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2008 Honourable Mention

Crown Property Bureau Building

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Project TitleCrown Property Bureau Building

LocationChachoengsao, Thailand

Size1,310 square metres

CostUS$ 521,068

Responsible PartyPipatpong Israsena Na Ayudhya

Heritage ArchitectWichai Wachrangsikan

ContractorCrown Property Bureau

Date of Completion30 January 2006


Project Synopsis

The Crown Property Bureau building was originally constructed in 1903 as the office of the governor. It is located in the town of Chachoengsao, which was the capital of Prachinburi Precinct. Comprised of several provinces facing the strategic eastern approach to Bangkok, Prachinburi Precinct was the creation of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn, 1853-1910) who initiated the new administrative division in 1889. The first capital of the precinct was at Prachinburi, but in 1902 the king chose to move the capital to Chachoengsao to take advantage of the Bangkapong River, an important regional transportation corridor. The new capital adhered to modern Western planning principles, with a hierarchy of streets, well-organized shophouse rows and a central market. One of the king’s younger brothers, Prince Kromamuen Marupong Siriphat, became the governor of the precinct in 1903, and the Crown Property Bureau building was built for him. The building functioned as the governor’s office until the 1932 Democratic Revolution.

The Crown Property Bureau building is located on the west bank of the Bangkapong River. It is a single-storey building with a projecting entrance and wings. Both the front and rear façades feature loggias that serve as the building’s reception rooms and offices. The interior includes a central reception room flanked on either side by two wings of offices. A pediment bearing the royal garuda symbol surmounts the arched entrance way and the exterior is extensively ornamented with wood filigree.

One of the reforms made by the new regime in the 1930s was the decentralization of government. As a result, administrative functions reverted to the provincial level and Prachinburi Precinct was dissolved. In the following years the building served a number of purposes, including as offices for the provincial government. In 1963, it became the Chachoengsao Municipal Office. 

In 1975, the municipality moved its offices and the government leased out space in the old governor’s headquarters for a variety of commercial purposes. Poorly maintained by its tenants, the building was nonetheless listed as a historic monument by the Thai Fine Arts Department in 1977. In 1984, a fire severely damaged the building and it then sat derelict until 1992, when a visit by Crown Princess Sirindhorn prompted a campaign to restore it.

The first phase of restoration began in 1997, after it had been established that the building was the property of the Crown Property Bureau. The government’s records were incomplete and responsibility for the property had never been properly established until then. The initial repair effort involved the reconstruction of the masonry structure and the replacement of the roof, as well as basic work on the exterior. This set the stage for a more thorough project in 2005 and 2006, after which the Crown Property Bureau re-assumed occupancy of the building.

Conservation Approach

The 1984 fire had effectively gutted the building, leaving a bare skeleton for the Fine Arts Department to work with in 1997. The roof was completely destroyed and only fragments of the brick walls remained. As a result, the first phase of the rehabilitation project involved an effort to return the graceful colonial-style structure to a useable state. Part of the project included rebuilding the masonry walls and plasterwork. The 1997 construction team also rebuilt the roof. Other than stabilization, however, few other major changes were made. Basic services were reintroduced and the building was made watertight awaiting future renewal.

With the decision to take over the property in 2005, the Crown Property Bureau initiated a much more thorough restoration. The bureau’s plan was to create a modern office complex within the heritage context of the building. In recognition of the property’s historic value, project planners paid particular attention to the historically significant features of the building as well as its setting. In order to open up the historic vista of the building to the riverfront and reinstate the riverfront setting of the building, the Crown Property Bureau decided to remove 34 shophouses that were blocking access to the river. The shophouses had been built at a later date for rental income and did not have any particular heritage value. The tenants were shifted to nearby buildings. 

The second restoration project gave special recognition to the building’s exterior features. These included the Neo-Baroque entrance and the delicate wooden tracery of the transoms and canopies. Rather than the drab white of the 1997 repair project, the conservation team of the second project decided to repaint the building in a pale yellow that approximated the original colour. The mouldings, railings, and rosettes were highlighted in white, as was typical for buildings of its era.

Some aspects of the original building required replacement. The original encaustic tiles of the loggias had been destroyed by the fire and the first restoration project had replaced them with bare concrete. The team found matching modern copies of the tiles and installed these in exterior loggias and passageways. The original doors and windows had been discarded in 1997, so replacements were made to match the details of the historic exterior wood door and window treatments. Workers repainted both in a contrasting green and white scheme in keeping with typical turn of the century style.

The project also incorporated a significant degree of work on the interior. The overall aim was to create a modern workspace while at the same time respecting the heritage values of the property.Teak floor planks replaced the 1997-period concrete floors. A discreet but effective system of recessed lighting system was installed in the teak panels of the ceiling. The conservation team was also careful to hide air-conditioning ducts and wiring behind teak panelling. Interior wood-and-glass shutters permitted the retention of cool air while still complementing the overall period appearance. Modern restrooms replaced earlier institutional versions. Despite the envisioned utilitarian function of the office spaces, an effort was made to furnish the building in keeping with the building’s heritage status.

Conservation and the Community

The Crown Property Building is an important symbol for Chachoengsao, a place that once inhabited the figurative frontline in a slow struggle of attrition against the French domination of the region. Soon after the construction of the governor’s office, a French-manufactured political crisis in 1906-1907 led to the cession of sections of the Mekong, the territory south of Champasak in Laos, as well as parts of western Cambodia, bringing the threat of colonization ever nearer. The governor’s office was known as “Liberty Monument” and served as an important rallying-point for the Thai residents of border provinces. The conservation effort has restored this important building to a level befitting its special status in the minds of the local people.

In the modern context, it is hoped that the restoration and beautification of this significant historic property will have a positive economic impact on an area that has received relatively little benefit from Thailand’s expanding economy and its tourism industry, compared to many other parts of the country. The restoration effort is one of several projects aimed at rescuing the built heritage of the region and stimulating interest in the rich and varied history of the area. The sensitive technical approach taken by the Crown Property Bureau should be a model for future conservation projects.

Quote from the Project Team

“Regardless of how much time has passed, the older generation of the people of Chachoengsao always remembers the Prachinburi Precinct and regards the building as the “Liberty Monument” for the people of Chachoengsao.”