‘The underside line’: Scuba divers assist protect historic Bangkok mansion

A 200-year-old Chinese language mansion in Bangkok’s coronary heart isn’t an apparent place for a scuba college, however in a metropolis relentlessly demolishing its architectural heritage the enterprise helps protect the historic dwelling. Dive teacher Poosak Posayachinda’s household has owned the normal teak-walled So Heng Tai for eight generations, nevertheless it lives on thanks largely to his determination to transform it right into a scuba academy.

The survival of the constructing, initially constructed as a house and workplace for the household enterprise buying and selling birds’ nests with China, is a uncommon success story in a metropolis that harbors little sentiment-or authorized protections-for historic architectural gems. “It’s as a result of individuals need to make extra money-that’s the underside line,” Bangkok-based American architect Invoice Bensley informed AFP.

On this picture a customer sits exterior the doorway to the So Heng Tai mansion within the Talad Noi neighborhood of Bangkok.

The town’s breakneck reinvention over current years has seen gleaming malls and flashy condos fly up, and buildings just like the artwork deco Scala film theatre and Twenties British embassy come down. Thai legislation solely protects properties over 100 years outdated and there’s restricted political enthusiasm for safeguarding outdated structure on the expense of worthwhile improvement. For households with historic properties, the annual prices of upkeep is usually a large legal responsibility, based on historian and archaeologist Phacha Phanomvan.

“We don’t have a lottery fund or belief physique that is available in to save lots of heritage,” she mentioned. So in 2004 Poosak put in a four-metre-deep pool within the So Heng Tai courtyard, subsequently educating greater than 6,000 college students. The diving college has helped pay the payments on the property’s maintenance, which Poosak estimates at as much as $25,000 a yr, however upkeep is a battle. “On a wet day you discover plenty of water spots. Ultimately we must do the entire roof once more and that’s some huge cash,” Poosak informed AFP.

On this picture the swimming pool is pictured on the So Heng Tai mansion within the Talad Noi neighborhood of Bangkok.

Historic theft

Whereas the tradition ministry retains a nationwide heritage database, Phacha mentioned many properties usually are not registered and fall via the cracks. “For particular person homeowners with out state help… it’s higher for them to promote the property. Promote the person constructing after which promote the (land),” she mentioned. Including to the problem is a rising collectors’ marketplace for teak from Thai picket homes, she said-some are even dismantled, relocated, and reassembled to change into boutique resorts elsewhere. “You need to maintain these properties the place they’re… You’re basically robbing Bangkok of its (historical past),” she mentioned.

Photographer Ben Davies spent 5 years documenting neighborhoods for his ebook “Vanishing Bangkok”, an expertise that left him despondent. “One thing like (30-40 %) of the buildings and communities I photographed had both disappeared or modified nearly past recognition,” he informed AFP. And within the rush to develop, Davies says it’s unclear how a lot of Bangkok’s heritage will stay in a decade. “I’ve a horrible feeling that at some point Bangkok might be, exterior of its temples and few palaces, (a) unrecognizable however (b) have misplaced a lot of its id and character so it can appear to be another megacity round Asia,” he mentioned.

On this picture individuals stroll previous the Rong Kuak Shrine within the Talad Noi neighborhood of Bangkok.

A glimmer of hope?

Elsewhere within the area gives Thailand attainable options, notably Singapore which has received reward for the reason that late Nineteen Eighties for its heritage safety efforts. Its technique examines all the city-island holistically with conservation going hand-in-hand with planning, says Yeo Kang Shua, an architectural historical past knowledgeable on the Singapore College of Know-how and Design. Underpinning the scheme is the “three R” ideas: most retention of buildings, delicate restoration and cautious restore.

“Within the Nineteen Eighties a whole lot of homeowners deemed it a demise sentence for his or her properties to be given conservation standing, however right this moment due to the rarity of such buildings in Singapore, the true property costs are… monumental,” he informed AFP. Regardless of the difficult setting, there are some indicators of change in Bangkok.

Lately a outstanding Sino-Thai enterprise household renovated dilapidated Chinese language 1850s warehouses, turning them into the Lhong 1919 “riverside heritage vacation spot”. It now homes a shrine and has change into an area for exhibitions, live shows, pop-ups, cafes and meals vans-and there are plans for a wellness resort. Again at So Heng Thai, Poosak takes his college students via their paces. Channeling the perspective of his ancestors-who got here to Thailand with “one pillow and one mattress”-he’s decided to save lots of his household dwelling. “If somebody comes to present me a proposal, the reply isn’t any, easy as that, regardless of how a lot it’s,” he mentioned. – AFP



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