Design in Thailand is usually based on very decorative historical models. When reviewing the wares in the gold shops and stores, I marveled at the intricacy of the designs, but wondered why there was very little diversity in design, and modern design items were very difficult to find.
The intricacy of jewelry and textile design echos the traditional Thai Buddhist temples or wat found throughout Thailand.
While there are many variations in the style, the style itself is used consistently throughout the country.
This extends to the architecture of Bangkok. Almost all of the housing and shops built in the 20th century look the same, and the same-size modular wood or aluminum window is found in over 90% of all house and shop fronts.
It is as if no thought is to be given to diversity or original design.
Where there is something different, their tastes seem to run towards the melodramatic historicism like these fairly new houses.
I tend to react to new cities that I visit based on the overall impression that I gain from the design sense and way that people have put together industry and housing to serve their needs. Beijing and Shanghai have very different but distinctive urban designs and architectures based on the historical fabric of these ancient cities. But both cities have sacrificed much of their character in the rush over that past two decades to modernize. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi still retain the French colonial planning and civic buildings that provide a distinctive backdrop for both traditional Vietnamese architecture and the architectural experimentation now happening in HCMC with new houses and shop fronts. Ideally to me, as these two cities modernize, they will retain the backdrop and the traditional and contemporary forms of Vietnamese architecture as they mix in the international style large buildings that constitute modern cities today.
Bangkok is very hard for me to define using this criteria, and I felt lost. I was there 34 years ago, but recognized nothing except the river and the wats on my return. Some of the old wood houses on large garden lots remain, but are submerged behind the new international buildings.
Thus Bangkok has become an international-style city without much for character to distinguish it. And the new international style buildings have much of the sameness that characterizes design in Thailand.