The colonial buildings in most Southeast Asian countries are often a reminder of less-than-great moments in history.
The French Ambassador’s residence will be open to the public this Sunday.
But it is different for Thailand. The well-blended cityscape of modern high-rises and European architectural heritage has happened by choice.
A total of 64 sites with European architectural heritage have been listed in "European Heritage Map of Bangkok and Ayutthaya", which was launched last week in Bangkok. Luc Citrinot, project manager and researcher at Talisman Media, spoke about Thailand's distinctive approach to colonial-style buildings after the launch.
"It was a big difference. The King [Rama V] deliberately commissioned Europeans to move and work in Siam," he said.
The expat, who has been living in Thailand for more than a decade, spent the past 18 months undertaking extensive research on European heritage for the map.
The commissioned works by architects, designers, and artists from different European countries made Bangkok's cityscape unique.
The researcher explained that in colonised countries, the architectural heritage was designed and produced by one nation: Vietnam and Laos by France, or Malaysia and Myanmar by Britain.
Santa Cruz Church in Thon Buri.
But Thailand has inherited a mix of European influences, including Italian, German, and French design, Portuguese churches and British engineering skills.
Of the architecture listed on the map, 59 sites are in Bangkok and four are in Ayutthaya.
They are scattered around districts including Bang Rak, Sathon, Phra Nakhon and Thon Buri. Some are private properties, but many can be accessed. There are more than 100 sites designed and built by the European architects, and several more with European influence that could have been mapped.
But Citrinot said many had to be excluded from the list because they are not visible from the outside. For example, Ambara Villa near Dusit features Italian architecture but had to be excluded because it's hidden behind big trees and high walls.
These buildings have always been overlooked by the government because European architecture has never been considered part of Thai culture, although it's a part of the country's history, he said. That has meant quite a few European-style buildings have been neglected over time.
Located by the Chao Phraya River near the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, the Custom House building has never been cared for. The building was the first stop when King Chulalongkorn arrived after long trips overseas. The building can be accessed and viewed from the outside only.
"Do they [the government] wait for the building to collapse?" Citrinot asked.
Such buildings with character could be turned into museums, fashion houses or galleries.
Other venues open to the public include Holy Rosary Church, Phaya Thai Palace, Hua Lampong Railway Station and Siam Commercial Bank (Talad Noi branch) in Yaowarat and Pathumwan; Assumption Cathedral in Bang Rak; Museum of Siam and Memorial Bridge in Phra Nakhon; and former Thon Buri Railway Station and Santa Cruz Church in Thon Buri. The map indicates whether the venue is visible or open to public.
The map will not only show how Siam was so modern and progressive at the time, he said, but also alternative routes to lesser-known places for tourists who seek a side of Bangkok other than shopping malls and conventional Thai architecture.
The project was a joint initiative of embassies in Europe with support from the Delegation of the European Union. The map will be presented to Bangkok governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra on Sunday at the annual open house of the French Ambassador's residence on Rue de Brest. It will be available for free at selected cultural and tourist venues, and embassies of European countries in Bangkok from Sept 16.
The French Ambassador's residence will be open to the public on Sunday, from 10am to 5pm. The residence is located at 35 Charoen Krung 36 Road, Bang Rak, Bangkok.
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- Writer: Sirinya Wattanasukchai