Over the last 20 years or so there has been a growing insurgence of the term ‘Vernacular Architecture’ within the architectural community. Due to our collective knowledge of the the finite resources left on this planet, we (the world population) have come to a realisation that using locally sourced materials to create vernacular architecture, which in turn reduce the Carbon Footprint of a build, is in the forefront of most Architects and designers minds of late.
Thailand once had a rich history of vernacular architecture with every home and work space being designed using traditional techniques, carving the homes out of locally sourced timber, that was strong enough and resilient enough to stand what can be a very damp and termite filled environment. Since the introduction of concrete from the West around 70 years ago, almost over night the idea of producing this rich tapestry of vernacular architecture was tossed unceremoniously out of the window, and replaced with these uninspiring, tedious, and most of all, dangerous concrete monstrosities.
If you are to live in Thailand long enough, you will realise that the education and infrastructure put into the building industry is lacking severely. Simple practices such as using vibrators to knock out air pockets in the concrete structures that can be 10 stories tall in Chiang Mai alone are seldom, if at all, used. Due to everybody in Thailand wanting to have the biggest house with the smallest price, the Thai Yais (Mountain people) are employed, who for the most part are poorly educated, if educated at all.
In any case, I digress. As I was saying, over the last 70 years the character has been sucked out of the cities in Thailand due to the ever growing popularity of concrete. It was not until last weekend that Stubley Studio was invited to a BBQ on the outskirts of Chiang Mai that we got to witness true Thai Vernacular architecture at its very best.
Nothing could be seen from the road side as the land the property it sat on was blanketed in forest. As we drove down the dirt road, only wide enough for one car at a time, slowly out of the trees rose various timber buildings, as if commanding the area, sitting proudly upon a thrown watching over their land! There are of course some similarities with modern adaptations of the Thai Vernacular, with each house raised 4 metres in the air atop these great solid columns of wood. Extra care given as they flattened on 8 sides, so in section would be octagons.
There must have been around 6 of these magnificent timber homes, all constructed using Thai traditional techniques. Stepping out of the car we had to first climb an outdoor staircase which led us onto the veranda of the first home. The verandas of the the first property and the second had a connecting walkway. It was grand, luxurious even, giving the feeling of power, allowing the owner and guest to pervey their territory on which they stand completely. The verandas wrapped the building, very similar to the Queenslanders that farmers in, funnily enough, Queensland have.
The people that built these properties were definitely master builders. The joinery was exceptional, skilled, a wonder to behold. What’s more is that these properties were only built 20 years ago, or so the owner had said. I for one had no idea this type of building was still in production and thought the knowledge and understanding to create architecture in this manner had long since been lost.
We spent most of our time on the veranda, and the rest of the time walking round the grounds as they had loads of fruit and wanted to offer some to the guests, which we happily accepted! Even though we didn’t go inside the building, as my partners family have a Thai traditional home in Lopburi, I was sure that the space inside would be fairly open, if one entire space.
After walking around and spending time here all day, Stubley Studio would love to make a movement in Chiang Mai; reinvigorate the Thai vernacular style. However, due to the climate, and Stubley Studio’s understanding of architecture, we would finess the design to incorporate insulation and other measures to ensure the architecture be brought into the 21st Century without losing any of the charm and feelings that this architecture carries.