TONDABAYASHI, OSAKA PREF. – A community in Nara Prefecture has taken five Thai college students under its wing, training them in wooden architecture as the Southeast Asian country hopes to put such structures back on the map.
The village of Mitsue aims to revive its aging forestry industry through a plan to export model homes using local timber to Thailand, where wooden architecture is disappearing.
About 90 percent of Mitsue is forested land and it once had a thriving timber industry. But due to a prolonged slump in timber prices and depopulation, the village was forced into seeking alternative ways to make use of its abundant natural resources.
The idea was hatched when the village reached out to professor Shin Murakami of Sugiyama Jogakuen University in Aichi Prefecture to help come up with a town renewal project. Murakami had been conducting joint research with Bangkok’s Sripatum University on environmentally friendly wooden architecture.
The decline of timber as a building material in Thailand is mostly due to a lack of good quality teak wood and an overabundance of coarse timber, which is easily infested by termites that thrive in the country’s tropical climate.
Most buildings in Thailand are now made of reinforced concrete, and the culture of wooden architecture has not been properly handed down through generations due to a lack of technology to support the industry, according to the project website.
Based on Murakami’s suggestion to export model homes using Matsue timber, the three parties signed an agreement to collaborate on the project focusing on popularizing wooden architecture in Thailand.
The five Thai students study architecture at Sripatum University. Their three months of training that started in March includes learning about the designs of stilt houses for Thailand, as well as gaining an understanding about construction processes through observation.
Oros Loasantisuk, 26, one of the five students in the program and an aspiring architect, touted the advantages of the village’s hands-on practical approach.
“The designs of wooden architecture may differ from country to country, but wood is environmentally friendly,” Oros said.
“We hope they learn about the brilliance of wooden architecture, Japan’s high technology and the high quality of housing here,” said Takefumi Nakako, who works in Matsue’s community development department. “We’d be happy if (the experience) leads to the spread of wooden architecture in Thailand.”