A first-time traveler usually expects to see stupas and traditional houses with unique roof when visiting Thailand. However, one would be surprised that the country has an abundant source of European architecture. How did the European colonial style building found their way into Thailand? To answer that, our staff interviewed a PhD candidate Supasai Vongkulbishal who is studying it.
Thailand has never been colonialized by the Europeans or any other country. Therefore, the country did not have any beginning or ending to the colonial era. However, the then-named Siam kingdom received Western influence, which contributed to some changes of the country’s modern identity.
Thailand’s position in Southeast Asia is considered unique since it was the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonialized by either French and British Empire. Thailand received its Europan/western influence when the sons of the Thai kings brought back Western technology from their study in the Western countries. The western influence also came into Thailand since Thai kings hired some Westerners to work on architectural projects.
The western influence did not only affect the architecture, but also the mindset of the people. For instance, the pre-modern Siam people saw that having a depiction of the King’s physical appearance in any medium is considered taboo. It all changed when King Rama IV realized the importance of royal portraiture in mid-nineteenth century. The king commissioned paintings, sculpture, and photographic imageries of him. Ever since, European artist had been commissioned to draw or develop portraits of Siamese Kings. The royalties were no longer consider having their physical appearance displayed as a taboo. Hence, according to a study, it helped the monarchy in building a better public image 1.
Two notable colonial style architecture that played an important role in the world-wide imperialism era were Rajchadamneon road which was built by King Rama V to resemble Cham Elysee, and the Throne Hall Anantasamkhom which were commissioned by the same King. These two structures were among the first colonial style architecture that were built in Thailand. There had been many other western style architecture built since the rule of King Rama V. Some of the buildings are still standing today since they were designated as historical sites by the government. One might think these “colonial” style buildings are unique, since they are usually found in a country that was once colonized.
- Peleggi, M. Purveyors of modernity? Europeans artists and architects in turn-of-the-century Siam. Asia Europe Journal 1, 91–101 (2003).