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