Bangkok (1932-1942) /3.3 The Transformation of Ratchadamnoen Boulevard in 1939-1941 Led by the State

With the rising power of Phibun (his regime from 1938-1944), who intended to destroy monarchy completely, the tendency to reduce the authority of the monarchy directly influenced the architecture and urban planning afterwards. Modern architecture was used as to turn against the monarchy to throw out ornaments and motif. For People’s Party, architecture without ornaments could represent equality or a classless society1. In this way, the harmonious scheme on Ratchadamnoen Boulevard in 1937 was soon replaced completely by a more radical plan of what were built in 1941. To understand why there was a sudden change, we could return to the political achievements the People’s Party made (refer to post 3.1), which inspired us to rethink what the essence of their intentions are and what this boulevard really meant to them. To strengthen the power of the state led the sudden change of the urban renewal project and affected the boulevard to become what it was built in 1941.

Apart from the political changes during that period, there are other reasons for the transformation of Ratchadamnoen. First of all, the whole urban renewal project took place against awareness of the risk of the war. After laying the foundation stone of Democracy Monument, the new proposal for the Central Ratchadamnoen Boulevard had not been approved yet for there were people worrying about the uncertain international situation and its potential impact on Thailand1. However, Pridi Phanomyong, director of the Crown Property Bureau, argued for the redevelopment project owing to the potential financial benefits it could bring to all the people. The Crown Property Bureau would cover the expenses and the project itself could provide job opportunities and living properties to ordinary people. In return, the Bureau could make profits out of the rent fees. In this way, this project was no longer only about urban renewal but also part of the economic reforms, which successfully persuaded the Parliament to approve the reconstruction in 19392.

As for architects, the People’s Party tended to choose local people who had been trained abroad instead of people with rich experience in designing traditional buildings. Miow Aphaiwongs, who used to be trained in Ecole des Beaux Arts, was selected as a leading architect of the whole urban renewal on Ratchadamnoen Boulevard. Young when commissioned, he was involved in rumor that he got the job mainly because of his direct personal connection with Phibun, the Prime Minister and other key members of the People’s Party dating back to their students’ days in Paris. Unlike his other works designed before the boulevard, there is lack of evidence about what he actually designed for the boulevard. Most of the readings we could find nowadays are about the Democracy Monument on the boulevard which is believed by another local architect, Pum Malakul, and an Italian artisit Corrado Ferroci. As for other buildings along the street, little discussion could be found except they were designed in Neo-Plastic style3.

Although the lack of discussion about the change of the boulevard during this period may have been due to the lack of direct evidence, we could still draw some conclusions from the process of the decision making. With the People’s Party’ s absolute power in government, they started to control every aspect of this renewal project from the architects to the funding in order to achieve their political purpose, visualizing the constitutional power as much as possible.

 

References

  1. Sirikiatikul, Pinai. Remaking modern Bangkok: Urban renewal on Rajadamnern Boulevard, 1932-1957. University of London, University College London (United Kingdom), 2007.
  2. National Archieve, Bangkok. Ngor 3. SR. 2481[1938]/28: Annual Cabinet Meeting of October 3nd, 1939.
  3. Horayangkura, Vimolsiddhi. Development of Contemporary Thai Architecture: Past, Present and Future. Bangkok: Architectural Association Thailand, 1993. P.51.

 

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