East meets West | Architecture in Bangkok and Barcelona
Architectural Delight in Future Past
How do two distant parts of the world interpret architectural masterpieces in their cultural contexts? While stylistic influences may vary, I reckon that the purpose of these epic structures is to enhance the unique cultural identity of the emerging global cities they inhabit. Here’s why.
In both cities, the rich architectural tradition of the past breathes life force into the landscape, celebrating the craft and artistry that enhance one’s experience of these cultural centres.
Bangkok bears witness to a dynamic and diverse design scene, offering a medley of architectural delights that seem simultaneously eclectic, historic, and disarmingly charming. Among the city’s main attractions is the 236-year-old Grand Palace complex comprised of courtyards, shrines, landscaped gardens, halls and structures varying in style and technique— owing to the gradual construction and additions under the various monarchies it once housed.
Another recurring feature in travel across Thailand are ‘wats’, which are Buddhist temples. These structures are based on the philosophy of isolating or enclosing the individual from the outside world during a spiritual interaction. Typically, they include a section dedicated to the Buddha idol and another to living quarters for the monks. The stupas, crystal walls, sacred hallways and bell towers are essential elements of wats that beautifully reflect Thai cultural heritage and craftsmanship.
Barcelona’s structural landscape is similarly inspired and astonishing, which can be largely credited to Antoni Gaudi, the man who designed the famously under-construction Catholic basilica—the Sagrada Familia. The project, which commenced in 1882, is expected to culminate by 2026, a century after it’s architect’s death. The overwhelmingly ornate Park Guell is another fascinating creation by the master artist. Here, he used sustainability as a central theme of his work. The ceramics used for the tiles that decorate this scenic park were recycled from various households. Casa Batllo is a masterful exhibit of Gaudi’s scandalous abandonment of straight lines in architecture.
Known as ‘God’s Architect’, he was also responsible for the street lamps that illuminate Barcelona’s beautiful walkways. His designs typically draw from gothic, naturalistic and fantastical elements—characterised by geometric patterns, colours and materials found in nature—giving his work a timeless relevance.
Many noteworthy structures in Barcelona are heavily influenced by Catholicism, including the works of Gaudi. The symbolic value attributed to analysing the architecture here is immensely gratifying for a traveller seeking an immersive design experience and echoes the Buddhist influence in Thai architecture.
Secondly, both cities are also using innovative design to move forward with a modern perspective on city infrastructure.
Bangkok is increasingly being acknowledged for its impressive skyline, highlighted by the MahaNakhon building. This is the city’s tallest tower, a 77 storey high multi-purpose sky rise accentuated by a fascinating pixelated ribbon design. In some ways, this contemporary facade is just as extravagant as the Grand Palace, the name MahaNakhon translating to “great metropolis”. The architecture here further ranges from commercial, as evidenced by the innovative mall complexes, to positively quirky—the accurately named Robot building, the perplexingly endearing Elephant building, and the abandoned Ghost Tower—perfectly adorning the vibrant capital.
In Barcelona, an Urban Mobility Plan has been initiated to restructure spaces in a way that encourages community interaction and reduces car density in local streets. Green architecture has been prioritised in the smart city by installing electric car charging stations, sensors to prevent curbside parking, community bicycle sharing service, and a focus on green living spaces. The entire ‘22@ district’ of the city is dedicated to innovative ecologically responsible design.
Although widely contrasting in terms of style and artistic expression, the architecture of these cities is an essential factor of their individuality and appeal. Their architectural approaches are a testament to how these constantly involving cityscapes are deeply rooted in historical tradition, even as they work towards an innovative future in infrastructural design.