Bangkok (1932-1942) / 3.2 The Reality of Ratchadamnoen Boulevard in 1937-1941 and Debates afterwards
The morning of 24 June 1940 witnessed the opening of the Democracy Monument at the heart of Ratchadamnoen Boulevard marking the inauguration of Thailand as Constitutional Regime1. Ten multi-story apartment building blocks and modern buildings were planned to be built to replace all the existing properties on the Central Ratchadamnoen Boulevard, from Phan Bibhob-lila Bridge to Paan Fa-leelaat Bridge. After their completion one year later, the massive size and imposing facades of the group of apartment buildings concealed those low-rise traditional buildings at the back and created a completely different appearance of the former tree-lined artery2. Such huge contrast between the old and new buildings on Ratchadamnoen Boulevard indicated the whole was a result of a spurious unified design. In reality, the new scheme was nothing but a failure producing a utopian impression.
Fig.1The new space of the Central Ratchadamnoen Boulevard, photographed in 19463
Unlike anywhere else in Bangkok. the Central Ratchadamnoen Boulevard completely changed into new urban space in the form of new significant configuration around a pre-existing monument. The old tree-line urban fabrics planned in 1903 in the V Reign were replaced by a new layer indicating how much efforts the People’s Party put into transforming the old monarch’s monument into a symbol of the new power2. With the loss of meanings and memories of the boulevard, a series of subsequent debates among different parties of the society declared different identities through collective memory of certain monuments and places along the boulevard.
There was a statue of the constitution at the center of the Democracy Monument built by the People’s Party but later under the risk of being torn down by people supporting the royal. The royalists attempted to destroy all those symbols created by their opponents after the collapse of the People’s Party, because they thought monuments built by or for the monarch were much more significant and they were trying to remove all the remaking projects commissioned by the People’s Party during 1937-1941, which were designed in Western Style and neo-Thai Style without paying any attention to the royal and history2. The existence of the People’s Party in urban history served as an interruption of the continuity of the monarchical history with new urban forms and symbols. Therefore, the identities created by the People’s Party have been gradually replaced and transformed deliberately in favor of the monarchy. Due to political instability, the debate on how to redevelop the boulevard has always been a hot issue for different groups stand for different identities and intentions afterwards.
For the People’s Party, as what they declaimed that they represented the common people, they cared about welfare and freedom4, they turned their intentions into practice. They applied what they learned from the western to Thailand by adopting a series of revolution policies including this urban renewal project influenced by the western.
Under this special context, urban space is considered more as a stage set to establish and display collective identity by the new state and a physical symbol of certain political power. Particularly this boulevard has been demolished and rebuilt for several times during political change and recreational and social purposes of public places become less important. For the buildings, the façade and decoration became more important in that they can offer symbolic meanings to people, affect collective identities and memories of Thai people and thus achieve political intentions5. From understanding this boulevard at the center of Bangkok, people could start to speculate the political condition in the city.
- Mokarapong, Thawatt. History of the Thai Revolution: A Study in Political Behaviour. Bangkok:Chalermnit, 1972.
- Sirikiatikul, Pinai. Remaking modern Bangkok: Urban renewal on Rajadamnern Boulevard, 1932-1957. University of London, University College London (United Kingdom), 2007.
- National Archive, Bangkok. William Hunt Collection.
- The Bangkok Times Weekly Mail. June 26, 1939, p.2-9.
- Kobkua, Suwannathat-Plan. Thailand’s Durable Premier: Phibun through Three Decades, 1932-1957. Kuala Lumpur, Oxford U.P., 1995.