Modernist structure is now a historic relic
The imposing Central Post Office along Charoen Krung Road is one of the last remains of the Pibunsongkhram architectural legacy in Bangkok. Plaek Pibunsongkhram is probably the most controversial figure in Thailand’s history. One of the principle participants of the 1932 Constitutional Revolution, this powerful military figure served twice as Prime Minister—from 1938 to 1944, and from 1948 to 1957—before dying in exile in Japan.
His legacy is still fiercely discussed amongst historians, with his policy based on ultra-nationalism. But his most visible legacy these days are the modernist buildings constructed during this new era in Thai politics—buildings such as the Supreme Court, the Triam Udom Suksa School or the Rajamangala University of Technology’s Poh Chang Campus. They all exemplify the values of Phibunsongkhram’s political movement, the People’s Party (‘Khana Ratsadon’). Their ideology was to create a new society away from feudal Siam. As Prime Minister, he changed the name of Siam to Thailand (the ‘Country of Free Men’) in 1939. In architecture, the move was also radical. Phibunsongkhram turned his back to both vernacular Thai and European styles previously favoured by the monarchy and the court.
The Central Post Office on Charoen Krung is Bangkok’s best surviving example of this Khana Ratsadon style, as the building was saved the sad fate of the Supreme Court at Sanam Luang (which was demolished two years ago). The imposing structure was built in 1940 by Thai architects Jittasen Apphaiwong and Sarot Sukkayang on the former grounds of the British delegation. This large street, which runs parallel to the Chao Phraya River, has been at the forefront of modernity in Bangkok. Named also “New Road”, it was the first to get paved in order to provide the European community then with a first-class infrastructure. In fact, Charoen Krung served for many decades as a settlement for European traders, with goods being transported by boats on the river. It was a logical step therefore to have Bangkok’s main post office in the area.
Built in a typical feature of Art Deco mixed with fascist style architecture, very much in vogue in nationalist states at that time, the imposing grand structure impresses viewers with its perfect proportion. A large central bay dominates, with two wings flanking, each of them are punctuated by six columns. Why six columns? They actually are the signature of the Khana Ratsadon ideology which is based on six principles (known in Thai as Lak Hok Prakan)—symbolizing the supreme power of the Thai people, national security, economic welfare, the equality of Thai people, the protection of people’s rights and liberties, and public education for all citizens. Over the central façade, two huge Garuda sculptures dominate the structure. They are a more imposing reinterpretation of the rooster, the astrological sign of Phibunsongkhram. There is a legend running about both mythical animals, dating back to World War II, when allies started to bomb Bangkok (as the Thai government was a staunch supporter of Japan). It is said that both Garudas took flight, in order to protect the building.
And these statues continue to protect the building against possible demolition. In 2013, the building was beautifully renovated and turned into a venue for special events, managed by IMPACT Exhibition and Convention Management. Special lighting was also created to turn the building into a permanent night time attraction on Charoen Krung Road.
The post office itself was, at that time, relocated to a small corner of the building, while the grand main hall was exclusively dedicated to private functions. A restaurant was also open for a while, serving Thai contemporary food.
Soon however, visitors will be able to gain access to the entire building. In 2014, the government made the decision to relocate the Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC). Originally planned to open in 2016, the new TCDC will finally open its doors early 2017. This planned move is due to dramatically affect the entire area. In an interview in early 2016, Apisit Laistrooglai, Director of the TCDC, explained that the creative centre will be at the forefront of a new developing design district around Charoen Krung.
“We have seen a transformation of the area with a redevelopment to attract new galleries, designers as well as contemporary restaurants and fashion outlets around the newly established TCDC”, explained Stephanie Grusenmeyer, one of the two designers running the exclusive furniture shop P.Tendercool, just next to the Central Post Office and the Portuguese Embassy. “A committee shared by architect Duangrit Bunnag has been working over the past months on a design community concept for the entire area”, she added.
The Grand Central Post Office might then be at the forefront of the creative community of Bangkok with the ambition of attracting not only the public and designers, but also SMEs, start-ups, filmmakers, and art lovers. With the aim also to make Bangkok a ‘World Design Capital’ in 2021, the Central Post Office will be a source of contemporary inspiration, a function matching its radical architectural value.
The Grand Postal Building
1160 Charoen Krung Rd. | Tel: 02 105 7400
Open: Mon-Fri, 9:30am-5:30pm | www.tcdc.or.th