Thailand’s most prestigious centre for higher learning also boasts an immaculate campus—home to important historical buildings, museums, exhibition spaces, and a beautiful park
As it is located in the centre of town—making the connection between the Silom area and Pathumwan/Rachaprasong district—you might have passed many times along the gates of Chulalongkorn University without daring to enter into the compound. But fear not, as it is an amazing world of parks, gardens, historical buildings, and cultural institutions open to all. It is also, for many, a welcome rest between two shopping mall visits. At times it’s difficult to believe the serene atmosphere of the place which is, in fact, home to almost 40,000 students as well as 8,000 professors, assistants and administrative staff.
Chulalongkorn University was officially created in 1917 under its current name by King Vajiravudh. In the beginning, four faculties and schools were merged to create the university. The oldest structures evoke Thai and Khmer temples, but details reveal a more subtle mix of Thai and European architectural influences. The Maha Chulalongkorn Building is the oldest structure, and was built prior to the establishment of the university. It was designed and conceived by British architect Edward Healey with the support of German engineer and architect Karl Döhring. The Briton was a specialist in blending Western and Thai design to create unique structures, expressing a new “Thainess”, very much en vogue during the time of King Rama VI. The 1915 construction has a European layout, but its gables and bas-reliefs reflect Thai temples while windows decorating the top of the building bear a definitive European character. The structure served first as the School of Civil Servants. Its counterpart is the Maha Vajiravudh Building, completed in 1919.
Both buildings are facing the University Auditorium, a majestic white structure emulating both buildings which form today the faculty of art. Completed in 1939 by two Siamese architects—U Laphanon and Sarot Sukkayang—the auditorium bears a distinctive Thai style with its Siamese gables and stucco in Sukhothai style. The prestigious ensemble is open to all and serves today as a venue for official events, concerts, art exhibitions, or to welcome VIPs. It also is a wonderful backdrop for pictures, especially with its blossoming frangipani trees and shady garden.
Architecture enthusiasts will find that the Chulalongkorn campus is a true laboratory of all kinds of architectural styles. One fine example is the 1925 Chamchuri 5 Administration Building. Facing the university field and the auditorium, this neo-classical building (which is home to the university administration) evokes a US-style campus structure with its arcades. Meanwhile, just north of the administration building is a lovely pavilion in a so-called Colonial Style—built in a mode that is reminiscent of the US Ambassador’s residence, with influences of art deco. In addition, the two-storey Ruang Pharot Racha used to be a residence for university administrators, then a residence for foreign guests, but is now used for studies of Thai culture. It is surrounded by beautiful rain trees.
Crossing back to the university field from Phaya Thai Road, you’ll find the entrance for the university’s Faculty of Architecture, fashioned in a modern, late Art Deco monumental architecture-style, as adopted by the government of Field Marshal Phibul Songram (the structure was completed in 1940). Next to it, the new Art and Culture Building—originally the chemistry building—is one of the last structures designed by a European architect. Its Bauhaus inspired style, with its minimalist lines, is the work of Italian architect Ercole Manfredi. Next to it is the modern CU Museum, which shows students art pieces as well as high-tech exhibitions.
The Faculties of Architecture and Fine & Applied Arts also have their own exhibition spaces. But to find a truly unusual museum, seek out the Museum Of Human Body, which is housed inside the Faculty of Dentistry. Here you’ll find exhibits of skeletons and of 14 dissected human bodies from Japan.
Another remarkable structure, one of the few remaining from the 1960s, is the Sala Phra Kieo, built in 1966 by Thai architects Vodhyakarn Varavarn and Lert Urasayananda. Created to be used as an auditorium, it is shaped as a modernist answer to the traditional Thai sala. The assembly hall is spectacular and is crowned by gables, and the building itself hosts exhibitions, conferences, and has also a book centre.
254 Phayatthai Rd. | Open daily: 8am-9pm (most galleries till 4:30pm)
Tel: 02-153-555 | www.chula.ac.th