Thursday, October 16, 2008

Heierarchy of Space

These images are from a photo-collection entitled "Vanishing Bangkok." I just wanted to write a little bit on the heierarchy of space in Thai buildings. We spoke about the way in which this mirrors Thai society in your experience with the printing house---that the manager is supposed to be above her subordinates literally as well as figuratively. (though it seems this is not a hard and fast rule, as I have inquired of my husband from which floors the dean of engineering and the university president preside, and neither is at the top. Perhaps because of heat-accumulation!)
But anyway, another way in which ordering of spaces is significant--and common throughout the kingdom is in the transition from public to private space. Similar to the need for a gradient of light from the outdoors to indoors, Thai buildings seem to begin by being very open to the outsider, and then become increasingly more intimate. It can be seen in the procession of ground space-stairs-gate-verandah in traditional houses, or in the movement from central meeting space to covered walkway to classroom in schools. The place where it is most clearly seen is in the shophouse (a legacy from Chinese immigrants.) Most have completely open fronts facing a public street (though that is changing now with the prevalence of air-conditioning in shops) that serve as both buisiness and personal one moves back into the building, it becomes more and more family space...with the kitchen in the very back, and stairs leading to family sleeping space. The way in which the public and private lives of families share the same space/objects seems liberating...and there are still boundaries in place that preserve privacy.

1 comment:

David Gould said...

Hi Valerie,
I like these conversations!- and appreciate your thoughts on space hierarchies. A closely related pattern is 'privacy gradient'- which you see in vernacular houses throughout SE Asia- certainly in Malay, Chinese, Khmer and Thai houses. There are privacy gradients from outside to inside; but also within buildings. Sometimes these coincide with separate zones for men and women, and different types of visitor. These can be expressed quite subtly- screens, slight changes of floor level etc. In modern buildings these things are often overlooked, and happen in an unintentional way. So large floor plates can create or reinforce privacy gradients. This is a challenge for CTS, I think- how to avoid the large floor plate between the entrance and upper levels becoming an unhelpful barrier. We need to punch holes through this floor plate, to be able to see up and down, as well as along, and to have frequent stairs and maybe ramps. Vertical spaces can help with air movement/cooling as well, but there may be issues with fire separation and added structural costs.