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15 May 2019

Dialogues on two Different Approaches to Wua-lai area

By Komson Teeraparbwong

First Approach: Ban King-Kaew Roundtable Forum. “A Neighbourhood voice”

Chairs were set in a circle, so that the “round-table forum” could be ready to receive our important guests. Many key persons who live in Wua-lai neighbourhood area came into the room and sat within the circle. Some were representing their area of residence. Others were friends who work most of the time in the area.

The residents of Wua-Lai at a forum for discussing their neighbourhood experience.

Bann King Kaew is an orphanage and school providing a caring home for young children aged up to 4-5 years. This is a non-profit where the children can learn, develop their skills and gain some knowledge before attending primary school elsewhere. Local people seem to leave the place in peace as it has nothing to do with silversmithing for which the area is well known. In view of this, Baan King Kaew was considered to be a suitably “neutral space” for the purpose of neighbourhood discussion. It’s where two neighbourhoods centred around temples can come together in order to exchange opinions without any ill feeling.

Of course, it is a challenge for this kind of research to understand what people are thinking and to learn about their life-long neighbourhood experiences, in this case with the area of Wua-lai. A forum might reveal some hidden factors or concealed truths.

Expectations were high and three sessions were organised:

  • •The first was simply to “break the ice”, melting the boundary between the two neighbourhoods;
  • The second led to the core discussion about problematic issues in the area, i.e. those relating to its status as an area traditionally associated with silversmiths;
  • The third was to sum up the future prospects for the area involving everyone within the Forum.

Many issues were raised from the floor, such as:

  • The fading image of this silversmiths’ area;
  • The ability of local silversmiths to develop sustainable business model for the future;
  • The sense of belonging or ownership of the area in the face of encroachment by outside interests; and
  • The crucial dependence of the neighbourhoods on relationships with the temples.

Once the forum was underway, suddenly (and surprisingly), the Abbot and a monk from the Srisupan Temple appeared. “Sawasdee krub” and “Namasakarn Luang Porr”… I quickly welcomed them, but their presence made those persons reluctant to speak or to make the next move. Luckily, before things turned awkward, the abbot kindly said that he was only coming to observe and would sit at the back. Nevertheless, the presence of the Abbot meant that those at the Forum were now being very careful about what they said. In comparison with an hour earlier, people seemed to have little to say and saved their opinions!

Luckily, after about 15 minutes, the Abbot and the monk decided to return to the temple, allowing discussion to flow as freely as before. The final round of the event was wrapped up in quite a successful one for our real local neighbourhood voices.

Second Approach: Spatial Investigation Workshop. “A student voice”

Two novice monks are watching an architectural student working on his drawings. They seem much taken with some of his sketches. The black pencil line takes the shape of an old wooden house in front of their eyes. The group of students at the workshop were drawn from both French and Thai architectural schools. They had been asked to conduct a survey and to make sketches of the valuable wooden houses in the area. They had also been asked to find out something about how the inhabitants of the houses lived and their family backgrounds. Surprisingly, most of the houses that we had selected, had been homes to the same families for at least 3 generations. The houses were therefore places of memory as well as places for work and for future hopes and aspirations.

During the 18-days of the workshop, the students’ investigations fell into three phases of works. The first was an introduction to the reality of Wua-lai area. By engaging in “urbanistic realism”, a comparative dialogue was opened up between their library research and the conditions on the real ground. In the second phase, students were asked to conduct a survey of old wooden houses, to make sketches, and to interview the residents. This brought them from the “urban” to the “local and domestic” scale. Some connecting issues emerged through presentations and discussion, leading to the final phase of workshop in which spatial projects were proposed as solutions to argued problematic issues.

Thanks to this “urbanistic” approach, some proposals were interesting enough to be able to apply for real-life projects. This could be pursued in collaboration with local government. Issues like public transportation, neighbourhood boundaries, river/street walkways, child care, the impact of tourism and so on provided a good basis for further reflection. Obviously, the workshop reflects how outsiders saw the area and uncovered some unseen issues that the local will never think of or dare to think. This links them to local people as a concrete tool to combine both “internal” and “external” voices.

Wua-lai area has been up and down for many decades and generations. The living neighbourhood is also the same in greater details regardless of who you are. The reality reflects the remaining “past” and “image”. Silver village with knowledge and heritage assets need to be re-understood and re-considered. Either neighbourhoods’ or students’ voices, these dialogues still echo all along forever.