Baan Dam / Housescape Design Lab
Text description provided by the architects. This residence is located in Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand recognized for its blend of urban living and proximity to natural wonders. The project holds the name “Baan Dam,” a term chosen for its utmost minimalism, with all those engaged in the journey referring to it by this title. In Thai, “Baan” translates to “House,” while “Dam” signifies “Black.” Hence, it is referred to as the Black House due to its association with this dark hue.
The initial request from the homeowner was for a residence that embodied the local essence of Chiang Mai, while also being in harmony with contemporary living and minimizing the use of external imports for its construction. What we’re about to convey is quite distinct from the selection of natural materials to achieve a 100% natural result. The aim of this project isn’t just that; rather, it’s intended to stimulate a production process reliant on the local community, utilizing materials that can address environmental concerns. Another aspect is to make these materials easily observable in everyday life.
The initial aspect was to discuss the architectural layout, which featured a variety of courtyards in different forms and sizes. Beginning with the largest, there’s a landscaped yard, where the house forms a U-shape around it. This area serves as an outdoor activity space, particularly for activities like camping and other recreational pursuits. The second part is the housescape yard, which is the entryway to the house. This area utilizes baked clay as flooring, mimicking the traditional local houses familiar to Thai people. It acts as a connection point to the semi-public spaces of the house, including the “Tern” area and the main entrance, extending to the communal dining area that replaces the traditional guest reception room. As the homeowner enjoys cooking, the significance of hosting guests in this house lies in the arrangement of the dining space. Lastly, the corridor yard is a small, private space screened by a small yard. It serves as a pathway leading to the main bedroom, separated from the main house. These are the distinct meanings and functions of each courtyard.
In hot and humid regions with heavy rainfall like this, shading is of utmost importance as it creates a comfortable environment. This is a fundamental consideration in architectural design. However, the choice of roof for this specific house differs from our past practices. We need to use black exclusively. Hence, due to the local production of cement tiles, we cannot find large-scale factory-made black tiles. Thus, our team had to individually paint nearly twenty thousand tiles for this project, employing techniques known to local artisans. These tiles will then be arranged using a method familiar to local craftsmen. The roof will be divided into two sections and connected using a concrete slab roof to prevent excessive seams that might result in leaks. These seams could lead to water infiltration.
The following section will explain the design of the contextual relationships surrounding the dining area, as previously mentioned, where this house employs a dining space to receive guests. This choice reflects the owner’s desire to showcase their identity and dissolve the behavior of guests through taste and the atmosphere of food preparation. This specific area is strategically positioned to be highly visible from the outside and, when viewed from the inside, captures most of the house’s key angles. It also serves as a connection point to other functional spaces within the house. Notably, when the large opening is opened, it seamlessly merges with the intentionally designed outdoor space, referred to as a transitional veranda or locally known as “Tern”. Collectively, these spaces transform into a sizable communal area that interconnects seamlessly—indoors, outdoors, and in the garden—forming an integrated entity instantly.
Within the primary bedroom area of the house, there are local wooden sliding windows incorporated to establish a sense of privacy through compact voids. These windows will serve as a substitute for larger windows found in semi-public spaces within the small building, ensuring a more private atmosphere. In this compact building, there won’t be any doors separating the bathroom and the bedroom. The architectural layout is carefully designed to encourage a seamless flow, strategically positioning functions to avoid direct confrontation.
We use a variety of surface finishes on the walls in this house. For instance, inside the house, we combine concrete with rice husks and apply a semi-smooth plaster. We aim to promote an environmental context, giving the impression that these wall surfaces are influenced by rural surroundings, rather than being entirely industrially manufactured. As for the exterior walls, we aim for a nearly smooth finish but eliminate the final stage of smoothing to create a surface with slight irregularities, ultimately presenting a textured appearance. The standout feature on the exterior is the black wall at the entrance of the house. For this, we employ a deeply textured wall surface known locally as “Salad Dok,” as this black wall directly confronts the midday sunlight. It reveals every intricate detail of the local craftsmen’s ornaments as they interact with the sun’s rays.
The initial point is about creating this house through “Happening Craftsmanship.” But what does that mean? Essentially, it’s about crafting an object within the context of a specific time and place and how they relate to each other at that particular moment. For instance, the creation of the door handle at the entrance gate. It emerged from an event where someone opened the door and left it slightly open for a while. Viewing it from that angle, you’d notice the pattern of a reflecting pool in the distance. So, this handle serves a functional purpose—it’s for gripping the door. But beyond its function, it captures the essence of the surrounding scenery. At a certain moment, when the door swings open before entering the house, it is an impressive brief display.
Local elements of the house have been incorporated and adapted to enhance comfort and convenience. One of the efforts made is the integration of the concept of “indented corners” from Thai architecture. This involves altering perspectives and introducing new techniques into the materials to increase efficiency when these elements are used in storytelling. An evident example in this house is the foot-washing tap. Positioned just before entering the main living area, this is a customary Thai practice to cleanse before entering the house. The material of this tap has been designed to blend contemporary materials like steel while minimizing the form of Thai traditional ornaments to suit its function and design. All these elements are finished in black, and when sunlight hits, they reveal themselves in different timeframes.
This house attempts to create novel perceptions through material experiments drawn from daily life. The continuity of beauty might not be immediately evident in this work, as it’s purposefully changed by using materials and arranging elements that were tried out in the studio’s experiments. These experiments have been utilized to present various possibilities for creating a home that transcends the limitations of time.