Alternate Living Arrangements

Barges - Sri Racha, Thailand

I’ve been processing some of the non-exhibition photos from my trip to Thailand this year.  Yesterday I put up a series of photos of cargo barges and ships taken in Sriracha Harbour, a largely breakbulk operation.  I took these pictures while accompanying S. Ian Song to the island of Ko Si Chang, which is famous for its multiple temples and meditation sea caves.

Anyone who’s been on the river in Bangkok would recognize these barges, which constantly move through the city, carrying a variety of tarp-covered goods and materials.  What’s most interesting about them isn’t the alternate system for moving goods (the Eastern United States, and in many ways the political evolution of the whole country, was once defined by rivers-as-superhighways), but the little houses at the back of each barge.

Pair of Barges - Sri Racha, Thailand

Above – It’s my understanding that throughout Southeast Asia there’s a tradition of whole communities, either floating or elevated above the waterline on stilts, thriving for generations, up and down the coast.  Laundry hanging, these barges are not just the homes of their operators, they’re home to whole families who live a waterborne life.  I’ve seen children playing on the barges, women cooking, men drinking and gambling as the time passes – the whole spectrum of totally ordinary, everyday Thai life.  It’s worth noticing that the housing on the barges is pretty standardized – having evolved to a point of effiency and practicality.

One of the things that’s most interesting about Thailand, that’s different from the States is the way that the movement of goods occurs on a much more human scale.  Objects are rarely moved around by forklifts or cranes, but they are hauled about by gangs of workers, their faces covered (often with ski masks) to protect them both from the sun and the dust.  You don’t see 40-foot shipping containers in Thailand, but you see 20-footers.  Even more than that, you see specific goods strapped to everything from motorcycles to rainbow painted, 30-year old Hino trucks, to barges like the one above.

Thai Dawn with Barges - Sri Racha, Thailand

Above – Several barges at work, unloading cargo from the Thai Dawn.  While Sriracha Harbour has one great long pier where cargo is unloaded to trucks, most of the action seems to be done at sea.  I saw coal being unloaded from one ship, being dumped right onto the deck of a barge, accompanied by massive clouds of black dust – at first, at a distance, I thought the ship was on fire, the dust was rising so high into the sky.

Living adjacent to one of the world’s largest port, I’m no stranger to containerized traffic, but seeing these ships unloaded onto family-owned or operated barges at sea was amazing.  Let’s not forget that it’s not just Thai families that live on their boats for years at a time – each of these cargo ships is likely crewed by a small group of men, separated from their nation and family, who likely only step on land every few weeks or even months.  Some of the ships I saw in Sriracha Harbour looked like they might not be capable of moving on their own – perhaps they are used as floating warehouses until their economic value can only be realized by a shipbreaker?  Perhaps they are simply abandoned…

I think it’s part of the re-realization regarding the ongoing population disaster, and in the United States, the housing apocalypse, that so many people are exploring ideas of alternate living spaces.  Also, as the world changes, people have always been forced, or had the opportunity, to live in unexpected and non-traditional places.  There’s been a lot of talk online about upscale hipster yuppies (yupsters?) building expensive green houses and using shipping containers as architectural elements and inspiration, but I think the future of the world looks a lot more like the homes on barges above, or the shacks of the urban poor in Mumbai.

Other interesting housing related posts:

Dinosaurs and Robots’ Mr. Jalopy recently started a post about tar paper, only to find himself exploring and arguing for new homesteading in America, something that a lot of folks feel is way overdue.  Why has America never had a great urban squatter/homesteader movement?  Is now the right time, finally?

Bldgblog recently posted about both an inhabitable wind turbine and Babu Sassi, the crane operator who is rumored to be making his home at the top of the under construction Burj Dubai.

And although it’s not intended as a livable structure, I find some kind of plant-based-housing inspiration in LACMA’s upcoming exhibition of Sigmar Polke’s Potato House Object.

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2 comments to Alternate Living Arrangements

  • tom agsten

    Interesting info presented in a fresh and open fashion. Of interest to me is how living in a metropolitan area isolated from typical personal interaction surrounded by a natural enviornment enhances mans perception of ones place in the world. thagsten@hotmail

  • tom agsten

    Interesting info presented in a fresh and open fashion. Of interst to mels how living in a metropolitan area isolated from typical big city personal interaction surrounded by a natural envirornment enhances mans perception of ones place in the world. Good stuff I enjoyed your post.

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