Struggle to save classic Thai architecture

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CHIANG MAI, Thailand -- A sunburned craftsman leans over to mix slaked lime and cement, and slaps the traditional mortar mix onto the sagging base of a 200-year-old temple in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. Cars and noisy motorized rickshaws buzz past the temple while nearby shops emblazoned with "Nokia" sell the latest mobile phones.

The temple, like the Lanna culture that originally created it, is under siege from the modern world, and the craftsman is an icon of the nascent attempts to keep them both alive.

Some 700 years ago, the Lanna kingdom dominated most of what is now northern Thailand...The kingdom was annexed by Siam in the early 20th century, which slowly eroded the Lanna identity...

Today, a small group of architects, with help from the [city] government of Chiang Mai -- about a 10-hour drive north of Bangkok -- is working to preserve the existing Lanna-era temples and revive the style in modern buildings that serve as upmarket hotels and resorts. But these efforts, while well-intentioned, are facing the twin threats of rocketing land prices and rampant construction that demand cheap, utilitarian designs that can be thrown up quickly.

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