Bangkok (1890-1910)/ Imposition of the Western Urban Form: Segmented City
The form of city Bangkok undergone dramatic changes at the beginning of the 20th century due to its modernization and westernization process. The old sacred city was laid out and expanded in a concentric ring pattern around the city pillar, complying with the ancient cosmological concept (Rudiger, 1986) (fig.1). To accommodate the new functional zones and the changing demographic condition of a modern city, the urban spaced started to sprawl. As new developments were mostly conducted in the former suburban areas, the old fabric were preserved (fig.2). The new urban form is shaped simultaneously by the top-down planning strategy of the monarchy and by the bottom-up construction activities of different groups of citizens.
To the north of the old sacred city where used to be agricultural land, Rama V established the new political center, Dusit district. A clear gridiron plan is used in this area. New palaces were built around it in the suburban areas. The aristocracy were believed to be influenced by the western ideology that pursued a quiet and graceful living condition isolated from the urban congestions. The inner city inside the city walls was no longer living spaces for the monarchy but used as civic buildings or the living spaces for the urban poor (Askew, 2002).
To the south of the old sacred city along the river, new commercial center evolved from the pre-existing condition. It was traditionally the residential and trading cluster for the Chinese merchants. In the 1900s the increasing European population concentrated in the nearby neighborhoods for its convenient transportation and pleasant waterfront environment. The consular, foreign companies, banks, and European residential areas were built further south, detached from the congested Chinese community (Beek, 1999). Several straight roads formed the main fabric of the district (fig.3).
During the same period of time not much changes happened to the indigenous residential quarters of Thai people. The Thai residential areas were strung out along the many waterways where rows of older thatched dwellings persists and a few floating houses still cling to the banks of the river and principal creeks (Sternstein, 1976). In contrast with the living quarters of the higher classes, the living environment of ordinary people didn’t benefit much from the modernization process (fig.4).
The urban sprawl of Bangkok in 1900s was primarily driven by the western town planning view and ideology, i.e. the political center representing the national identity, the new suburban living quarters for the higher classes. The straight form of the new fabrics were in strong contrast with the old ones which were more organic. As Evers and Korff (2000) argued, instead of a symbiosis, there is a divorce between tradition and modernity in Bangkok. It is no longer a city with one structure and one center but several structures with differing centers emerged. We can hardly find any common characteristics in the different part of the city among different groups of people. Even though there might be social connections behind, the city in its physical sense was in a segmented condition with the western and modern form superimposed on the old sacred city.
Evers, H. & Korff, R. (2000). Southeast Asian Urbanism : the Meaning and Power of Social Space, New York : St. Martin’s Press.
Rudiger, K. (1986). Bangkok : Urban System and Everyday Life, Saarbrucken, Fort Lauderdale : Breitenbach
Sternstein, L. (1976). Thailand : the Environment of Modernisation, Auckland : McGraw-Hill
Beek, S. (1999). Bangkok Then and Now. Nonthaburi : AB Publications