at the 2021 venice architecture biennale, the thai pavilion explores what architecture can learn from the relationship between elephants and the kuy people — an ethnic group in thailand’s tha tum district. ‘changes have affected their villages of people and elephants over the centuries,’ the curatorial team, led by apiradee kasemsook, shares with designboom. ‘what never changes with time, however, is the inseparable bond between the two.’ the pavilion’s exhibitor is boonserm premthada, the architect responsible for designing ‘elephant world’ — a government funded initiative that includes a museum, a flexible events and recreation space, and an observation tower. the complex provides a source of stable income for the kuy people as well as the region’s elephants.
the completed pavilion in tha tum, thailand | image by spaceshift studio
over time, with deforestation happening at an increasing pace, many elephants in thailand have been left without necessary sustenance. these animals are often forced to wander in tourist cities or labor in forest camps until they fall ill and die. however, boonserm premthada says that the complex, which is located in the tha tum district, is not for people to lament the past, but rather a place where local people can take pride in their culture, while educating others about their history and traditions. the architect says that teaching people and animals to ‘coexist with love’ is the project’s overarching message — a sentiment particularly fitting for the biennale, given its theme: how will we live together?
image by spaceshift studio
the exhibition at the thai pavilion — appropriately titled ‘elephant’ — asks, in an age of conflict, what can be learned from tha tum, where humans and elephants have lived side by side for centuries. ‘the architecture in tha tum is elementary but is embedded with much consideration for one another, as elephants are considered members of the household,’ the curatorial team tells designboom. ‘a typical house is one where a generous section is dedicated to elephants. a man needs a shading structure, so there is one for an elephant, too. there is a shrine related to their lives with elephants. a house shall never cast its shadow onto the shadows of the shrine, and vice versa. and when one leaves another, there is a graveyard for the kuy; and their companions rest in another graveyard nearby.’
image by spaceshift studio
the pavilion’s focal point is an installation, designed by boonserm premthada, that is inspired by the simple but considered structures found in northeast thailand. representing the living quarters of both humans and elephants, the installation comprises two levels: a lower level for humans, and an elevated structure that references the region’s elephant houses. constructed inside the arsenale’s sale d’armi building, using materials sourced locally in italy, the two parts of the timber installation are integrated to provide mutual support for each other. meanwhile, the large sloping roof will act as a screen onto which the team’s research and the life of its ‘twin’ pavilion in tha tum will be projected.