At Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, the Thai Pavilion answers this year’s theme ‘How will we live together?’ by suggesting being considerate towards others, learning from one another, and working together for a more sustainable future. The Thai Pavilion in Venice is a reflection of a previously built pavilion in a town in North-Eastern Thailand, Surin, where this idea originated.
Designed by Bangkok-based, Boonserm Premthada, the idea of ‘parallel pavilion’ seeks to showcase the life of Kuy people, an ethnic group in Thailand’s Tha Tum District in Surin Province, which presents an exceptional case of how architecture can support and exemplify the bond between elephants and Kuy people.
The exhibition at Venice is built in the image of the one located in Surin, displaying the House for Humans and the House for Elephants. Though not a direct replica of the one which opened in Surin this March 2021, it is reconstructed to convey the relation and close bond Kuy people and elephants share. Both pavilion differ in shape, materials and functions but both talk about living together.
“The idea of this 'parallel pavilion' ties with the message we want to convey to the audience. Humans and elephants, Surin and Venice, are seemingly two different worlds, but both share similarities and resources,” said Boonserm Premthada.
For centuries, Kuy people lived in harmony with Nature, but lack of sustainable planning in the past few decades saw a mass deforestation and replacement of these people. Kuy people share an inseparable bond with the elephants, so much so that the vernacular Surin houses feature a generous section attached to it, dedicated to elephants. With government intervention and a drive to start a project to bring these people to Surin, the exhibition seeks to promote Kuy villages as a microcosm of how to live together, even for different scales and species.
The permanent pavilion at Surin opened on 13th March 2021, is built from local reclaimed wood and is full of imperfections. Composed as an object and a place for shelter, the Surin pavilion becomes a multipurpose pavilion in the Elephant temple grounds, also designed by Boonserm Premthada. Since its opening, a film crew captured the life of this pavilion, detailing team’s quest through the village of Kuys and elephants in Surin. The film captures the architecture and how it facilitates the Kuy people and elephants to return back to their land and once again live sustainably and in the process revive the forest back from the barren lands. Through field research that includes, Kuy villagers, veterinarians, scientists, nutritionists, mahouts, and senior monks, the video conveys this message of living in harmony to the visitors at Thai Pavilion in Venice.
In Venice, the pavilion is built using softwood and a canvas roof, for the lower roof of the house, which becomes a backdrop on which Surin story is told.
How we live together ought to start from being less self-centred. For a sustainable future, we shall strive to be architects who understand the complex network of professions and parties. We dream of an architecture that puts Nature and other species before itself— non-human-centric in its design.