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Frugal design: case study of a temple

Mar 25. 2016
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By Special to The Nation

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IN THE CONTEMPORARY practice of temple construction in Thailand, there are no requirements to determine the size or form that the temple will take. The resulting design is influenced by those with authority, including the abbot of the temple, the supporti

This decision-making sometimes results in temples that are bigger than necessary and extremely wasteful from a budget standpoint.

However, the Rama IX Golden Jubilee Temple is an example of best practices in temple construction. Built through the royal initiative of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the temple was constructed on a frugal budget that reflects the principles of sufficiency economics.

By royal intention, the Rama IX Golden Jubilee Temple was designed to be small and striking in its simplicity, affordability, and modernity and was to be used as a spiritual and sacred gathering space for disseminating religious, moral and ethical teachings to the community.

The preferences of the King for the values of economy, simplicity and utility are represented in this temple, which was intended to serve as a commendable example of temple construction.

The ubosot was designed by Air Vice Marshal Arvuth Ngoenchuklin, a former minister of fine arts. This ubosot’s compact dimensions can accommodate 30-40 people and its construction budget only ran to Bt3 million.

The plan of the ubosot is a rectangle laid along an east-west axis. It is a single-storey structure elevated approximately a metre from ground level but accessible by two flights of stairs, one at the front and the other at the back.

The ubosot is divided up into five rooms (at a five-column span). The partition walls are placed between the square-shaped columns, which have rounded edges.

The arches of the windows and doors are edged with a moulding of lotus motifs similar to that of picture frames. The doors and shutters are of glass framed in brown aluminium.

The gabled roofs are composed of the main roofline and a lower level that projects over the entrances in the front and back. The apex of the gable, the ridges on the sloped gable edges, the Naga-head-shaped finials, and the pediment were constructed using traditional techniques.

A pattern of hibiscus flowers painted white is a recurring motif. Only in the section of the royal seal are gilt and mirror surface coverings introduced to highlight the importance of the insignia.

In the interior of the ubosot, a statue of the Buddha image is flanked on the right and left sides by statues of the Buddha’s disciples. The plaster base of the Buddha image is a lotus-flower-shaped pedestal.

The walls are painted plain white and undecorated. The floor is at the same level throughout the building, and the ceiling is installed right under the crossbeams to encourage a sense of spaciousness that balances out the compact size of the ubosot. The ceiling’s only decorations are down lights, some of which are positioned on the level ceiling and others arrayed in a line running along the slope of the rafters.

The overall decorative scheme of the structure emphasises white tones and colours natural to the materials being used.

The pavilion surrounding the ubosot is paved with rough yellow and reddish-brown sandstone, while the balcony is paved in grey terrazzo. The roof tiles are metal sheets that are long-lasting, durable, affordable, and expeditious to construction.

SUPHAWAT HIRANTHANAWIWAT is assistant professor, department of architecture, faculty of architecture, Chulalongkorn University.

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