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Building On Tradition
Bangkok Post, April 30, 1997

ARCHITECTURE: Originally designed as a roadside shelter for the weary, the Thai-style gezebo - or sale - has come a long way, and has been updated for these modern times.

Before the advent of superhighways and smooth paved roads, any journey to a remote location foot, on elephant-back, or by cart meant only one thing - tough and gruelling trekking. In those days, travel was an exhausting thing for villagers, full of obstacles and unexpected stops. To ease their journey, people built small wooden pavilions - or sala - along the road so the passers-by could take a rest, or even have a short nap, free of charge. These wayside sala were built purely out of the kindness and consideration of people and can still be spotted in some of the less-developed parts of the Kingdom's countryside.

However, the near-extinction of old style wooden pavilions doesn't mean all sala are disappearing from Thailand.

Today, as we reach the end of the 20th century, new kinds of sala are appearing all the time - but not at the side of the road. They can now be spotted in the gardens of the wealthy, within the grounds of luxury hotels, on golf courses, or on beaches or swimming pool patios. The old design has been retained as a concept, but now it has been fused with its Western counterpart, the gazebo, and refracted through a whole repertoire of modern design styles.

And while the old-style sala was meant to serve the public, the new ones are designed to satisfy personal tastes.

According to Chanin Trisuriyatumma, a designer of modern sala, these constructions have been gaining great popularity during recent years, especially among the affluent who are constantly on the lookout for something new.

Chanin initiated the trend five years ago when he realised that people, especially city dwellers, have little contact with the beauties of nature. "Our lives are moving further and further away from nature," said the architect. "One especially big barrier between our lives and the natural world is the concrete building. I wish it were possible for everyone to live close to nature and let it enrich their lives."

"Besides appreciating the beauty of the natural environment, we can benefit from it by taking advantage of the shady coolness of a sala placed under a tree," he added.

"It's the perfect place to pass leisure time sipping tea, reading newspapers, enjoying a hobby or chatting with the family. But few people have the time to do so. Most of them give most of their time to do so. Most of them give most of their time to their hectic work routines." Chanin designs his modern sala, known as Sala Ta-Num, in a colonial style.

He explained why.


"The sala as it was built in the old days was modeled on the traditional Thai-style house," he said. "But now many this have moved into Western-style homes. The Thai sala must respond to the trend so that it harmonies well with the architectural style of a modern residence."

Chanin went on to explain how a gazebo can help increase the value of property.

"Empty spaces should have a function. Few people with private homes get the full benefit of their gardens. If we add something functional to such areas, they become more useful," the architect said. "When people want to enjoy some private relaxation, they like to retire to a quiet place that is all their own," he added. "A modern sala can function as just such a private place."

Putting a sala to personal use is nothing new, Chanin added. In the old days people loved to spend time outside the house chatting, playing cards or just sitting quietly. When they wanted to take a rest, they would retire to the sala, if there was one located in front of their house. Those who lived along canals might have sala built at the house's pier, where they would enjoy the freshness of the early morning.

green roofAccording to chanin, the foreign-style sala - or gazebo - originated in England around the 16th or 17th century. "The birth of the gazebo came from the idea, originated by contemporary architects, to use a small structure to mark the end of a garden, and also to exploit it as a place for recreation and for appreciating natural beauty," he added.

Chanin's modern sala are stylistically diverse. To create different moods and atmospheres, he has conceived four distinctive designs - American Dream, Old English, Victoria Princess and Pink Flamingo. As the name implies, the American Dream aims to reflect the essence of American style.

"It is the sala of your dreams," said the architect. "It's octagonal in shape and finely crafted to create a look of grandness and elegance." Somewhat simpler in design, the square Old English Gazebo seeks to "create the rural feeling of the English countryside."

The Victoria Princess (showed here on the left), also has eight sides and a curved roof that evokes the style of Victorian times. Simplest of all in design is the Pink Flamingo, which looks like a parasol with its single post and roof.

A modern sala also differs from its traditional Thai counterpart inside. A traditional sala has two seats situated opposite each other, whereas Chanin's versions have just one square seat in the middle. "The old-style sala sat people face-to-face," he explained, "while the new one allows people to look outwards, giving a greater sense of space." Chanin adds one final touch to his sala by placing a small weathercock at the apex of the roof. It stands on an arrow that indicates which way the wind is blowing.

"In Austria, weathercocks adorn the tops of farmers' homes," Chanin explained. "Its function there is similar to that of a bell. In the evening, a wife will knoc on it to signal to her husband, who might be working in a remote field, to come home. Min serves a dual function: to decorate the gazebo and to tell wind direction.

Like so many other things, sala have come a long way since their humble days as roadside resting places for the weary. Today, touched by the magic of foreign influence, they embellish the expansive grounds of the privileged, sprout weathercocks, and even lend themselves to the modern penchant for multi-purpose functionalism.

A modern sala, adapted to satisfy prevailing requirements by a resourceful mind, can do far more than simply adorn a garden or swimming pool. It can be an outdoor reading room for a school, a centrepiece for a wedding celebration, a temporary sales office for a yet-to-be-built condo, or even a luxury residence for that special dog.


Articled by Chompoo Trakullertsathien
Published in Bangkok Post
Issue April 30, 1997

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