The Mystery of the Silk Architect

Jim Thompson (Portrait)
Jim Thompson –an entrepreneur, a spy and a …architect

Half a century ago, the dense vegetation of a Malayan rainforest set the stage for what was possibly the biggest missing person search in Southeast Asian history. Somewhere deep in the almost impenetrable jungle of Cameron Highlands are the last known footsteps of Jim Thompson –an entrepreneur, a spy and a …architect.

Thompson graduated from Princeton University in 1928, followed by Post Graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Scholl of Architecture. On the brink of World War II, he quit his job as an architect and enlisted in the US Army, precisely in the Office of Strategic Services, modern day CIA. This decision, in the turmoil of the World War, eventually brought him to Thailand, where Jim Thompson became a legend.

Jim Thompson's House in Bangkok
Jim Thompson’s House in Bangkok

The distinctive essence of Bangkok and magical Asian culture evoked Thompson’s entrepreneurial spirit. Travelling across the region, inspired by its traditional art and architecture, he discovered his new passion – Thai silk. With huge help from local artisans, and with a new and creative entrepreneurial approach, silk industry, which was facing neglect at that time, started to flourish once more. Thompson’s method of home-based industry helped raise thousands of Thai families out of poverty and soon, the bright tones and seductive patterns of the re-designed Thai silk reached the ultimate fame level – Hollywood.

But even though Thompson and his brand had achieved an iconic status, he was yet to create his masterpiece, his biggest personal architectural achievement. It took the form of his own Thai style home, assembled from pieces of other, centuries-old traditional houses. Thompson’s “House on the Klong” was envisioned to showcase his rich collection of antiques.

Jim Thompson Silk Arechitect (2) (Landscape)
Jim Thompson revitalised Thai silk industry

Eight years after he completed his mansion, Jim Thompson mysteriously disappeared. How can an ex-soldier and an experienced hiker vanish without a trace? Are folktales about his encounter with infamous Malayan tiger true? Does his spy past have something to do with it? Or was Ariadne’s silk thread simply too short for jungle maze? The answers to those questions are now part of South East Asia’s book of mysteries.

Milos Gavrilovic
Milos Gavrilovic

Milos Gavrilovic is a Phuket based architect and interior designer. Contact him at gav.archi@gmail.com or through his LinkedIn profile linkedin.com/in/gavra

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