The historic municipality of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, is rich with traditional Thai architecture. For many ages, brick was the material preferred by local craftsmen, making it characteristic of the city’s heritage vernacular. However in modern times, its use in contemporary residential projects is not so common.
Foothill House by Site Specific: Architecture Research (SS:AR) is a contemporary articulation of Chiang Mai’s spirit; a traditional Thai residence, fitted with all the comforts one could wish for in a modern home. But it wasn’t always destined to be this way.
SS:AR’s client for Foothill House is a Thai native who has called Europe home for many years. Hoping to build a humble home-away-from-home for her return visits to Chiang Mai, her initial brief to SS:AR was for a vintage European-style house. Rather than take the brief and run with it, SS:AR did what any good architect would and championed the need to be sensitive of local context, climate, and culture. After all, a genuine European-style house would be rather out of place in the tropical landscape of Chiang Mai – not to mention, incompatible with the local climate and way of life. Foothill House is the result of SS:AR’s vision of a house that is respectful of Chiang Mai’s heritage, all the while, drawing on some of European architectural cues that evoke a sense of familiarity for the client.
SS:AR did what any good architect would and championed the need to be sensitive of local context, climate, and culture.
Designed to resemble the spatial arrangement of a traditional Thai residence, Foothill House is actually comprised of five smaller buildings, each purpose-built and considerately positioned according to function and connected by a shared outdoor space. The spatial arrangement of these distinct buildings is organised to facilitate the organic flow of guests from public through to private spaces. When one enters, their first encounter is with one of the most public spaces, such as the garage or kitchen. Progressing throughout the compound, spaces gradually become more and more private, until the journey comes to an end in the most private of spaces: the master bedroom.
The sentiment of this journey through Foothill House’s spaces is subtly reflected in the materiality of each building. As one moves from public area through to private space, brick patterns become increasingly intricate. The journey through Foothill House begins with a plain white block containing the services – a space that is more about function than form. The living and dining quarters, modestly clad in brick, sits in the heart of the compound; the peak of its steep gable is resonant of the old-town buildings and temples that decorate Chiang Mai. A simple white unit with terracotta roof tiles containing the kitchen and guest bedrooms is situated in between the services and the living spaces.
Foothill House is respectful of Chiang Mai’s heritage.
The master suite possesses the most complex materiality. Wrapped in a three-dimensional brick pattern, the unit appears sturdy and solid from one angle, while simultaneously perforated and light from another.
This unique attention to materiality gives Foothill House a quiet sense of sophistication. The buildings themselves are humble and unimposing: they blend into the landscape. Only upon closer inspection can one truly appreciate the intricacies of the craftsmanship that has gone in to the residence. In total, there are over ten ways in which brick has been used to great architectural effect throughout the interior and exterior of Foothill House. This was achieved through close and iterative collaboration between Foothill House’s architects and builders, working together to test complex brick compositions on-site – a fascinating learning process for all involved.
Foothill House’s traditional Thai configuration might not be the European-style abode the client initially had in mind for her home-away-from-home, but it has a quaint holiday house appeal that could not have been achieved any other way. By discombobulating the houses various spaces into separate buildings, SS:AR have created a most country residence that truly embraces its scenery, and encourages its guests to do the same.
Site Specific: Architecture Research
Photography by Usssajaeree Studio
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Tags: architecture research, brick, Brick House, brickwork, Chiang Mai, holiday house, indoor outdoor living, Residential Architecture, rural, Site Specific: Architecture Research, SS:AR, Terracotta, Thai Architecture, Thailand, traditional architecture