A Chiang-Mai Exhibition

Archival City-Chiang Mai. Prefiguration of an exhibition proposed at the FUTURE DAYS 2020

As part of the Archival City programme, the Chiang Mai project proposes to set up an itinerant pop-up exhibition on Documenting the Ordinary Cities in South East Asia. A Case Study of Chiang Mai (Thailand), at the FUTURE DAYS 2020.

Unlike the long archival tradition of European cities, the Southeast Asian urban archives are few and very recent (from the 19th century) ; the transmission has been primarily based on the orality, the individual and collective memories of city-dwellers, the manuscripts written on non-permanent materials (latanier palm leaves), as well as the reproduction of the urban and architectural models. Indeed, the lack of sources is problematic for researchers, city planners and urban actors who are interested in the city’s past and building its future. Besides, the current threats to « ordinary city » – non-monumental and constant evolving inhabited area – are significant (tabula rasa, urban gentrification,…). There is an urgent need therefore to develop the urban projects in this area dealing with the local heritage, as well as to collect the data on the ordinary city which is undergoing rapid change, in order to safeguard the memories of the city.

In this perspective, the Chiang Mai project intends to develop the methods of documenting the ordinary city and its heritage. It is based on the datum produced in the course of the pedagogical trainings and the research studies of ENSA de Paris-Belleville, UMR AUSser/IPRAUS, in cooperation with other French and Asian institutions since 1970s.

A pop-up interactive exhibition

The proposition of the exhibition has two objectives. The first one is to value the diversity of documents and the interest of data produced by researchers and students in architecture as the archives of the city. The second concerns the methodological issue addressed to demonstrate the original approach of crossing the different kinds of sources (graphic, oral, textual) in order to create in depth knowledge about the ordinary city and its heritage, in the light of its material, social and symbolic dimensions.

To organise this exhibition, we will mobilise the « classic » archives of Chiang Mai (city’s cadastre, historical city maps, aerial photographs, religious manuscrits,…) and the new sources (building drawings, sketches, interviews,…) created during the survey campaign of inhabitated area in Wua Lai neighbourhood. This campaign was conducted by Franco-Thai teachers, researchers and students in the framework of the Studio of Master’s degree « Heritage/Tourism, Contemporaneity/Development » which associates École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris-Belleville (ENSAPB), Chiang Mai University and Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok).

Wua Lai, silversmiths’ neighbourhood of Chiang Mai, was chosen as a case study for constructing a test-scenario of our methodological approach. The exhibition will demonstrate how we document and display this neigbourhood. It will be organised in two parts : 1) the introduction of our approach and methods of studying and documenting the ordinary city ; 2) the scenario of Wua Lai presenting its urban fabric in the present context of socio-spatial transformation, by referring to the neighbourhood’s historic trajectory in order to understand the socio-cultural determinants of inhabitants’ assessment and consideration of their heritage. This scenario will unfold through the presentation boards including an interactive display, inviting visitors to explore the following themes : 1) the neighbourhood historical timeline ; 2) the drawings of neighbourhood urban form, its vernacular architecture and ephemeral materials, by stressing on the transmission of traditional construction practices ; 3) the mapping of Local Heritage Projects which identifies, locates and describes the grassroots initiatives which protect and promote the local cultural assets for the tourist development, for example, the local museums of silver temples and craftpersons. In conclusion, these themes will raise the issues of what’s going on in this ordinary neighbourhood and how people valorise the urban space and history for their local projects and for thinking of their future city.

A project of itinerant exhibition

In the framework of Archival City Project, we intend to launch this pop-up exhibition at the FUTURE DAY 2020, at the event of the 50th anniversary of ENSA de Paris-Belleville, and also at the Chiang Mai University in order to strengthen the partnership between the Franco-Thai institutions. The exhibition will be also considered as the first step towards the creation of the Ordinary Heritage Documentation Centre of Chiang Mai, which will be associated with the Lanna Architecture Centre of the Faculty of Architecture of Chiang Mai University.

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