A pavilion, or sala, is a common structure in Thailand generally used as a shelter from rain and heat. Olbrich's pavilion is more ornate than most roadside salas in Thailand and represents those found at a temple or on a palace grounds. However, Olbrich's pavilion is not a religious structure.
The pavilion was a gift to the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the Thai Government and the Thai Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. UW-Madison has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. college or university.
Olbrich was chosen as the site for the pavilion because of its garden setting and its proximity to water. Water is important to Thailand because of its implications for good health and prosperity.
The pavilion was built in Thailand, then disassembled and packed in shipping crates. The pavilion traveled seven weeks by sea, then by rail to Chicago, and to Madison by truck. Nine Thai artisans traveled to Madison to reassemble the pavilion after building it in Thailand. It took three weeks to reconstruct.
Amazingly, the pavilion is able to withstand the winter weather of Wisconsin with no protection because it is constructed of plantation-grown teak and weather-resistant ceramic roof tiles. The gold leaf, however, is delicate and not able to withstand the oils of the human hand.
The Thai Garden surrounding the Pavilion emulates a lush, tropical garden with Wisconsin-hardy plants. Ornamental grasses, some reaching up to 12 feet tall, and several hardy bamboos are essential in creating a tropical look. Large-leafed shrubs and trees are pruned to give them the look of plants in a typical Thai garden.
Glazed water jars and clipped tree art called mai dat, are both common elements of Thai gardens. Mai dat is a traditional horticulture feature in Thai gardens that has been practiced since the 13th century. Olbrich uses large Chinese junipers for the clipped tree art.
Thai Pavilion and Garden Facts
- The pavilion is 40 feet long, 22 feet wide, and 30 feet high
- The pavilion features gold leaf etchings, a lacquer finish, and intricate decoration
- The estimated value of the Pavilion is $1.5 to 2 million
- The pavilion is crafted without nails or screws
- There are no endangered woods or materials used in the pavilion
- The gift of the pavilion was approved by Thailand's royal family therefore, it bears the Royal seal of the Thai Crown
- The pavilion is only one of four located outside of Thailand. The others are in Germany, Norway, and Hawaii
- The Thai Garden is connected to the central gardens by a 155-foot arched, ornamental bridge that spans Starkweather Creek