Published on October 15, 2007
The Supreme Court Building has stood on Rattanakosin Island for several decades but not many people know the history behind its construction.
The government's decision to demolish the building to make way for a new one means the destruction of not only architectural heritage but also the last symbol of the most important stages of Siamese jurisdiction, said Chatri Prakitnonthakarn, lecturer at Silpakorn University's Faculty of Architecture.
The Supreme Court Build-ing has great historical value as it is the only remaining building of "The Celebration on the Oc-casion of Thailand Regai-ning Absolute Jurisdiction" in 1938, said Chatri, the author of "Politics and Society in Architectural Art".
The Association of Siamese Architects this year placed the Ministry of Justice buildings on its list of historical buildings that should be preserved.
But the present government recently approved Bt3.764 million for the construction of a new Supreme Court building, which will take four years to complete.
According Supreme Court president Panya Thanomrod, the building has been in bad condition for decades and the government has spent nearly Bt1 billion on repairs over the years.
However, Chatri wondered if the building's condition was really so bad that it needed to be replaced.
"It is younger than many other buildings on Rattana-kosin Island. Those buildings were built in the reign of King Rama V and are still well preserved today," he said.
The architecture lecturer recently organised a public discussion on the topic "The Supreme Court Building: The value of architectural art of historical buildings of the Justice Ministry in Rattanakosin".
"The historical value of the Supreme Court Building is that it is the only remaining structure that was built to commemorate the occasion of Thailand regaining absolute jurisdiction," Chatri said.
Siam granted extra-territorial jurisdiction to another country for the first time in 1885, when King Mongkut (Rama IV) and Great Britain's envoy, Sir John Bowring, signed the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce, later commonly referred to as "The Bowring Treaty".
The treaty allowed the establishment of a British consulate in Bangkok and guaranteed Britain full extra-territorial powers. Following the Bowring Treaty, many other Western countries forced Siam to grant them the same powers.
In 1938 the Thai government led by the People's Party (Kana Ratsadon), which had carried out the revolution six years earlier that abruptly ended 150 years of absolute monarchy under the Chakri Dynasty and led Siam into an era of the constitutional monarchy, managed after a struggle to finally regain the country's absolute jurisdiction.
The government ordered the construction of the Ministry of Justice buildings as part of the celebrations of the event, and as a symbol of the country's absolute jurisdiction.
The first phase of the project was completed in 1941 and the second in 1943, but the last phase - the Supreme Court Building - was delayed for 20 years due to World War II and political changes in Thailand. Construction of the building finally began in 1959 and was completed in 1963.
The Supreme Court Building was designed with similar features to other "modern" architectural styles of the time - primarily the simplification of form and elimination of ornamentation.
Many building were seen simply as "boxes".
"The government [led by the People's Party] used the simplicity of the modern architecture as a symbol of its political ideology - representing 'ordinary people' and 'equality' in a democratic system," said Chatri. The Supreme Court Building is one of historical symbols of the People's Party, he said.
Chatri wondered whether the plan to replace the current Supreme Court Building was another effort to remove symbols of the People's Party from Thailand's political history.
The plan was first proposed in 1986, when the building was only 23 years old, and the Cabinet at the time approved a budget of Bt2.2 billion.
The idea was discussed again in 1992, soon after a coup d'etat.
Supreme Court president Panya said that due to the country's economic situation and other problems, the project had to be suspended for more than a decade.
The construction plan and the budget for the new building was approved in December last year as part of "The Cele-brations of the Auspicious Occa-sion of His Majesty the King's 80th Birthday Anniversary 5th December 2007".
A schematic drawing of the new building shows a modern architectural style with Thai ornamentation on top.
Ironically, the approval of the construction of the new Supreme Court Building violates the Office of the Prime Minister's regulation on the conservation and development of Rattanakosin City and old towns.
The entire Rattanakosin Island has been declared a "conservation area" that does not allow any new construction.
Chatri said the Rattanakosin Island committee would be accused of double standards if it allowed construction of a new Supreme Court building.
Back in 2002 the committee also allowed the three-storey House of the Privy Councillors to be built in Wang Saranrom Royal Park, which is within the Rattanakosin Island conservation area, he said.