Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Thai Architecture & Use of Space

The first few days after our arrival in Thailand, we toured Mahidol University and later toured the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and visited a model of a Thai traditional house in the Ancient City (among other things!). The architecture, modern and ancient, was striking, not simply for its beauty or novelty to me, but because of the meaning Thai people give to their spaces.  

One view of the College of Music at Mahidol
The College of Music at Mahidol University (which houses the Music Therapy Department) is beautiful.  The buildings are not simply rectangular, but are complete with indoor, outdoor and semi-outdoor spaces.  It is hoped that music students will “think outside of the box” throughout their academic careers.  There is also a belief that beauty begets beauty; the more aesthetically pleasing a space, the more beautiful things can be created in that space (read more here).  Across the street is Prince Mahidol Hall, a grand hall completed in 2014, used for ceremonies and home of the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra.  The shape of the hall has two meanings; from one perspective you can see the shape of a kan phai flower, from another, the human ribcage and spine.  These two images reflect the University—the emblem (the kan phai flower) and it’s history as a medical school.   It is easy to see how the music therapy program fits so nicely within a university that values art and aesthetics alongside science and medicine.
Graduated roof at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The unique features of historical Thai architecture, such as the graduated rooftops of the Grand Palace and the temples and raised thresholds of a traditional Thai house, have functional as well as religious and spiritual meanings. Homes and temples are both sanctified spaces; it is seen simply in how you remove your shoes before entering either.  The architecture also functions in Thailand’s hot and rainy weather—high rooftops prevent leaks and raised houses prevent flooding (to see more examples of traditional Thai architecture please see Thai architect Pinyo Suwankiri’s website). 

This conscious use of space is true in many of the places we’ve visited in Thailand.  A quick example is the air conditioning in the apartments we’re staying in as well as the Music Therapy Department.  Both have air conditioning but use it sparingly, and only in rooms as needed.  The hallway in the apartments does not have air conditioning but the rooms do; it is operated by the room key and therefore cannot be on when the occupant is not there.  Likewise in the school of music, air conditioning is used wisely and shoes must be removed in classroom and clinic spaces. 

Transfers can be made to the hospitals we have visited.  Again, the hospital is not a fortress with central air. Many hospitals have outdoor spaces and use AC wisely; one hospital did not have air conditioning at all.  I’ve also observed and participated in sessions where it seems impossible to fit more patients in the group or in the room and yet it somehow happens! This is parallel to the experience of traveling to the hospital in a cab with Dr. Register, Karn (Thai music therapist extraordinaire), two Mahidol students, the driver and myself.  It seems that in places where my instinct says it cannot be done, Thai people make it work.

The most striking difference of the Thai hospitals we’ve seen and hospitals in the U.S. is that many of the hospital wards use an open bay setting instead of individual rooms.  The space can be quite overwhelming.  This week, Dr. Register and I had the opportunity to supervise two music therapy sessions in two different wards of public hospital that had just begun music therapy services.  After, we were invited to tour several wards.  The head nurse of one ward, seeing the students with a guitar, invited (perhaps insisted?) the students to play just three songs.  While this was not planned, the students obliged.   The act of live music in the open ward immediately changed the space.  One patient quickly asked for the next song when the first one ended; another patient joked about dancing (as soon as she got her pain meds) and the head nurse sang along with the therapists to every song. The presence of the music was a gentle and supportive invitation to the all who were present to make connections with one another.

Just like Thai architecture, live music is a space in and of itself, one of beauty and meaning that functions and blossoms in challenging environments. 

1 comment:

  1. What lovely experiences you are enjoying! How do you plan to use these ideas of space in your own practice?