The archives of ordinary urban heritage of Southeast Asian cities. Case study of Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Chiang Mai field, coordinated by Nathalie Lancret and Pijika Pumketkao, examines the archives of Southeast Asian Southeast Asian ordinary cities, with a particular focus on Chiang Mai, capital of northern Thailand. 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, the manuscripts written on non-permanent materials (latanier palm leaves), as well as the reproduction of the urban and architectural models. 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 École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris-Belleville (ENSAPB), UMR AUSser/IPRAUS, in cooperation with other French and Asian institutions since 1970s. The method chosen consists of two actions : 1) research action which concerns a methodological issue on how to cross crossing the different kinds of sources (graphic, oral, textual) in order to create in depth knowledge about the ordinary city ; 2) documentary action which involves identifying, describing and digitizing the archives. The final objective is to create an archival collection and to develop a digital platform with a guide to the sources of Wua Lai, which will be accessible to the public.

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