KU Leuven Sint Luca School of Architecture, Belgium
Nov. 08, 2019
An archipelago of 10 heterotopic enclaves in relation with micro-cultures in an unknown city of Bangkok
The framework of Master Thesis was to select an unknown city, deliver an object from it and in parallel consider the concept of khora(territory of Ancient Greek polis outside the city proper)in contemporary urban conditions. Air sample from Bangkok became a starting point of the odyssey with analysis of air components and the sources of air pollution leading to death rituals in Bangkok and their territorial expression – cemeteries. With the introduction of khora concept I’ve developed a hypothesis of perceiving it as complex combination of different phases of urban expansion where cemeteries have a tendency to be allocated at the edge or outside the development at-that-time and later become absorbed by urban sprawl forming enclaves. At this point scientific and conceptual approaches merged together with further focus on cemeteries of Bangkok by anticipating them as heterotopic spaces of abandonment with potential to contribute as green public space in accelerated urban sprawl context.
With further refinement of research problem and specific focus on cemeteries and death rituals the crucial part was the selection of 10 cemeteries in Bangkok which reveal different city development phases resulting in allocation of burial grounds in 4 zones(historical conservation zone, high density commercial zone, park zone and high density residential zone)in current urban tissue that are pressured by top-down planners accordingly. All of 10 locations reflect different religions and cultural minorities in Bangkok(Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Chinese religion)therefore death rituals and perceptions towards them create conflicts with the future plans of developers. Simultaneously, 10 microcosms contain different identified micro-cultures such as residents, religious culture, sidewalk culture (street food), active culture and dark tourists that could be used as drivers for a change in each of the situations. Currently the city of Bangkok is lacking green public space while the green city index is 3 times lower than the requirement which leads to potential of perceiving the abandoned cemeteries as addition to green public space by twisting them with a set of 10 interventions. The architectural proposals react to combinations of religion, zoning, detected micro-cultures and the urban/environmental processes happening within each site and aim to become urban laboratories that expose those conditions and in certain cases – switch the existing burial methods to sustainable ones by respecting each religion. The methodology of different drawing projections (axonometric, aspective, reverse perspective, multiple perspectives)encode the processes happening within each location by the underlying principles of each graphical typology. To conclude, in a choking metropolis of Bangkok the focus on evolving urban conditions and environmental issues are the crucial elements to be considered to mediate between the contexts and the eerie abandoned spaces of multi-cultural cemeteries and even potentially becoming catalysts for a change in distant locations of the migrant cultures.
What prompted the project?
The project was developed as my Master Dissertation at KU Leuven Sint Luca School of Architecture studio framework ‘Khora and Turan. Unknown Cities. The Urban Condition. A Bicameral Entanglement’ led by Tomas Ooms. The genesis of the project were 3 main elements: unknown city – a city I’ve never been to before, an object – artefact from the unknown city and khora concept – the territory of the ancient Greek polis outside the city proper, which all together were meant to set the ground for the Dissertation. With the exploration of those 3 elements in parallel, I’ve merged a few viewpoints and selectively continued the theme of death rituals, religion, territorial expression of cemeteries in the diverse contexts of Bangkok. The theme of death seemed intriguing to me before starting this project, so probably I intuitively searched for an approach to link my curiosity with the architectural research and project.
What questions does the project raise and which does it answer?
Most importantly the project aims to shift focus to the existing situations of abandonment within the rapidly changing urban contexts. What is the role of neglected enclaves such as cemeteries in urban situations? How they could be relinked with the cities? How those odd and eerie spaces reflect the urban conditions or environmental issues happening within the localities? How to respect each religion yet twist burial methodologies to sustainable options? The project raises more questions than it does answer which was the exact aspiration – to speculate on the discovered situations, raise discourses as well as open up the potential for entanglement with other locations and continuum of the theme.
What informed Bangkok as site? How did you approach the documentation and recording of the city?
Constantly changing metropolis of Bangkok was naturally selected as an unknown city since before starting the development of the project I’ve spent an exchange semester at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. While absorbing the culture of Bangkok I became immersed with the rhythms and flows of how this complex city works. Having started developing the project only when I came back to finalise studies in Belgium it became challenging to gather data according to the theme which I selected for further focus, in that sense I was naturally forced to invent new methodologies of data mining such as completely redrawing localities using only ‘Google Maps’ and my memories from street life in Bangkok to recreate the urban situations in sometimes obsessive manners. Since the topic is very specific and there wasn’t plenty of data available about the certain locations of cemeteries, I’ve started investigating social media (Instagram, Facebook) where extremely important micro-cultures existent within the sites such as dark tourists, active culture and street-food culture have been discovered. This data mining typology led me to people who organised tours in Bangkok on bike and specifically a tour organised a few years ago to the cemeteries of different religions in Bangkok which were the exact focus of my project. This reality check with the organisers of the tour proved some of my hypotheses about the sites and verified the information which I’ve excavated and explored but wasn’t entirely sure about validity of it. All further drawings that I’ve produced during the process of development could be called a collage of personal memories from Bangkok street life, data discovered on ‘Google Maps’ and ‘Street View’ and specific knowledge of the sites and cultures that have been discovered during the research phase.
How and to what extent has the role of the cemetery changed in the past?
In general, the notions of cemeteries were highly contrasting through different eras – the scale from being an active to passive place has flipped. In medieval times in Europe, burials were organised in very central parts of the cities – churchyards and were considered to be active places for fairs, markets, and communication. Although with the industrial revolution, population growth and increasing mass diseases the notion of cemeteries dramatically twisted – due to health concerns they began being formed in the peripheries of the cities at-that-time in excluded areas. Currently cities across the globe are experiencing different phases – ones have relocated all the necropolises from the dense urban areas to the satellite towns such as in the case of San Francisco where all the cemeteries were moved to Colma; old cemeteries become abandoned and absorbed by urban sprawl and become areas of neglection; or the existing cemeteries are still being used although are running out of area and toxicity of burials are affecting the environment. The notion of cemeteries is at the crossroad revealing the potential to redefine and create new projections towards them in the future.
You talk about the intervention as urban laboratories, could you expand on this notion further?
In the case of Bangkok, all the investigated cemeteries could be classified according to different factors being religion – variety of death-related rituals and superstitions, zone – revealing the level of pressure from the top-down planners and real estate developers, micro-cultures – existent within the sites that create a story about each microcosm of cemetery that all together form a set of 10 combinations scattered within Bangkok metropolitan area – an archipelago of 10 heterotopic enclaves. Reflecting on those enclaves through 3 different scales being environmental issues, urban conditions and participant experience unveil the issues happening within the sites such as CO2 emissions, flooding, the toxicity of burials, heat island effect, the process of gentrification and inaccessibility. Each of 10 microcosms identifies and exposes the discovered issues aiming to mediate in between by twisting the places of abandonment to contributions to green public space by becoming urban laboratories where the interventions either expose and highlight the problems or already start the process of sculpting new reality.
What are your hopes for these spaces in 30 years time?
I anticipate that those sites will be functioning as green public spaces without forgetting their primary identity, although constantly evolving according to the needs of neighbouring cultures. In the case of Bangkok which is dramatically lacking green public space, the aspiration would be to keep those areas as such instead of erasing them and redeveloping the land for real estate. The notion of palimpsest could be reflected onto those pieces of land in a sense of rewriting or adding up to the narrative and projecting new realities to reach the efficiency and sustainability of those spaces.
What role did the drawing play within the process? How pivotal of a tool was this when developing the project?
At the very beginning of the project, I mostly used hand-drawing techniques to capture the vibrance of the city, expose the air elements within the locality and grasp what is ungraspable. Further on, I’ve moved to the digital method of drawing, using different typologies of projections influenced by the traditional Thai paintings found in the temples of Bangkok where perspectives were not always correct yet the level of detail was impressive. Strange, odd and unlikely projections added another layer to the project by encrypting the processes happening within each site where each typology (axonometric, aspective, multiple perspectives and reverse perspective) became a crucial element of representation. I perceive drawing as the main medium of communication through which different data and narratives become superimposed.
What informed the diverse drawings through which you choose to reveal the speculation?
In the genesis of the project where I initially inspected Bangkok through the notion of air and particulate matters that it contains it became crucial to expose this knowledge through the dot technique. When representing the vibrance of Bangkok in the further drawings it seemed also very organic and more accurate to do so with hand drawing technique since street life in Bangkok is highly fluid, quickly metabolising and full of details although after certain tests the decision was to produce digital drawings instead of hand-crafted ones which enabled to reach the desired level of detailing in an urban scale more efficiently and accurately.
How and to what extent are they influenced by the work developed by Pier Vittorio Aureli?
I’ve followed and admired the works of Pier Vittorio Aureli during my architectural journey and probably the general influence in linear graphical depiction and super-positioning in urban situations could be graspable, although I feel that the difference in my drawings is that I became obsessed with all the micro components that are existing within the urban scale. The urge to draw specific tropical trees according to their exact locations, the iconic Bangkokian post boxes, electricity cables in the streets, Pad Thai’s on the tables, stray dogs, Spirit Houses – all together they create a complex memoirs of the very specific locality layering together with the interventions in the sites and underlying concepts of projection methodologies encoding processes happening within.
What other references were pivotal when developing the project?
At the beginning of the project, the essential references were from theoretical framework analysing the concept of khora, cemeteries as territorial exclusions and how they could be perceived from the philosophical point of view. Referential figures such as Michel Foucault and Mark Augé held an important role in understanding the concept of heterotopia (‘other space’) or the cemetery transformation from anthropological place to ‘non-place’ and how it is reconstructed through the shift of time, lost relations with the relatives and finally to the state of abandonment when they become absorbed by the urban sprawl. Furthermore, by investigating the underlying structures of remarkable cemeteries designed by Carlo Scarpa, Aldo Rossi, Enric Miralles and Carme Pinos the 3 contrasting theories were discovered: cemetery as narrative and provocation of emotions, cemetery as reflection of humankind and contemporary world, cemetery as synthesis with nature and landscape reflecting the natural cycle of human life that laid the foundation for further analysis. As for the graphical portrayal of the project, I find the works by Éva Le Roi truly impressive and inspirational due to meticulous attention to particularities in the drawings.
What is for you the architect's most important tool?
Drawing as the medium of communication through which critical thinking and complex entanglement could be expressed.
Dalia Puodziute is a recent graduate of Master in Architecture at KU Leuven Sint Luca School of Architecture, Belgium currently looking for new architectural odysseys and possibilities to redefine and create new realities through the lens of architecture.