SEAARC Symposium Abstract 26: “A Throne Hall and a Temple: The Public Works Department and the Construction of Modern Siamese Identity, 1889 – 1910”

by Dr. Pirasri Povatong, Chulalongkorn University

This paper examines the establishment and operation of the Siamese Public Works Department (PWD) during the latter half of the reign of King Rama V (r.1868-1910), in order to understand the intricacies and effects of the intersection between the Siamese elites’ siwilai –the indigenized conception of civilization and progress–mission, and the growing global flows of architects, technology, and aesthetics, under the conditions of the High Colonial period in Southeast Asia. In addition, the paper also critically examines the architectural design of two major landmarks in Thai architectural history: Anantasamakhom Hall, and Wat Benchamabophit. As both buildings were designed by the collaboration between the Siamese elite and the PWD Italians, the paper presents an alternative reading of the two buildings, in order to understand the paradoxical ways in which traditional and modern spatial constructs coexisted.


Assistant Professor Pirasri Povatong, Ph.D., is an architectural historian specializing in architecture and urbanism of Southeast Asia during the 19th and 20th centuries. Educated at Chulalongkorn University, Columbia University, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, he currently teaches at the Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok.  After completing a doctoral dissertation on 19th-century transformation of architecture and architectural practice in Siam, he has been working on various research projects pertaining to the rise of modern Thai architecture, the mapping of Bangkok, and biographies of the city’s landmark buildings and neighborhoods.

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