Bangkok / When Water Becomes Concrete

Bangkok as a “non-western primate” city was subjected to a new era of European influential state, after the Rama V’s sent his descendants to Europe for education. When the Western ideology begin to replace and advance the city’s metabolism, water-based transportation were slowly degenerated and land-based railways and vehicles became the subordination.

The framework of city development had undergone massive changes through the recruitment of European architects and engineers, refashioning the streets into neoclassical imagery. The first road program was constructed with 120 new highways that spread along the canal channels, hoping to shift and replace the basis of transportation for the public. However, the land system did not embark an efficient and sustainable network for the country in stepping towards modernization, as the political and economic development could not follow the pace of transition, in aiding the extension of road network into the suburbs. This resulted in parallel urban practices of land and water for different social classes, with the public still relying on khlong as the basic commute tool. In the later ten years after the activation of land-based network, the city began to infill canals with permanent concrete highways in completing the Western modernization effect.

“The main urban typologies were grafted onto the pre-existing forms – erasing to varying degrees what existed previously. This “organic” growth juxtaposed contradictions, overlapping and grafting phenomenon defines and characterizes the localized modernity of the two cities.” (Sintusingha 2011, p4) The two defying systems became a conflict of ideologies in development, that leading to many physical dead-ends, when water meet the concrete boundaries. The khlongs were poured with foul sewage from the construction and land occupations, while the superblock concrete infrastructure created residual lands, that could not be facilitated as proper development. These fragmented land pieces soon swarmed with local lower classes, who relied on the nearby canal system to commute, while depending on these land settlements for habitation.

The traffic congestion in 1970 after land became the main transportation system.
The traffic congestion in 1970 after land became the main transportation system.

“Traffic congestion© 1970, Nationstate”

Settlements that benefited from the intricate land network, with the suburbans still relying on canal transportation.

“Bangkok Map© 1990, Thailandarchive”

Khlong in the 1930.

“Canal© 1930, Nationstate”



SINTUSINGHA. S & MIRGHOLAMI. M. (2011) Parallel modernization and self-colonization:Urban evolution and practices in Bangkok and Tehran. Elsevier. . p.1 – 9

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.