Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Poonthawee Theater - Jom Thong District, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand

The Poonthawee Theater, on its own, is not architecturally significant. In so far as it is of a style that is no longer built, yes, it has some historical value. But beyond its antiquity, it is basically commonplace. The only truly distinguishing feature is the font used for the dimensional lettering of the sign.

There are other contexts, however, through which the Poonthawee's value increases and makes it worthy of long term care.

The loss of landmarks such as the Poonthawee Theater would have an adverse effect on the town's streetscape. 

Signage for the Poonthawee Theater

Jom Thong is a small town. The Poonthawee stands at a prominent location in the town center, directly across from Jom Thong's sacred Wat Prathat Sri Jom Thong Worawiharn. Abandoned or not, the old theater, complete in its decorative adornments like its signage and marquee, is a city landmark, almost equal in distinction to the ornate temple across the road.

By incorporating a prestige structure - even an outmoded one -  into a town's historical narrative, it brings continuity and value to place. Visually and intellectually, Jom Thong is a more dynamic place with the vacant Poonthaween Theater than without it. The task now should be to find some adequate secondary function that would utilize its space.

The loss of these buildings is a waste both of architectural heritage and material resources (it takes far more resources to demolish and build anew than to renovate or repurpose). As such, a major revision in the way that we view old buildings is sorely needed. This will require, among other things, the cooperation of various stake-holders. Not an easy task, but not an impossibility either. Up to this point there has been a severe lack of will when it comes to preservation. It's time to change that.

The Poonthawee Theater was contracted back in 1976 by a man of the same name. In addition to his theater, he was also a local film distributor. The theater closed in 1988 and has served Mr. Poonthawee's family as a warehouse ever since.

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