Restoration of Bangkok building wins award

Restoration of Bangkok building wins award

Unesco recognises Neilson Hays Library as a site of cultural heritage

Restoration of Bangkok building  wins award
A reading room in Neilson Hays Library. Photo: RACHAPANT SUKRATTANACHAIKUL

The Neilson Hays Library in Bangkok has received an Award of Distinction at the Unesco Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

The jury's statement noted that: "The project sets a welcome benchmark for the restoration of early 20th-century buildings of Western architectural design in humid tropical environments."

The Neilson Hays Library was built in 1922 by Italian architect Mario Tamagno and is an enduring testament to the wave of modernisation that began in the reign of King Rama V. It represents Thailand's first community library, possibly the first English-language -- and most certainly the first women-led -- library in the Southeast Asia region. Since then, it has functioned continuously as an independent, community library and cultural centre in the heart of Bangkok.

Neilson Hays Library stands today not only as an icon on Bangkok's architectural map but as a testament to the layers of under-represented narratives that add texture and nuance to the history of Thailand.

Neilson Hays Library Association president Nalin Vanasin accepted the award, calling it "a labour of love by all who were involved" coming "together to dedicate themselves to both preserve a piece of history, and to propel their beloved library forward".

In particular, Vanasin thanked donors Boon Rawd Brewery, Sirivadhanabhakdi Foundation, the James H.W. Thompson Foundation, Siam Commercial Bank, Khun Soravij Bhirombhakdi, Mahajak Development, Lucky Living and Décor Mart among others, as well as all library members for supporting the project. She also thanked Dr Yuwarat Hemasilpin, the architectural teams and Shma Company for their research and sensitive designs, without whom the restoration would not have been the success it has become.

Neilson Hays Library

The Unesco statement noted that: "The restoration demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the spirit of place, which is well-respected and enhanced through careful research and investigation."

Unesco jury deliberations were carried out in November, when members reviewed 50 entries from 11 countries from the Asia-Pacific region. Thirteen projects from six countries -- Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Nepal and Thailand -- have been acknowledged for awards by an international jury in this year's awards programme.

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai, India, won the Award of Excellence, and Topdara Stupa in Charikar, Afghanistan, and the Nantian Buddhist Temple in Fujian, China, were among those projects that received the Award of Merit.

"The awards give people a sense of pride and sense of ownership of their heritage," Feng Jing, chief of the Culture Unit at Unesco Bangkok, was quoted as saying in the statement.

Since 2000, the Unesco Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation programme has been recognising the efforts of private individuals and organisations in restoring, conserving and transforming structures and buildings of heritage value in the region. By acknowledging private efforts to restore and adapt historic properties, the awards encourage others to undertake conservation projects within their own communities, either independently or through public-private partnerships.


Photo courtesy of Neilson Hays Library

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