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The way home: Modern Thai House

A new book covering contemporary Thai dwellings shines a spotlight on an architecture that is at once modern in appearance, yet traditional in attitude.


By Simon Ostheimer

Thursday 13 September 2012, 04:26PM


For architect Robert Powell, the author of new book Modern Thai House, Southeast Asia is his second home.

“I lived in Singapore for 17 years and I am married to a Malaysian. I have great affection for this part of the world, and the people,” he says.

That much is apparent: he is the author of 10 books on the region, including Singapore Architecture (2003), The New Malaysian House (2008), Singapore Houses (2009) and The New Indonesian House (2010).

“The design of houses in monsoon Asia is fascinating,” says Powell, for whom homes are an expression of culture. According to the architect, house owners in tropical Asia have a closer relationship with nature than is the case with owners in temperate climates.

“In the tropics one lives in the ‘in-between’ space between the interior and the outdoor space. That struck me forcibly when I first moved into a house in Singapore, where I spent most evenings sitting on a verandah or dining beneath a ceiling fan with windows open.”

Featuring three Greater Phuket properties; Villa Noi in Phang Nga, Laemsingh Villa in Surin, and Dama Zamya in Thalang; Modern Thai House highlights the work of exciting young Thai architects, including Kanika R’kul, Duangrit Bunnag, Boonlert Hemvijitraphran, Tanit Choomsang, Pirast Pacharaswate, and Kwanchai Suthamsao.

“It is really exciting to talk to this younger generation and hear their ideas – it sustains me and keeps me young. And I love to promote the work of the best young talent,” says Powell.

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Most of the architects featured in Modern Thai House were trained overseas, and the author sees the influence of prominent Western architects in their designs, particularly the theoretical ideas of Peter Zumthor, Rem Koolhaas, Coop Himmelblau, Luis Barragan, Morphosis and Ken Yeang, while Japanese architects Tadao Ando, Kazuo Shinohara, Toyo Ito, Kengo Kuma and Kazuyo Sejima have also been influential.

Powell feels that the current generation of Thai architects draw upon their knowledge of global ideas, but are also deeply aware of Thai culture. When these converge, modern Thai style is the result.

“There is tremendous spirit among younger Thai architects to test the boundaries, to try new ideas, to take risks. This inventiveness can only be a good thing. It will ensure the continuing development of Thai architecture. And it is matched by the willingness of an increasing number of architectural patrons to commission these adventurous designers,” says Powell.

The practising architect feels that modern Thai residential architecture is not necessarily defined by its location, but rather by the way traditional ways of living and features are integrated into modern dwellings.

He also doesn’t think this is confined to one particular area of Thailand. “Some of the most exciting new work is in the northern city of Chiang Mai, while Bangkok has many creative young designers.”

For Powell, there is so much meaning embedded in the design of a house: “The design informs you about the owner and the architect in a way that an office block or an institutional building can never do.”

With photographs by Albert Lim Koon Seng, Modern Thai House costs B1,395. tuttlepublishing.com

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