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2005 Honouable Mention

Tammak Yai

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Project Title: Tamnak Yai, Devavesm Palace

Location: Bangkhunprom, Bangkok, Thailand

Size: 1,645 square metres

Cost: US$ 1.6 million

Responsible Party: General Administration Department, Bank of Thailand

Heritage Architect: Fine Arts Department

Contractor: Cha-Fa Limited Partnership

Date of Completion: 31 October 2004


Project Synopsis

Constructed by the order of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) as a gift to his younger brother Prince Devawongse Varopakan (1858-1923), Devavesm Palace was built over a period of four years between 1914 and 1918. Situated on the bank of Chao Phraya River, Tamnak Yai (the main building) looks out over the river, and is the centrepiece of the entire palace compound. The estate also includes a number of subsidiary villas and brick houses. Tamnak Yai is one of two buildings on the estate registered as a national heritage site by the Fine Arts Department. 

Prince Devawongse, who served as the foreign minister of Siam from 1885 until his death, resided in Devavesm Palace for five years before he passed away in 1923. His heirs inherited the estate and lived there until the Ministry of Public Health bought the land and the buildings in 1950. Twelve years later, in 1962, the ministry bought additional land and buildings belonging to HSH Princess Atcharawadi Devakul to expand the premises. The space eventually became too cramped for the ministry, however, and in 1994, the ministry moved to a new location. The Bank of Thailand (BOT) took control of the Devavesm estate in 1998.

Designed by English architect Edward Healey, Tamnak Yai is a Neo-classical style building of four storeys, surmounted by a hip roof. Notable classical elements include Ionic columns in the front portico, Corinthian pilasters, Doric columns in the bedchamber, and semi-circular window arches and pediments over the windows. Despite its affinities to Western architectural traditions, the building also displays features more typical of Thai buildings of the period. These include stucco buttresses, balustrades and wooden tracery over doorframes. The building also features fretwork panelling for ventilation and decorative plaster ceilings.

The structural framework is concrete, combined with a timber-wall skeleton. The builders employed modern technology and materials of the period, such as ferro-concrete (reinforced concrete). The roof features a concrete roof deck and is covered with plain-surfaced diamond-shaped tiles made from asbestos cement boards, which were coated with tempera glaze. Other materials used were typical of those favoured in the Sixth Reign, including metal fittings on the doors and windows. The materials employed in constructing the building were sourced both locally and from abroad. Imported items included electrical fixtures, wrought iron and window panes.

Conservation Approach

The restoration of Devavesm Palace embraced both the palace building and the grounds surrounding it. Before launching the restoration works, the BOT commissioned a complete study of the building, including engineering, structural and architectural aspects and its historical background. Archaeologists conducted excavations around the building to determine if any significant features remained in place. The findings were documented in writing and photographs, and these were retained on site, representing part of the permanent record of the building and its surrounds.

The project team also recorded personal accounts of the building as part of a wider project on the social history of the site. This process included interviews with elderly former residents of the palace, and additional research focused on photographs and archival materials. Together, this information was useful in informing the restoration of the building and its grounds.

The conservation team discovered that the building’s structural system was in good condition and that the wooden roof structure also functioned well. The moulded stucco, decorative woodworks, interior wooden panels and wooden floors were also in relatively sound condition. The most significant damage to the historic structure was a result of changes made when the building was converted from a residence into a government office. Evident impacts included holes in walls and the insensitive treatment of plaster surfaces — particularly frequent repainting, which obscured the wall details. Additions such as split air-conditioning units and electrical systems had also been inappropriately installed.

The overall goal of the restoration of Tamnak Yai was to return the building to its early twentieth-century appearance. The work began with the removal of inappropriate later additions to the historic palace structure. This scrutiny extended to paint colours; the architectural team revealed the original colours through careful sampling and analysis.

The architectural components are now either original to the structure or, in the case of elements that had been missing, closely match historic components. Only in cases where original materials were in very poor condition were replacements necessary. Replacement materials matched the originals as closely as possible. Some of the material was sourced from buildings within the compound that had been demolished. Roof tiles, which were in very poor condition, were replaced with new tiles identical in size, shape and colour to the old ones. All repairs relied on traditional lime plaster and traditional plastering techniques.

To meet the modern requirements for the building, the conservation team introduced new mechanical systems and other conveniences. New services and facilities were carefully concealed in the floors, ceilings and walls to ensure that they would not visually obstruct the building’s interior. The project’s designers also incorporated a security office, an engineering control room and new bathrooms into the structure by adapting the existing interior space, but without the addition of new partitions. The architect selected lighting fixtures that were historically compatible with those used during the building’s original construction.

During the restoration, the BOT appointed a panel to oversee the restoration works. This oversight committee included representatives from the government’s Fine Arts Department. The contractor provided periodic progress reports, each documented with photographs showing the impact of the project overall. The BOT devoted 50 million Thai baht to the restoration of the Devavesm Palace, all of it from its own funds.

Conservation and the Community

Upon completion of the restoration works, the BOT assigned part of the building to serve as an exhibition hall, featuring exhibits on the conservation project. This exhibition space has proven to be very popular with school groups, university students and members of the public.

Following completion of the work to conserve Tamnak Yai, the BOT began a project to restore the building’s surrounding landscape, with the aim of opening up the lawn as a public space, offering visitors a view of the Chao Phraya River. The garden area also provides a connection between Bangkhunprom Palace and Devavesm Palace, which are both historic protected properties. With completion of the work, the complex was restored to its prominent place within the city of Bangkok and reveals something of the quality and character of Thailand a century ago.

Quote from the Project Team

“Research was conducted into the historical state of the building using clear historical evidence and interviews with older former residents of the palace in order to develop the conservation design for the building. As a result of this approach, all the architectural components which exist now are entirely original or authentic elements, without any modern additions.”