Bangkok (1932-1942) / 1.3 Shaping of Public Space by the Monarch
In previous posts, the political system in Siam and the development of the Ratchadamnoen Avenue before 1932 were detailedly discussed, which this post would further explain the relationship between the two. The main issue would be how the western influence and the absolute monarchy contributed to the urban development in Siam, with Siam being the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized.
Before 1932, Siam’s economy started to develop, which the country had more ties to the world trading system and contact with the western countries. People would have more opportunities to get in touch with the western idealogy, which could be shown in the aspect of urban planning as well, especially in the case of building the Ratchadamnoen Avenue. The European and American traders who were staying in Siam for economic purpose increased gradually. They have a certain degree of influence on the transformation of Siam, including through the state’s policy and the direction of city development, because they were strongly connected to the economic development of the country. These merchants required the government to give support to their business. Also, the land use and development were also affected. In order to meet the global standard of modern development, the Siamese king needed to adapt to his modern status after the European monarchies. He had to develop Siam in the same pace as other foreign countries so as to gain recognition from the West as an individual sovereignty. Therefore, Siam could avoid being a colony of other countries. Also, he had to maintain his authority to his people. It was said that modernization was a demonstration to the West, rather than really an improvement of life to the citizens.
Regarding the land ownership, the absolute monarchy system explained why the king would have most control of the land in Siam, which he could easily launch large-scale development project. According to the Siamese kingship concept, all the land belonged to the monarch, as expressed in the title of the king – Phrachao Phaendin (Lord of Land). The land could be inherited to later generations of the same family. Therefore, the noble population would have the most land ownership in the country. They would build new palaces or residences for their children on their lands in the city area. It symbolized the dominance of the royals and the nobles in the social position. They had a key role in the urban development in Siam.
Moreover, the urban development could be the king’s wider political strategy to showcase his power to the public and other countries.During the reign of Rama IV, he constructed new roads and rows of buildings to boost economic and commercial development. The business area could be extended to the south of Bangkok from the city centre. This was the time when modernization started to develop with the improved transport network and technology.
Royal Ground, Ratchadamnoen Avenue, and Royal Plaza are the earliest urban spaces in Bangkok with western characteristics. These constructions were carried out under one same absolute ruler. For Ratchadamnoen Avenue, it was inspired by the avenues in Europe. It was called ‘Ratchadamnoen’ because it represented ‘King’s walk’, which related the avenue between the monarch and the urban form. It represented the significant position of the king as well as emphasized the importance of the avenue to the whole Thailand. It was an integration of western design in the local environment. The geometric form was put into the non-systematic existing plan. The fusion of foreign and local characteristics created a hybridity in the use and design of the avenue. The king wanted to have a modern avenue in Bangkok, which could be compared to the ones in other civilized cities. It helped promote the modern image of the king and the city.
Navapan, Nattika. “Absolute monarchy and the development of Bangkoks urban spaces.” Planning Perspectives 29, no. 1 (2013): 1-24. doi:10.1080/02665433.2013.802125.