(1932- 1942) Power Making – episode 1 (monumental)
The absolute monarchy of Thailand was overthrown by The People’s Party from 1932 to 1957. This is the Siamese Revolution. The People’s Party regarded their era as the new beginning of time and they sought distinguishment from the monarchy through built artifacts.
In this series, we will be looking into significant artifacts and explore through the ‘5 W’s’ (what, where, when, whom and why).
The journey of authority-making usually follows a logical pattern, it has been demonstrated many times in history worldwide. Firstly, the ‘new power’ takeover or destroy the previous symbolical artifact or architecture, ranging from statues to palaces.
The People’s Party established the constitutional administration in 1932, then completed an independence treaty with sovereignty foreign power in 1937. Meanwhile, The People’s Party had been preparing, in coming few years, the Ratchadamnoen Avenue was rewritten completely. Most of the drastic redevelopments were done between 1939 to 1944.
Ratchadamnoen Avenue is originally known as the Rajadamnern Boulevard, constructed from 1899 to 1903 by the King Chulalongkorn. It was in French because the Champs-Élysées and other European boulevards were the inspiration behind. The Avenue is the artery of Bangkok basically, it was the route where the King and grand royal parades would match down.
It was the meaning of the place that made it special, the avenue was the perfect stage to showcase collective identity throughout history.
Figure 1 (24th, June 1940)
The Statue of Democracy opening ceremony was held on the National day of 1940 (24th of June).
Many buildings were demolished on the avenue. Like the avenue, the democracy monument was equivalent to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Designed by architect Maeo Aphaiyawong, who was a leading figure in the Phibun’s government, then made by a Thai citizen Italian sculptor, Corrado Feroci.
Figure 2 (1940)
In the center was the three meters tall round turret, two golden offering bowls sat on top and held the palm-leaf manuscript box with the Thai Constitution of 1932. There were six gates on the turret, each gate represented the entry of six essential policies in the Phibun regime. These six essential policies were independence, internal peace, equality, freedom, economy, and education.
Figure 3, The Two Golden Offering Bowls
The round turret also represented June and the time of the revolution (24th of June, 1932) was marked on the radius of the base. 75 small cannons positioned at the outer perimeter of the monument, as the year 1932 is the year 2475 in the Buddhist calendar.
Four twenty-four meters tall wing-like artifacts were built around the perimeter, each wing represented Thai military sectors that participate in the revolution. There were the army, navy, air force and the police, guarding the turret symbolically. The two wings facing the street were built with a small fountain each, protective snake creatures from Hindu and Buddhist mythology were carved on marbles.
The idealism of “Soldiers Fighting for Democracy” and “Personification of Balance and Good Life” were engraved on the marble panels. The whole scenario intertwined military, religion and its people and suggested that the victory of democracy is the result of Thai as a unified union. And of course, the monarchy was not included.
The People’s Party built the statue to tribute to their achievement more than in tribute to its people. The motive and the messages of the statue was sort of propagandistic.
The original avenue was demolished for redevelopment but the royal and religious architectures were excluded. It caused upset to locals as they were evicted from their homes and businesses with short notices. Although it was all about overthrowing the absolute monarchy, the Thai still considered the royal architecture important and being preserved.
The Statue of Democracy located at the heart of Ratchadamnoen Avenue and aligned at the front the Temple of the Golden Mount. A common strategy in Asia, where all the significant monument or architecture form some sort of central axis at a site scale. For example, Forbidden City in Beijing, temples in Japan.
Sirikiatikul, Pinai. “Remaking Modern Bangkok: Urban Renewal on Rajadamnern Boulevard, 1932-1957.” Accessed 2013.
Figure 1, 24th June 1940. National Archive, Bangkok. P.003 NA (O) 1-4
Figure 2, Mikaela Kvan. Concrete & Simplicity: The People’s Party’s Modernist Architecture (1932-1947)
Figure 3, Koompong Noobanjong. ‘The Aesthetics of Power: Architecture, Modernity, and Identity from Siam to Thailand’, 2013.