BALS Year 3 Studio 5 2013-14

Thailand’s Water Economies

Course Title: Landscape Design Studio 5 (ARCH 3041)
Instructor: Dorothy Tang

BA(LS) Capstone Studio

Known as the ‘rice bowl’, Thailand’s fertile soils and rich coastal landscapes were the early economic foundations for the nation. However, the Chao Phraya River is a product of post-war infrastructural planning projects that have severely altered the fragile ecologies that maintained traditional productive landscapes of agriculture and aquaculture. During the 2012 studio field trip in the previous year, we stumbled upon the political and economic tensions between flood prevention and the management of limited freshwater resources. The ecological consequence of massive engineered solutions to flood prevention and irrigation is the degradation of productive landscapes such as coastal shrimp ponds and traditional rice fields. Current industrial practices in aquaculture and agriculture have created an ecological collapse in the region – resulting in massive amounts of abandoned shrimp ponds and rice fields.

Currently, there are many grassroots-based NGOs that are working to rehabilitate the coastal landscape along the Gulf of Thailand, including villagers from a fishing community in Samut Sakhon who are aiming to restore mangroves along their coast. On the upper reaches of the Chao Phraya River, other grassroots movements seek to preserve the native Thai rice varieties that are under threat of extinction due to the proliferation of genetically-engineered varieties. ‘Thailand’s Water Economies’ contributes to these efforts through research and landscape planning to insert alternative solutions to the ecological and planning problems that exist within this context.

This studio built upon research from the previous year that examined the role of water in the economic development of Thailand. Agriculture and aquaculture have significant roles in Thai history, but recent industrial development and the 2011 floods have revealed a new relationship between economy and water – one where abundance and flooding is viewed as a great threat rather than resource. What is the role of landscape planning within these conflicting views?

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