07 March 2012

58 Watery Living

Water has great influences in our way of life since the beginning of time here in the region. Floods, flooding are nothing new. Just recently we forgot how to live with it.

 Sumet Jumsai, a prominent architect of Thailand, writes a controversial book 'Naga: Cultural Origins in Siam and West Pacific' on how water shapes the so-called amphibian lives of people in the region. Although some parts of the book are slightly too fancy about water, it is rather inspiring.

Toyo Ito, a prominent architect, has made a very interesting observation on how we, people in Bangkok, live with water, from his boat ride trip:
 “I recall a boat ride I once took on a canal in Bangkok and the impression made on me by the sight of people living on the water’s edge. The people had adapted successfully to their watery environment......... The people dwell like fish, their bodies steeped in water......... The water flowing about those people was overwhelming, and the space that enveloped them was extraordinarily humid.”

:Ito, Toyo, “The Transparent Urban Forest”, The Japan Architect, 1995-3 (Programming), Tokyo: Shinkenchiku-sha, 1995.

From 2011 floods, it seems that, really, we have forgotten completely how to "dwell" with water as Ito describes. 

In 2010, floods damaged many cities in Thailand. Bangkok was somehow safe. However, we were quite alarming with the damage and danger caused by the water. Many architects and designers got together by TCDC discussing about floods and how designers could be part of the flood reliefs or preparations. As a result of the meeting, with Pim Sudhikam and Terdsak Techakijkachorn of Chulalongkorn University, we organized a summer workshop on "Watery Living" during June - August 2011, just right before floodings...
The workshop was not aiming to 'invent' a new way to deal with floods, rather to study how the local have been dealing with floods & flooding in the past centuries. Perhaps, perhaps, we can help to improve something, using our design skills.

We chose a small village at the junction of two small rivers in Ayutthaya,  Hua Wiang as a case study. Ayuthaya is a giant plane where usually receives floods every year. (When it was a capital of Siam during the 14th-18th century, the strongest weapon of the city when enemies surrounded the city was flooding). By then common people were living mainly on floating houses. The village used to be a small market with several floating houses along the river junction. But in the mid-20th century, floating houses were prohibited because of its nomadic nature as well as the arrival of engine boats which made strong waves. So they were moved and fixed on ground. In Hua Wiang, many houses can still be traced back to the original typology of floating house. However, because of the floods, the-fixed-on-firm-ground houses are developed to deal perfectly with their annual floods.

This is the general view of the village on the rivers.

Most of the houses are elevated super high from the ground, around 4-6 meters depending on the area.. the overall is quite strange because you can walk through under all the houses.

You can see that some houses are lifted very high from the ground and the shore. The villagers have lifted the houses several times in the past 2 decades because the level of the floods keeps raising up. (The method to lift the house is also super interesting, we will talk about it later in the future post).
During the dry season, people would walk under the houses with short cuts from one to another - a dry walking network. Well, of course, during the floods, they use boats - different network is formed. 
Since some houses are lifted so high that some elderly who don't want to walk up and down from the ground level to the main level of the house 20 times a day invented "a mezzanine living platform" between the two levels for dry season only. During the floods, the platform is under water. They simply move the stuff up high.
You can see a small living room with a fan, a cushion, a mat and small person items. A lounge.
With the similar concept of the in-between platform, some houses along the river are built with several platforms with different levels.

The interior space with many levels, the space is rather complex and interesting. They can organize their lives according to the water level, move their stuff up and down. At the same time, it is not too far from the 'ground'. Since the house can be reached via different ground levels or water level.

The veranda space of a house is much lower, closer to the water level, while the main house is rather high up.
One of the house is a beauty salon of the village. The lady with glasses is the owner of the salon. Her salon is really high (level).
Because of the flooding nature, everything here is rather light and movable: all the furniture and utensils. Everything is ready to be relocated in case of floods --- living light. Even some parts of the walls, the floors are movable and adjustable.

The plants are all in pots ready to be moved up and down upon season. What a light life! ^_^ Not to mention some of the electrical wires attached with outlets or light bubs that can be rolled up when water arrives... ----> genius indeed.
 With the bamboo structure, they can plant vegetables above ground. At least when the flood is not too high, they can still have some stocks of vegetables.
The best invention so far is the super high plant tanks. They use the pre-fabricated concrete rings (usually used for water storage) stacked up to become a high plant tank, so that during the floods, they still have fresh herbs (such as hot pepper, basil, lemongrass and etc. - very crucial for local cooking).
Not only the houses are lifted so high, the spirit house is also elevated so high from the real ground to meet with the water fluid ground during the floods.
Learning from the village, we were brought back to where we perhaps used to be - living lightly with water. It may sound rather romantic, however, seeing all these, I believe we can improve our modern city, modern life to blend more with water with very simple methods. This year 2012, hopefully, we will be able to handle more. Since water is all around. -_-"

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