Manusya, Journal of Humanities

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This essay describes the emerging public discourse on Bangkok's urban and architectural transformations in print media from the reign of Rama V. It discusses and compares different representations and visions of the civilizing city that were architectured by three groups of publishing elites: the royal elite, the commoner intellectuals, and the Westerners. In April 1869, the Siam Repository had printed an editorial article titled "Bangkok, Siam. As It Is." The Repository's editor was an American missionary, Samuel J. Smith, and the first half of the article was a typical description of the capital city of this "heathen country." The flat deltaic landscape and its extensive waterways were duly noted, together with the princely palaces, the profuse vegetation, and the multitudes of people. The latter half of the article, however, represented nothing less than one of the earliest calls for a systematic planning of Bangkok, the growing city that "is being rapidly built up with substantial brick dwellings, especially on the king's road and vicinity." Smith then listed the questions he thought were most pertinent to the city's improvements: Where do we in Bangkok propose to have market street a hundred years hence? Where do we propose to have the beautiful river residences? What parts are to be given up for traffic in wholesale? Where are to be the big warehouses and the din of trade? And where the forts that are to give defence? Where the great parade ground for military department? Where the Academic halls? Where the state buildings in which rulers and judges are to make laws and dispense justice? Where those necessary buildings that require most thought of all, that are to provide for the sick, the sentenced and the unfortunate? Only with fate in God, good work, and modern town planning, Smith argued, "the city would grow up strong and beautiful, and become e'er long a beautiful thrifty place for trade, and a growing thrifty country in every department." He envisioned the city "laid out into building squares, with fine broad streets," which, if implemented right away, "would save a deal of trouble in after time, in pulling down the old to make improvements." Smith then imagined the walled part of the city overlaid with brick-paved streets, fine residences for the Siamese elite, and substantial masonry-built stores, with the Thonburi side reserved as residential area for the native population. Bangkok should be turned into a foreign enclave called "Consulate Squares," while the port area further south should naturally become bustling with business and industrial activities.

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