations at the time, he added ornate buildings to the side, along with columns. There is a certain grandeur to the building but the style which harks back to 15th Century Italy might not be the obvious choice for a train station in Bangkok.

Perhaps since steam power was a Western innovation, along with mechanised industrialisation (and indeed train station design) it was felt that the train station should reflect this – a new, grand departure for Thailand.

Mario Tamagno also designed Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, Makkhawan Rangsan Bridge, Nongkhran Samoson Hall in Suan Sunanda Palace, and the Oriental Hotel. He often collaborated with Annibale Rigotti.

Nakhon Lampang Station

In contrast Nakhon Lampang Railway Station (opened circa 1915) displays a mix of Northern Thai and European architecture styles. It is 600 kilometres north of Bangkok Train station. The main train station building has European arches on the ground floor and then a second floor with ornately designed windows and doors more in a Thai style. The roof has two tiers with a gap for ventilation that is also Thai. In 1993 the train station won the Association of Siamese Architects' Architectural Conservation Award.

Hua Hin Train Station

Hua Hin Train Station is often called ‘Thailand's most beautiful train station’. The wooden building was previously a royal pavilion in Sanamchan Palace, Nakhon Pathom Province. It was rebuilt at Hua Hin in 1968.

The main building on the platform is the small wooden pavilion. It is built in classic Thai style. The red and yellow of the pavilion is repeated in the platform awning and columns.

Phitchit Train Station

Phitchit Train Station was also built in the reign of King Chulalongkorn. It is a small square building (not a long one hugging the line) that is in a Neo-Classical style. It is a solid white building with large shuttered windows on the second floor and arches on the bottom floor.

These four buildings are the more eye-catching stations in Thailand. They reveal two themes. One is that there were no restrictions on building style when many stations were built. The other is that train station design was influenced by the King.

The royal connection with train stations in Thailand is obvious. Not only was the King often the driving force for infrastructure improvements to the realm but also his arrival at the city was often a cause for the building of a monumental train station. Other stations that he didn’t visit in a public capacity at the start of the rail age in Thailand didn’t receive the same attention or funding.


Friday, 10 April 2015

Stupa and Chedi

In Thailand the terms stupa and chedi are interchangeable. They refer to the mound shape found in many Buddhist buildings. They are one of the core designs of Thai Buddhist architecture.

A stupa or chedi looks like a cup upside. Indeed there is a story that the original Buddha’s disciples asked their master what sort of monument they should build for his dead body. The Buddha folded a cloth into a square and placed his begging bowl on top to demonstrate what he wanted.

This story is relevant because historians believe that the first stupas in India were originally burial mounds. This aspect of stupas is retained in a sense that a stupa is meant to contain relics from Buddhist saints, although some modern stupas are just symbolic and don’t contain any relics.

Stupas are believed to have derived from burial bounds pre-dating Buddhism. Indeed the word ‘stupa’ derives from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘to pile up’. The stupa was adopted as a key element to Buddhist temple architecture in India. And from India the stupa (along with Buddhism) was exported all over Asia including Thailand.

The symbolism involved in the Buddhist stupa is complex:
  1. The square base is the head of the Buddha
  2. The hemisphere is the Buddha’s body
  3. The top of the spire coming out of the mound is his crown
  4. The base is his throne
  5. The steps below are his legs.
The totality represents the Buddha meditating in lotus position on his lion throne.

Famous Stupa in Thailand

  • Phra Pathommachedi – Nakhon Pathom. Tallest stupa in the world
  • Phra Boromathat Chaiya – Chaiya in Suratthani Province
  • Wat Arun – Bangkok. Also a representation of Mount Meru
  • Wat Yai Chai Mongkon – Ayutthaya. UNESCO site
The image above shows the 8 different styles of stupa. This gives you a clue to the added significance different designs in stupa have. This picture is based on Tibetan sources but could just as well apply to Thai stupas.

Resources: Wikipedia entry about Stupas

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Tree Houses in Thailand

It is curious that although Thais frequently build their homes on stilts they rarely build houses or bungalows in trees. The tree house is an imported idea that is slowly gaining traction in Thailand. It is sometimes broadly interpreted as a building among trees or a roof top room exposed to the elements. Here are a few versions of tree houses in Thailand.

Bangkok Tree House

This is a serious attempt at an environmentally friendly hotel in Bangkok. It is next to the river in an area with plenty of trees. The hotel offers various high build rooms including this one with great views and a bed on a viewing platform. It epitomises the indoor / outdoor concept that came to the fore of Thai design in the early 2000s mostly connected to luxury villa and hotel architecture.

Khao Sok Tree House

This is a resort set near the National Park of Khao Sok. It is a staging post for safaris in the park. It gives guests the chance to be in a jungle environment. The rooms are bungalows that are on stilts. They are not built in the cradle of a branch but are surrounded by plenty of trees. The resort does well to combine luxuries such as a swimming pool with a forest situation.

Rabeang Pasak Treehouse Resort

This resort is on the edge of Chiang Mai City. It is in a great sylvan location. Longan House is a well-constructed tree house. The main room is built around a tree trunk at elevation. The structure is extended with steps and a walk way to a smaller room near ground level.

Charm Beach Resort

On the popular party beach of Baan Tai you can find one ‘luxury’ tree house. It is built in a tree on the beach. It has TV, air-con and the resort promises room service. It is a bungalow in a tree essentially. It fits very well into the traditional Koh Phangan style of using natural and locally sourced materials for building.

Sunrise Villa

On the same island is Sunrise Villa. It is a modern 3 bedroom private villa. The hillside location means that there is a large distance between the wrap around balcony and the steep hill below. The panoramic sea views and the height give the impression of being in a tree house.

Koh Phayam

Koh Phayam is a small island off the coast from Ranong on the Andaman coast. It is very under-developed, in many ways like Koh Phangan was 30 years ago. The main beach had a bar with lots of funky seating including this basic tree house. The platform is made from bamboo and the steps are just bits of wood nailed to the tree. It is simplicity itself.