Explore the design process of King Rama IX Royal Crematorium which reflects the value of Thai traditional architecture in the exhibition “Insight | Thai | Architecture”.
From the Core of the Universe to the Heart of Architecture
Symbolic system in traditional Thai architecture carries the belief of an afterlife, heaven and hell in cosmology theory and transforms them into physical display.
The notion of Trai Bhumi (three worlds) in Buddhism teaching believes the universe is round with Phra Sumeru Moutain situated in the core of the universe. The mountain is where Narai God resides and later reborn as king in order to create a peaceful world to humanity. The King, which resembles godlike figure, will then return to his palace on Phra Sumeru Mountain after passing away.
Phra Sumeru Mountain, situated at the heart of the universe, 80,000 Yot deep under the ocean and 8,000 Yot above the water surface. The Mountain is surrounded by seven Sattaboribhan Moutains and Si Than Dorn oceans with four different continents. One is Jambudvipa, where half was inhabited by human and the other half was occupied by mythical creatures.
The concept of the image emphasized on Phra Sumeru Mountain belief located at the core of the universe. The sacred mountain appeared to be surrounded by Sattaboribhan Mountains. The top section of the painting illustrates homes to the divine beings and the solar and lunar cycle circling around Phra Sumer Mountain.
The bottom of the painting displays an image of Anodard pond and a great current flowing through Himmabhana mythical forest to all four continents of the world. The painter drew infinite river line crossing over to the side of the cabinet which situates a large picture of a capital city. The bottom and side corner of the cabinet displays an array of wall embracing the whole universe.
Cosmological belief into architecture
Thai architecture does not only represent cosmological beliefs, it also displays cultural inspiration and creativity. A troop of mythical creature statues was placed around Phra Prang or Chedi of Wat Arun Ratchawararam including outer Prang, Mondhopthid and principal Prang. This distinguishing layout represents symbolic belief in a troop of mythical soldiers protecting Phra Sumeru Mountain keeping by Sattaboribhan Mountain upon Indra God’s order. Despite a long history of decorating statues of mythical creature troop in a monastery in Thai architecture, it has never been any outstanding display of mythical creatures supporting the Prang as many as the ones found in Wat Arun.
Philosophy of Impermanence: Architecture of an Afterlife
Cremation of the remains is the way to return to the Mother Nature and a reminder of ephemeral cycle of life.
The philosophy of impermanence behind royal crematorium is to show reminiscent, buildings and structures can be dissemble at the end of the ceremony. This practice is an appropriate expression of the architectural monument to honour the royal. The design of royal crematorium must represent a scene of heaven with ornaments decorated in gold colour, called Phra Meru Mas. The term refers to Phra Sumeru Mountain, with design imitating cosmological theory on mural painting, architecture and all components of the ceremony.
Hence, the architectural design of after death must concise of temporary materials, technique and structure.
Traditional Thai Architecture: A heritage in denial of creativity?
The building of the royal crematorium, a bid of eternal farewell to the King, consists of the main Meru which resembles the mythical Sumeru Mountain in heaven. Artists use their creativity and imagination to create different levels of heavenly beauty by surrounding the structure with statues of angels, garudas, nagas and mythical creatures according to the Trai Bhumi beliefs. Therefore, creativity is never considered a conflict to traditional Thai structure if artisans present the artwork with careful and appropriate presentation.
Full-size scale architectural drawing
For traditional Thai architectural design, the accuracy of shape and scale is a real challenge. The unique pattern and composition detail, which must abide by the rules and through perspective distortion state. The perspective distortion state means perspective associated with visual perception of object, making them appear smaller as they recede in the depth of field reducing the aesthetic quality of the structure.
The Art of Wood Layering
The art of wood layering is a technique of building temporary construction which articulates flat wood sheets to create a shallow-depth dimension of the element and design. It is the most complex technique of creating an element in temporary architectural art. With restriction as a temporary structure, certain patterns of decoration technique have been compromised. For example, the traditional work of wood carving and colour glass fitting is replaced by wood layering, creased gold textile stencil and colour paper fitting for temporary construction.
This technique starts with an architect drawing a pattern with actual scale indicating number on the depth of pattern on each level. The drawing is later pasted onto a wax sheet allowing the carpenter the work according to the drawing. The wooden piece will be embedded by another piece until a dimensional perspective is created. New technology is brought in by new generations of architects in order to compensate the use of wood. However, the concept of original craftsmanship remains unchanged including using fibreglass casting for a number of 3 dimensions work pieces, casting resin of stacking wood forming, and minimizing the casting resin procedure by using machine controlled by Computer Numerical Control (CNC) to core each object.
A star decoration of every ceiling indicates ranking of the users of that building or pavilion. The principal star will be placed in the middle of the ceiling, surrounded by smaller stars. They are framed by a bat-shaped triangle. A decoration of beams must also represent appropriate ranking of building users. For example, Phra Meru Mas, Phra Thinang Song Dhamma and Phlab Phla Yok are also presented with a fine craftsmanship such as wood-layering technique, gold textile stencil, colour-fitting and colour-tapping art, which can be found in less important pavilions.
Phra Kos Chan or Sandalwood Funerary Urn is an urn designed to indicate the high ranking of the deceased. Over ten thousand pieces of sandalwood is stenciled into a thin sheet according to the design by the artisan. Every piece is then embedded to shape the urn. The colour of the wood will be designed and embedded into different layers outshining natural beauty. An interior was made of plated iron allowing wooden pieces to adhere.
The Art of Creased Gold Textile Stencil and Colour Paper Fitting
Creased gold textile is a replacement of creased gold paper used in the past complimenting similar quality. The art of gold texile stencil and colour paper fitting is a component of temporary architecture including creating starry ceiling, applying the texture on columns and beams of Royal Dhamma Pavilion or Phra Thinang Song Dhamma. The pavilion is used for the king and other members of the royal family to listen to a dhamma sermon prior to the royal cremation, and for members of the privy council to have an audience with the king.
The method includes a design of consistent pattern in order to provide an even stencil. The gold texture will be repeatedly layered and adhered to a wooden plank. The artisan will then perforate the pattern using chisel. After completing this step, colour paper will be fitted at the back of the textile called “Sod Waew” embedded with a large colour paper at the back. Once all steps are completed, the piece can be used for further decoration.
Colour-tapping technique starts by perforating plastic sheets into desired pattern. A compress ball or a sponge ball will be tapped onto a colour and pressed on the stenciled plastic sheet to create a pattern on the material. This technique favours a smooth handmade work creating consistent decorated surface. Colour-tapping art is similar to stencil technique. This art has been practice since the past by using paper sheet instead of plastic and tap it with gold leaf.
Thai Architecture: Knowledge of Ephemerality
A careful admission to the transformation and change is key to existence of traditional Thai architecture. Replacing an old with new knowledge or adapting an artwork to a new circumstance can be considered a natural learning of Thai architectural knowledge.
Insight | Thai | Architecture
Office of the Prime Minister
Office of Knowledge Management and Development
Thailand Creative & Design Center
An exhibition by
Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC)
Collaboration & Resources by
Fine Arts Department
Faculty of Architecture, Silpakorn University
Exhibition designed by
Banana Studio Co., Ltd.
Lighting designed by
Chingchai & Sons Engineering Co., Ltd.
Triple S Technology Co., Ltd.
FOS Lighting Design Co., Ltd.
Lighting & Equipment (Public) Co., Ltd.
Endo Lighting (Thailand) (Public) Co., Ltd.
I Built Automation Co., Ltd.
Lighting and Audio Visual production by
An Ant AV Service LP.
Objects and artifacts by
Fine Arts Department
Faculty of Architecture, Silpakorn University
The South East Insurance (Public) Co., Ltd.
Projection mapping designed by
Documentary produced by
Nob Productions Co., Ltd.
Inspired Media Co., Ltd.
Exhibition text edited and proofed by
Exhibition content and artifacts consultants by
With thanks and appreciation to
AGC Flat Glass (Thailand) (Public) Co., Ltd.
Epson (Thailand) Co., Ltd.
Sivakorn Karn Chang Co., Ltd.
S.BOONMEERIT ENGINEERING Co., Ltd.
Asst. Prof. Supitcha Tovivich (Ph.D.)
Asst. Prof. Pongpon Yasri
PVC Likhitkarnsrang LP.