The South Pacific experience is well commodified for Australians and almost everyone knows someone who has been to Fiji. The cruise ships, friendly smiles and brilliant snorkeling have become synonymous with the South Pacific experience however, more recently, exploring Asia has become popular.

Countries such as Thailand  receive travellers who seek something more adventurous culturally, and not surprisingly, there is a demand for more information on design and lifestyles.

Robert Powell has published several books on the architecture of Asia, all of which have proved popular. The Modern Thai House is a recent book that contains examples of the ways in which modernity has influenced Thai homes. Accordingly, the weather plays a role in the design of the dwellings, as it does in the Pacific, but on an initial page turning journey through the book, there appears to be minimal visible influences from Thai culture. The rich carvings and detailing that is expected to reveal itself as vernacular quotations in some form or another, is simply not there. None-the-less the presence of modernity in the architecture is ubiquitous, in this publication anyway.

All of the 25 selected houses seem emptied of habitation, fecund vegetation is ever-present around the homes, but people are absent. I did notice a little dog in one photograph, but nothing else to spice up the uniformly clean, uncluttered photographs, all with great depth of field and nice lighting. It looks like the homes could be part of an exclusive gated-community. However the introduction makes it clear that there is another reason for this emptiness: nearly all the houses featured are second homes for affluent owners seeking an escape from the city of Bangkok.

Robert Powell makes this observation:

“Factored into the design there must be provision for maid space. Few of the houses in this book would be able to function without domestic staff. They must be accommodated in a manner that does not intrude into the privacy of the family, but simultaneously to be on hand to perform often intimate tasks. Domestic employees are paradoxically required to be present but invisible.”

So whilst the cleaners, cooks and gardeners have a life in the homes, they are represented in the book by just a few lines. Colonialism created structures of belonging that still persist in the Pacific and, according to this book, in Thailand too.

The Modern Thai House by Robert Powell is available in the Asia Pacific Design Library Collection, Level 2, State Library of Queensland. To borrow from the Design Collection, consider becoming an SLQ member.

References

The Modern Thai House

More about the author

Dr Charles Zuber

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