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Project Profile


2009 Award of Merit

Samchuk Community and Old Market District

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Project Title: Samchuk Community and Old Market District

Location: 73 Moo 2, Samchuk District, Suphanburi, Thailand

Size713 square metres (Baan Khun Jamning Jeenarak); 250 square metres (Baan Thao Kae Cheng); 173 square metres(Udomchok Hotel)                                   

CostUS$ 23,500 (Baan Khun Jamrong Jeenarak); US$ 8,823 (BaanThao Kae Cheng); US$ 11,765 (Udomchok Hotel)                                

Responsible Party: Samchuk Community and Market Committee

Heritage Architect: Chawand Luanseng and Sumethee Proythaisong

Contractor: N/A

Date of Completion: May 2006

Project Synopsis

Samchuk is an intact historic commercial settlement strategically situated for commercial activity. The town has historically been an important transfer point for trade with other districts, and flourished as a result of the trade of rice and other agricultural products along the Ta Chin River during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Old Market Area of Samchuk is an outstanding example of a traditional market within the central rice growing plain of Thailand. The area is characterized by the presence of traditional wooden shophouses, many of which were built as part of early river-based settlements. By the early decades of the twentieth century, the number of these shophouses had increased to about 150 units, distributed along two main soi (streets) behind the embankment.

The market area has experienced several distinct periods of development. Its “golden era” was during the first decades of the twentieth century when the rice trade flourished in the Suphanburi area. The establishment of a local government office in 1938 gave official recognition to the importance of the area as an important trading hub. The community continued to grow steadily in the period following the Second World War until the late 1980s when the economy declined as a result of the creation of new markets and changing transportation patterns. This situation worsened into the 1990s.

The Samchuk Revitalisation Project was part of a wider campaign within Thailand to encourage cultural tourism. The new initiative’s aim was to augment traditional trade to promote and improve the physical environment, stimulate the local economy and strengthen community relations. The brainchild of the Chumchonthai Foundation (CTF), this effort began in 1999 with the “Liveable City” programme at Samchuk Old Market District.

The efforts to revitalize Samchuk included the restoration of Baan Khun Jamnong Jeenarak. One of the most notable landmarks in Samchuk, this private house came into community hands through a donation. The property’s name derives from its owner, the area’s onetime tax collector and landlord, who governed the district, market and community from 1916. The renovation of the house and its conversion into a museum in 2004 provided a meeting place for local residents and a venue for exhibitions. A permanent display tells visitors about the Samchuk Market District, the story of Thai and Chinese settlements in Suphanburi and the importance of the Ta Chin River. The museum has helped stimulate an awareness of and appreciation for local history and has added to the community’s sense of pride. 

In 2006, the government’s Treasury Department, an entity that owns much of the land and properties in Samchuk, prepared plans to upgrade the entire market area, a step that would have meant the removal and destruction of many of the traditional shophouses. The local community protested this course of development, a cause eventually gaining the support of heritage advocates, in particular the Association of Siamese Architects and ICOMOS Thailand. They argued that the destruction of the traditional area would ruin away the very essence of the market, something that the CTF had been striving to nurture for the previous seven years. In 2007, in response to community efforts, the Thai Fine Arts Department (FAD) designated the market area as a “Local Historic District”. This step was a great victory for the community, giving support to the kind of revitalization approach that many advocated.

Following the district’s listing, the CTF took on two significant renovation projects within the market area. These projects were the restoration of the historic Udomchok Hotel, a property approximately 80 years old, which had been built during the “golden era”, and the conversion of Baan Thao Kae Cheng into a souvenir shop and the market committee’s office. The next phase of the project involved the rehabilitation of roofs and façades of the many shophouses of the market area. Undertaken by the Treasury Department, this effort marked an important step in the evolution of the old area and represented an innovative approach to conservation in Thailand.

Conservation Approach

The Samchuk Market area is testament to both tangible and intangible expressions of local cultural heritage. The Nara Document on Authenticity served as a blueprint for the CTF’s approach in restoring the area. The first phase of the conservation work, coordinated under the auspices of the CTF, sought to revive the spirit of the community and to enhance a sense of cultural identity through promoting greater understanding of local history. The creation of the museum was considered a first step toward enhancing local understanding of both the tangible and intangible qualities of Samchuk and its market area. Work on the other two historic properties helped to put these ideas further into effect, demonstrating how restoration can be a key to cultural revival.

The conservation team carefully recorded the original construction details, revealing an early application of combined reinforced concrete and timber-frame technology. This system demonstrated the synthesis of traditional and newer technology and showed the influence of Western building techniques on the construction trade during this early period. In keeping with early twentieth-century fashions, the house was also highly ornamented, revealing both Thai cultural preferences and the relative affluence of the owner.

The three buildings targeted under the project were restored to a new level of usefulness, while preserving their historic character. The approach adopted for the Baan Khun Jamrong Jeenarak was to restore the old house to its original character and appearance. This meant reintroducing original materials that had been lost, such as the floor and roof tiles and some the building’s wooden panels.

Udomchok Hotel and Baan Thao Kae Cheng were restored in 2007. The hotel had originally accommodated merchants and travellers but was closed in the 1980s and had subsequently gradually deteriorated. Much of the restoration work involved repair of existing features and removal of unsympathetic additions. Local artisans trained in traditional building techniques carried out the work, ensuring that the restored building matched the original as closely as possible. The hotel today features guestrooms on the upper floor, and a groundfloor reception area and small coffee shop.

Baan Thao Kae Cheng had been the property of the Treasury Department, but in support for the project the government donated the historic house to the market committee for use as an office, souvenir shop, community centre and exhibit area. As with the hotel, the work was undertaken by local artisans who employed traditional techniques. The conservation team ensured that replacement materials matched the originals and returned the building to its overall appearance at its peak period of use in the early twentieth century.

The repair and restoration of the approximately 100 shop houses in the area mostly involved work on the building exteriors and façades, including repainting of the building exteriors and repairs to the roof cladding. Part of a “living museum” for the Samchuk area, these buildings remain the property of the Treasury Department but are leased to tenants. The department has instigated a scheme whereby the tenants who sensitively restore and care for their shophouses can get a longer rental period. This scheme has actively encouraged tenants to be involved in the conservation process. The façade preservation effort extended the revitalization effort from beyond just a few buildings to the wider community. The FAD’s listing of the district further protected it from demolition, providing at the same time a secure tenure for existing residents and shopkeepers.                                         

Conservation and the Community

The local community was the driving force behind the process of conservation within the Samchuk Market area. Without the dedication and foresight of local residents, the market was unlikely to have survived. The community’s direct involvement added to the vitality of the market and ensured the continuity of the area’s historic buildings. The community’s involvement was also a key ingredient in attracting outside visitors to the refurbished area.

The community was active from 2004 when local residents took part in a workshop designed to develop conservation guidelines for the historic area. Formulation of the guidelines, which took into account local priorities and ideas about appropriate restoration and repair strategies, created a framework for the repair work and for regulatory statutes governing future changes in the district. The residents and shopkeepers themselves added a provision about appropriate signage and advertising.

They also commented on colour schemes for the buildings, favouring historic treatments over modern preferences. The municipality later produced a handbook with guidelines to aid in the restoration of properties, which was circulated among the tenants and owners.

The projects at the Samchuk Market area helped to reintroduce a sense of local ownership within the historic precinct. With the improvement of market conditions and trade, younger people are no longer eager to leave the area. They see opportunities within the old market area and have embraced the idea of cultural tourism as a means of improving the local economy. It is hoped that this change of attitude will help ensure a sense of cultural continuity, whereby the values inherent in this traditional mode of commerce remain cherished forms of expression for future generations.

Since the completion of the project, Samchuk has become an extremely popular destination for Thai visitors who are interested in experiencing a market from a bygone era. Local food stalls, souvenir shops and vendors selling household items and other goods enjoy a roaring trade. The project has become an exemplar for other local governments around the country, who visit Samchuk to learn about the history and process of its revitalization.

Quote from the Project Team

“Today, Samchuk community is known as a successful revival project for being able to integrate three development ingredients – the physical settings (tangible culture), local  activities (intangible culture), and united neighborliness.”