(1932-1942) Power Making – episode 3 (the supreme court)
The Supreme Court Complex
There was no such a thing as the Supreme Court in the old Thai monarch society. In 1891, an official department called ‘Ministry of Justice’ was set up in the Palace in the era of King Rama V. The Judicator Act of 1909 established the Supreme Court as the highest court in the country, it was the start where cases were no longer appealed to the king directly.
During the Siamese revolution of 1932, the Judicator Act of 1934 replaced the previous Judicator Act of 1909. The Supreme Court Buildings construction were commissioned by the People’s Party-led administration and the courts were divided into three levels, Court of Justice, Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court.
The complex situated on a national architectural heritage site in the urban fabric of Bangkok, which was the Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Positioned on the north of the Grand Place and beside the City Pillar Shrine and the Royal Field (Sanum Luang). It was clear that the People’s Party aimed to it has equal power to the former dominant authority as the site was literally in between the most prestige Royal locations. The People’s Party represents justice and equality, and by positioning the Supreme Court next to nationally important buildings, it sure sent out a strong message to the nation.
The complex was led by architect Phra Sarocharattanimmaan (Saroch Sukkayang), a chief architect from Fine Arts Department (FAD).
The whole complex of the Supreme Court featured was comprised of three sections, a ‘V shape’ in plan reading. The buildings were commenced at a different time but all were conceived in the modern materials: concert, steel, and glass.
The first to be constructed was the Court of Justice, sitting at the pivoting point in the V in 1939, opened on the 24th June 1941, the ninth anniversary of the 1932 revolution, it was the celebration of the sovereignty of Thai legislative body.
Figure 1, The Supreme Court Complex, Court of Court of Justice
Next, the Court of Appeals construction started in 1941 and completed in 1943, on the side of the Ku Muang Doem Canal.
Figure 2, The Supreme Court Complex, Court of Appeals
Last was the Supreme Court building, standing on the site of a former Court of Justice established by King Rama V.
Figure 3, The Supreme Court Complex, Supreme Court
Heavily influenced by modernism architectural trend in the West of that period. The traditional ‘Thainess’ was removed, wood replaced by concrete, layered roof replaced by steel and concrete flat slab. (see more in episode 2)
All 3 buildings were constructed of reinforced concrete structure and flat slab roof. They also shared symmetrical rectangular plans with entrance at the center with large pillars, a distinctive western influence.
However, the Supreme Court was a little different. The other two were in the typical simplicity style, but the Supreme Court was only one building which has simplified Thai decorative arts on its facade. By doing so a hierarchy was established between three, the Supreme Court was the most important and was built last.
“The simplified traditional Siamese lotus order in the front façade replaced classical Doric capitals at the entrance. These capitals stood for modern Thailand – a democratic and Western-oriented country that could preserve its own cultural heritage,” Koompong, author of ‘The Aesthetics of Power: Architecture, Modernity, and Identity from Siam to Thailand’.
The Supreme Court and the Court of Justice were demolished in 2013 and the Supreme Cort was replaced with one with ‘Thainess’. Despite the revolution, the monarchy regained power later and it has always played a significant part in the culture of Thailand. The simple modernism style was actually not very popular among the general public, they have considered the People’s Party’s buildings less important and many of them were being demolished today.
Koompong Noobanjong. ‘The Aesthetics of Power: Architecture, Modernity, and Identity from Siam to Thailand’, 2013.
Mikaela Kvan. ‘Concrete & Simplicity: The People’s Party’s Modernist Architecture’ (1932-1947)
‘Parinya Chukaew and Architectural Heritage in Thailand II’, June 2014.
Figure 1/2, 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.