Lawrence Chua '12, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, Syracuse University
This paper examines the emergence of queer utopian landscapes produced by two powerful homosocial institutions in early 20th-century Bangkok: the “City of Willows” of Chinese migrant secret societies and Dusit Thani, the miniature democratic city of King Rama VI’s court. While the former served as the model for the secret lodges of the all-male labor force that dominated the building trades, the latter was a highly-detailed utopian landscape in the gardens of Dusit palace that comprised over 300 miniature structures including fully electrified private houses, theaters, cinemas, banks, palaces, a regularly convened bi-cameral parliament, as well as a constitution, a police force, fire department, a tax system, and three newspapers. Juxtaposing clandestinely-circulated secret society manuals against the mediated landscape of Dusit Thani, opens up an aperture into the shifting image of the city from the center of a mandala polity into a national capital and nodal point in the world capitalist economy. While “the City of Willows” drew on an imagined dynastic past to assert a national identity amongst a group of diverse migrant laborers, Dusit Thani sought to naturalize the queer social bonds between the king and his close-circle of courtiers that became the foundations for Thai nationalism, a model for the city in the 20th century, and a vehicle for the transmission and circulation of the nation-state to a limited but influential group of political actors, architects, and entrepreneurs.
Lawrence Chua is an assistant professor in the School of Architecture at Syracuse University. He earned his PhD from the History of Architecture and Urbanism Program at Cornell University in 2012. Research for his dissertation, “Building Siam: Leisure, race, and nationalism in Thai architecture” was supported by grants from the Social Science Research Council and the Mellon Graduate Fellowship in the Society for the Humanities at Cornell among others. Recent articles and chapters have appeared in the Journal of Urban History, TDSR, the Oxford Handbook of Contemporayr Buddhism, and Arch*Pop. His current research examines the sites of built and unbuilt utopias in 20th-century Bangkok.
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