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 Home > About Thailand > The Arts > Architecture


Admitting Indian, Khmer, and other external influences, Thai Buddhist architects developed their own distinctive styles of soaring multitiered rooftops and towering spires straining toward the sky. Harmoniously combining two apparently paradoxical elements, flamboyancy and serenity, the style perfectly mirrors the Thai soul. Although most early Thai buildings were made of wood and have long since disappeared, taking with them the architectural principals according to which they were built, a developmental history of Thai architecture can still be traced through surviving stone temples.

Early Sukhothai monuments were strongly Khmer-influenced. In the Khmer manner, sandstone was used to form door parts, lintels, and rectangular windows. Around the 12th century, brick replaced sandstone as the favoured building material. Bricks were carefully laid without mortar, bound with vegetable glue, and then sheathed in carved stone. Later, architects used stucco, a sand, lime, and glue mixture strengthened by a terra cotta armature, to cover the brick walls. In the heavily forested north, wood was employed in temple construction and craftsmen attained great skill in carving decorative elements.

Chinese influence can also be seen in ornamental decoration, particularly the use of porcelain fragments in various colours and adornments that afford the finest Thai architecture its harmonious, polychromatic effect. This art reached its highest expression during the first half of the 19th century.

Materials such as glass mosaic pieces highlighted gables and pillars , as well as wooden and stucco figures, and other decorative techni ques utilized lacquer, gilt, mother-of-pearl inlay, gold leaf, and porcelain fragments to obtain the desired effect of gleaming elegance.

Spires of Thai Buddhist architecture soaring side by side within the compound of Wat Phra Kaeo.

The most spectacular Buddhist architecture is to be seen at Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) which contains more exquisite carving and decoration per square centimetre than any comparable site in the world. Within the temple compound, almost every surface is covered with inspired decoration. Incorporating so many colours and materials, the complex is a near psychedelic yet unified mixture of multitiered ochre, blue, orange, and green tiled roofs, towering fanged dragons staring at a golden Ayutthaya-style chedi, marble prangs, priceless mother-of pearl inlaid doors, bronze lions, gilt Garudas, Chinese statuary, and tiny tink ling bronze wind bells suspended from scarlet and gold lacquered eaves and is, above all, the Thai ideal of a skillfully-arranged complex imparting reverence and serenity.

Bangkok's Wat Benchamabophit (the Marble Temple) is renowned as the most impressive example of modern Thai Buddhist architecture. Built in 1899 by King Chulalongkorn, the temple is constructed of white Italian marble and surmounted by multitiered orange tiled roofs.

In addition to religious structures, a distinctive Thai style of domestic architecture also evolved, employing prefabricated panels hung on a framework of stout pillars and using wooden pegs instead of nails for joining. Various forms developed in different regions of the country, perhaps the best known being the central plain style with its steep roofs, decoratively carved bargeboards, and slightly inward-leaning walls that give it a memorable sense of elegant grace.

Traditional Thai architecture declined around 1900 when buildings were increasingly in European styles. Old-style craftsmen and builders who worked on temples, palaces, and traditional homes found that prevailing tastes required them to master Western techniques and construction of classic buildings almost ceased, especially in the capital. From the late 1940's European influence grew rapidly and local architects enthusiastically embraced the concepts of such Western pioneers as Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van der Rohe.

Skyscrapers are rapidly becoming a familiar sight in major cities of Thailand, especially Bangkok.

Like other forms of art in the early 1990's, Thai architecture hasi been revolutionized by new industrial materials and by the example of the pure functionalism of machines. Modern Thai architects seem to be guided by Western principles of structure, plan, and functionalism, so that their works resemble those tobe seen in any large city of the world, reflecting not only individual taste but also such matters as zoning regulations, ecology, and energy consumption.

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