Tuesday, March 19, 2013

For the sake of efficiency

The built environment of any city is always a tenuous subject. What was once in vogue becomes obsolete or even hideous as time goes by and paradigms change. In terms of modernization, by its very definition the more modern a city becomes the more efficiently it is regulated.

In looking over these images of the last days of Washington Square, where the Washington Theater was once an anchor institution, I can't help but place it in the context of a slum clearance. Not the typical squatter settlement slum, comprised of resident-built shacks made from scrap material, and found throughout peri-urban Southeast Asia, but of formal housing which - over time - lost its value and took on slum characteristics.

Washington Square, a mid-century concrete cul de sac featuring 3-story shop houses surrounding a stand-alone movie theater, was once a state-of-the-art development. Its design and function was emblematic of the 1960's modern Bangkok that covered over vast tracts of swamp and paddy land. Today, the remaining Washington Squares of Bangkok have degenerated into working slums, filled with low rent shops and housing that planners and developers think nothing of demolishing.

But if there is anything to be learned by examining the life cycles of cities, it's that architectures which fall out of fashion can regain popularity. The shopping mall which will be built in its place will never be able to replicate Washington Square's human scale intimacy - to say nothing of its unique social history.

Film crew exploring the ruins of Washington Square

These photos were passed along by Bangkok film maker Wattanaphum Laisuwanchai, who explored the remains of Washington Square for a movie he is making about vanishing Bangkok. That's a film I don't want to miss.


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