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
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
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.