Lawrence Chua: Houses of Emptiness

This exhibition examines the unique architectural legacy of Suan Mokkh, a monastic complex in the south of Thailand that was founded in 1932 by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. Buddhadasa sought to create a center in which Buddhism could be practiced as it was in the historic time of the Buddha. Eschewing the architectural vocabulary of state-sanctioned Buddhism, Buddhadasa and his supporters instead developed a series of buildings that celebrated the concept of sunnyata, or emptiness, through abstract symbolism and the use of humble materials like concrete, brick, and wood.

Buddhadasa conceived of Suan Mokkh as a center for learning and this legacy continues into the present and future of the complex. Today Suan Mokkh resembles more of a park than a monument to state and religious power. The future "Suan Mokkh in Bangkok," or the new home of the Buddhadasa Indapanno Archives, is already being described as a “spiritual fitness and edutainment center.” This is perhaps Suan Mokkh’s greatest contribution to Thai architecture: its buildings are not simply ornamental objects to be worshipped. They are empty spaces that are used for both learning and leisure, as well as a more engaged form of prayer.

This exhibition was curated by Lawrence Chua, Ph.D. candidate, History of Architecture and Urbanism, Cornell University.

This exhibition has been made possible through the support of AAP, the Department of Architecture, the Southeast Asia Program at Cornell University, the Center for Visual Studies at Chulalongkorn University, and the Buddhadasa Indapanno Archives Foundation.