/ Story: Phattaraphon / English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Anupong Chaisukkasem /
It was a journey back in time as we visited U-Thong, home of the Pusayapuri Hotel that has become a new landmark in the western part of Suphan Buri Province. The town in itself is rich in history, having been the origin of the Ayutthaya Kingdom dating back more than 2,000 years. It became a district of Suphan Buri during the reign of King Rama V in 2448 B.E. (1905), formerly known as Chorekhe Sam Phan and later renamed U-Thong in 1939.
The Pusayapuri is the brainchild of EKAR Architects, a Bangkok-based architectural practice led by Ekaphap Duangkaew. The design thinking process took Ekaphap and his team to U-Thong countless times, during which useful data were collected culminating in a piece of contemporary architecture that’s worth remembering and unique in its own special way.
Sharing his work experience with us, Ekaphap said: “The thinking process that went into designing this hotel came as the result of systematic investigations into the town’s history.
“U-Thong was an ancient state that flourished in this part of peninsular Southeast Asia a very long time ago. Most people seem to have overlooked important facts about it. So, we reached out to connect with the locals and got to know a lot about its history through seeing, hearing and visiting places.”
“There are museums containing relics that provide an insight into the history of U-Thong, among them a stone Buddha image carved into cliff face that has become a tourist attraction. It’s the work of local artisans,” Ekaphap continued.
“Other places of interest include ruins of dome-shaped brickwork structures erected as Buddhist shrines in the past. Not many of them remain to be seen today. It’s these historic sites built of bricks that inspired us to try and revive old brick masonry to all its former glory. One of the results of all this is evident in the façade of the Pusayapuri Hotel in U-Thong.”
In essence, it’s about building a hotel façade with the power of telling a story about life in U-Thong in former times. Thanks to their understanding of architectural heritage, the architects were able to create a new hotel that stood out from the rest in terms of color, texture and design, and yet no old-fashioned bricks were used.
The Pusayapuri is built using innovative materials including glass reinforced concrete, or GRC, that’s lightweight but tough making it an ideal material to use on a variety of structures. It can be dyed to resemble brickwork or concrete surfaces.
Sections can be prefabricated from the factory to enable quick and easy assembly on site. Plus, GRC helps reduce weight on building foundations, saves construction time, and is unaffected by environmental conditions.
In the case of the Pusayapuri, the GRC façade sections arrived ready to be installed on site as soon as concrete frame construction was completed. It’s a dry construction system that’s suitable for all buildings or portions of buildings such as balconies with a variety of window bench seating designs. On the outside, they perform a dual function as façades and awnings used to protect against sun and rain.
The Pusayapuri’s 56 spacious guest rooms provide a comfortable retreat in a historic town style setting. All of them are designed to create a light and airy atmosphere. Where appropriate, guest rooms are taken out to create a void of space for lighting and ventilation.
The void of space starts from the first floor all the way to the roof top resembling a well-lit staircase when seen from a distance in the nighttime. Together, they ventilate the building by drawing fresh outdoor air inside and force warm air to exit through rooftop vents. The hotel loses some rooms, but it gains comfort from good ventilation. Plus, it’s a feature that adds rustic appeal to the overall design.
The Pusayapuri presented both challenges and opportunities even for the experienced designers at EKAR Architects. The team was tasked with creating a hotel with the power of storytelling about the history and architectural heritage of U-Thong, plus turning it into an important landmark in the lives of all concerned.
What makes it original and unique is the hotel façade that bears the imprints of time and a civilization of years gone by — a masterpiece that creates a sense of calm in architecture and indoor thermal comfort. Swing by the Pusayapuri next time you sojourn in this part of Thailand.
/ Story: Phattaraphon, Kor Lordkam / English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Nilai Asia /
Blackbird Hotel in Bandung remembered for its modern white building has undergone exciting expansion by adding a trio of unique round shaped rooms to its vibrant Indonesian country garden setting.
The new extension, aptly called “The Drum Rooms” for its likeness to a set of percussion instruments, is the pride of the Blackbird Hotel located in the major West Java city about 3 hours’ drive from Jakarta, the capital.
Occupying 200 square meters of land inside the hotel compound, the trio of round shaped rooms offer opportunities to discover stimulating new experiences in travel, comfort and relaxation in the form of innovative design in synch with the rhythm of nature.
Built of wood in varying shades of brown, the three of them sit beautifully ensconced amid lively green surroundings. They are viewed as a unit apart from the nearby main hotel building.
Marketed under the name The Honeymoon Suites, the new extension project was quite a challenge event for experienced builders. It was built while the Blackbird was operating normally. Like so, every precaution was taken to ensure that nothing would impair its ability to perform business functions.
This was achieved by avoiding wet construction, such as poured cement or concrete, at the same time focusing on dry construction, which included materials such as wood and steel framing preassembled in the factory.
The new extension now stands out from the rest thanks to the unique building envelope made of timber in a beautiful mix of brown tones. The wood used in the project came from many different sources.
For good ventilation, louvered wall panels let air flow freely into the room and illuminate the interior space during the daytime. Each of them has a bedroom with bath on the first floor. The second floor holds another bathroom with a bathtub under multiple pane skylights with a view of lively green treetops and blue skies.
There is more. Besides the round shaped room trio, the extension project also includes two penthouse suites at the top of the main hotel building. Built of timber and steel framing to avoid impacting ongoing business operations, they come complete with a food preparation area, living room, and a small balcony plus a semi-outdoor Jacuzzi bathtub.
From a distance, they add visual interest to the white hotel building and prove a perfect complement to the round shaped room trio on ground level.
Taken as a whole, they evoke admiration through size, color, texture and well-thought-out design. And the result of all this: a beautiful piece of modern architecture amid nature’s peaceful embrace. A unique travel experience, no doubt. Swing by the Blackbird next time you’re in Bandung.
/ Story: Ektida N. / English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Rungkit Charoenwat /
Here is a café and roastery with an ear-grabbing name. The Thingamajiggy Coffee Roaster stands in the middle of the rice fields of Chiang Mai’s Mae Rim District. A metamorphosis of purpose, it’s performing a new function as café with panoramic views of the stunning mountain landscape. The brand may be hard to say, but it certainly holds the attention of listeners while its rustic appearance merges into the farmhouse vernacular symbolic of the Northern Region.
The room of this Chiang Mai café in itself has only 21 square meters of space. At the outset, that was a difficult situation that tested the ability of the design team at Yangnar Studio, a homegrown atelier based in Chiang Mai. But they stepped up to the challenge by creating a functional business space, in which everything on the premises was fused into a single entity.
And the result of all this? A piece of vernacular architecture worth remembering. It’s a wholesome destination for coffee lovers that fits right into its surrounding farmlands and the reality of simple life in the countryside.
To begin with, the project owner wanted an oasis of calm where customers could sit back and relax as they enjoyed a good cup of coffee with nothing to obscure the view of the landscape. The design team responded with a three-part plan, including a small coffee shop at the front, followed by a cozy sitting area under a bamboo pavilion, and a restroom building at the farthest end.
Here, a 360-degree-view that changes from season to season can be seen all year round. Like a wallpaper from nature, it’s a design that seeks to connect more closely with the natural world for lighting and ventilation. Hence, there’s no need for air conditioning, which translates into huge savings and contributing in its small way to a sustainable future.
In terms of design, the coffee shop gets its inspiration from old rice granaries commonplace in this part of the country. The interior holds a coffee bar service/ordering area complete with an assortment of bakery goods. Nearby, a west-facing bakery room provides insulation against hot afternoon sun, thereby keeping the bar and customer seating area cool and comfortable.
Plus, double height ceilings add a light and airy atmosphere to the room. From the outside, what looks like a two-story building is in fact a cross ventilation system which relies on wind to blow cool outside air into the room through one side, while warm inside air is forced out through rooftop vents and outlets on the opposite side.
The little café amid the rice fields is built by artisans skilled in traditional carpentry using timber and other natural ingredients readily available in Chiang Mai, except for the load-bearing foundations that are made of poured cement or concrete to protect against soil moisture damage. As is the case with rice granary construction, slat wood wall paneling is installed on the inside while supporting vertical beams or columns are on the outside.
Apart from retaining much of its architectural heritage, the reverse exterior walls add visual interest that merges with a massive gable roof designed for sun and rain protection. In the fewest possible words, it’s a picture of modern countryside ideas blending together beautifully into one cohesive whole.
To make customers feel comfortable, this Chiang Mai café amid the rice fields has patio and outdoor furniture that can be set up anywhere under the bamboo pavilion canopy. It’s a relaxation room that conveys a great deal about the humble origins of mankind and their responsibility towards nature.
To reduce the chance of exposure to harmful substances, the bamboo shades and blinds are not chemically treated to extend their longevity of life cycle. It’s a design based on the belief that everything changes and everything will be replaced when the time comes.
The same applies to the method of construction that’s simple and straightforward. Take for example the bamboo pole footings that are wrapped in plastic bags for protection against humidity damage. Or the overhead black mesh rolls that create diffuse light and protect against the sun’s harmful UV rays. They, too, get changed from time to time to ensure customer comfort and satisfaction.
/ Story: Kor Lordkam / English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Paul Phan /
Overcrowding conditions in Ho Chi Minh City have given rise to both challenges and opportunities for the design team at MA Architects, a homegrown architectural practice in Vietnam. Back in the day, their office was on rental property with little to no room for flexibility. Albeit equipped with air conditioning and modern conveniences, the small workspace was lacking fresh air and ventilation, a far cry from the environment conducive to a relaxed atmosphere and creativity.
Because of that, they decided to break out of the confined space into a home of their own. The new office stands sandwiched between two properties, a tall building on one side and a vacant lot on the other. Its front yard landscape is infused with green foliage.
Thoughtfully devised, the design atelier with an awesome cool gray façade is open to plenty of sunlight and fresh outdoor air plus trees and shrubbery. And the result of all this: a workplace ambience free from disturbance, one that’s good for staff’s ability to create and stay focused on their tasks.
The small, 100-square-meter office space is nestled in a peaceful city neighborhood. It occupies the full extent of a rectangular shaped lot measuring 5 by 20 meters.
The building has a narrow frontage to the street. Its external envelope is built of brick masonry plastered to form a smooth hard surface. In front of it, a small earthen terrace hemmed in by lush greenery provides a neat appearance.
Downstairs, a spacious workplace lies connected to a woodworking shop in the back of the building. The meeting room is upstairs that’s open to allow plenty of natural daylight and cool breezes into the interior.
Overhead, the trusses that support the roof are made entirely of timber covered by transparent corrugated roofing materials for best indoor lighting. Where appropriate, sections of the roof are protected by dry coconut fiber coverings for insulation from the sun’s harsh glare.
Because when it rains it pours in the Tropics, it makes perfect sense to plaster the entire building envelope. The hard and smooth surface goes to work protecting the building from extreme heat and wet weather all year round.
Although relatively small in size, the office interior crafted of wood is impressive thanks to an open-concept, well-ventilated layout. While dry coconut fiber coverings over the roof make the interior feel cool and dry, the uncovered part works like a skylight turning indoors into a well-lighted place.
Besides light and wind, the architect also integrated other elements of nature in the design, among them earthen floors that cover parts of the ground level. Only the workspace and kitchen floors are made of concrete slabs for ease of use and safety.
Nearby, earthen floors add a warm, natural feel to the interior with plenty of room for growing plants in-ground. As the architect puts it, being in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city, anything that brings a touch of nature, however small, is priceless.
A building material of choice, earthen flooring makes it possible to fill the interior with healthy green foliage along the entire wall. Earth and sand absorb and release some moisture, which contributes to a relaxed indoor ambience.
At the same time, vegetation in the front yard and decorative indoor plants both in ground and in containers go to work in tandem keeping the new office building cool and cozy just like home.
/ Story: Ektida N. / English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Son Vu, Trieu Chien /
Lung Vai School stands in a small village and namesake located in the northernmost corner of Vietnam. Only 55 households of the Hmong tribe live in this mountainous terrain on the Vietnamese border with China. The natural environment is pristine, but it’s hard to get there from anywhere. Public utilities, such as water and electricity are virtually nonexistent, not to mention schoolhouses of standard sizes and qualities capable of meeting children’s learning need.
This school construction project was undertaken by AA Corporation, an interior design and furniture manufacturing industry in Vietnam. It cost 2 billion Vietnamese dongs to build, roughly 80,000 US dollars.
Its primary objective: bring educational opportunities to minority Hmong children. The schoolhouse complex performs a dual function as center of learning for kids and a venue for cultural activities in the area.
The project consists of three adjoining buildings situated a stone’s throw from the village on a mountaintop. It offers a breathtaking panorama of the landscape covered in the morning’s blue haze. The schoolhouses with circular roofs call to the mind an image of wild mushrooms shimmering in the sunlight amid a dewy meadow.
The trio includes one schoolhouse for the kindergarten, one for elementary school classrooms and the other housing the teacher’s office, plus other facilities such as bathrooms, kitchen and multifunctional spaces supporting school activities. The schoolhouse project covers 250 square meters of land, perfectly adequate for the student populations at Lung Vai and neighboring villages.
From afar, the curved roof buildings prove a perfect complement to their natural surroundings. They are put together in a way that the roof of one building overlaps another to create coherence in architecture.
It’s a passive design strategy that goes to work facilitating the traffic between rooms, keeping the schoolhouses in shade and driving natural air circulation all day long. Like so, nothing disrupts the workings of mother nature.
In terms of the language of architecture, there is a distinct synchronization of smoothly drawn curves that twist and turn as they converge at the mountaintop. All the elements of design blend together into a cohesive whole.
There is wisdom in challenges. Because the project is tucked away in a remote location, transportation is difficult to put it mildly. It was a dilemma that tested the ability of the design team at 1+1>2 Architects. And yet they rose to the challenge by successfully completing the project in only six months.
The secret to a mission accomplished lies in using building techniques and materials readily available in the area in perfect proportions, in particular rammed earth construction.
Building with rammed earth or mud brick brings many benefits. It’s friendly to the environment and capable of reducing the ambient temperatures. Plus, it’s durable even in extreme weather conditions.
Pleasant to look at, a mixture of sand, clay and other ingredients gives a rich warm color of earth hues that allows the schoolhouses to blend perfectly into the natural world around it.
Rammed earth walls are capable of supporting the loads applied to them up to a certain limit. For strength and durability, the schoolhouses also contain parts made of other materials, such as steel framing supporting roof trusses.
Steel is chosen for speed of construction and overall robustness, especially where the distance between columns increases. Plus, it’s perfect for building a great variety of roof shapes and styles.
Taking everything into account, it’s design that pays attention to detail in facilitating indoor traffic flows and interactions between rooms. This is evident in there being four entry areas conveniently linked to stairs and ramps leading from one floor to the other, as well as the internal traffic routes connecting all the rooms.
The schoolhouse floor is raised slightly higher from natural ground level, adding visual interest to design. The hallway leading to classrooms is built wider than average to provide space for built-in bench seating on the side. And there’s still plenty of room left.
Other useful architectural features include the extended roof overhangs that keep the classrooms cool in the summer and dry in the rainy season. Priceless!
/ Story: MNSD, Kor Lordkam / English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Courtesy of Soar Design Studio /
Ray Chang of Soar Design Studio grew up in a peaceful environment set amid the beauties of nature in Taiwan, an island at the junction of the East and South China Seas. He developed an interest in the Truth of Nature, finding moral strength that lies beyond the realm of capitalism and the increasing globalization of the world economy. It’s a conscious cognitive process that, in a gradual way, enabled him to formulate new thoughts and a sense of perspective different from that of his contemporaries. These qualities are often manifested in his architectural masterpieces and other designs influenced by Eastern philosophy. Obviously they embrace the beauty of change in nature in an era characterized by a whole range of pursuits of certainty in uncertain times.
Through the years Ray Chang has won acclaim for his architectural works, among them the Golden Pin Design Award, one of Asia’s most coveted prizes for best designs. With that being said, he’s one of Taiwan’s up-and-coming, young architects to watch, especially in the residential, commercial, restaurant and café design category.
He founded the Soar Design Studio in 2012, a year notorious for many bad events on a global scale. Amid tumultuous times, Ray even asked himself what was it exactly that he had a passion for.
The following are excerpts from an interview we did recently with Ray. It touched upon his thoughts and philosophy, the attitude and theory he held that guided his many successful designs. They evoke the image of a real architect questing after truth, one inspired by the beauties of nature and the deep meanings it brings. Here’s a glimpse into this thought.
Q: When it comes to creating a design, you often draw an analogy between man-made structures and the workings of nature. Where did you get this idea from?
A: “Living in the countryside, of course nature was part of my growing up. I believe it’s possible to make architecture blend perfectly into its natural surroundings.
“There are plenty building materials and designs all around waiting to be discovered. We only need to pay attention to detail. Focus on feelings and how you react physically and psychologically as you reconnect with nature. And those good feelings should come naturally to you.
“I tried to free myself from the constraint of Western style architecture, preferring instead to pay attention to the ideas and designs that give great aesthetic pleasure from the point of view of Eastern philosophy. To put it simply, I tried to think outside the box, trust my instincts, be honest with my personal ideology and give special importance to the circumstances that form the setting of the project site.”
Q: You said that you wanted to free yourself from the constraint of Western style architecture. Why is that so?
A: “Western style architecture is a branch of knowledge founded on scientific thinking, a set of reasoning processes which is a big help in terms of construction. But we need to have our own design guidelines. In the Eastern world, it’s a crossover between architecture and spirituality. It’s a concept that has implications in design. We focus on feelings, and we listen to our hearts.
“I have a Western style architecture foundation from which I cannot escape. But at least I can make a difference by integrating the two approaches so as to create a successful design. I grew up in a rural area where works of architecture were few and far between. It was a learning environment that made me think differently and hence design things in my own way.
“It’s neither the Japanese style nor the Chinese style. But, taken as a whole, it’s something that epitomizes Eastern philosophy. It’s about making appropriate adaptations to merge into the natural environment, rather than trying to dominate or control it.”
Q: Is that the reason why you became interested in “Wabi-sabi”, a Japanese aesthetic concept, and the Truth to Materials approach to architecture.
A: “I think “Wabi-sabi” is about natural simplicity. It’s the concept of impermanence and the transience of life.
“Take for example a piece of architecture that I created back in 2016. It was a renovation project aptly named the “Old House in Wabi-sabi”. As I was working on it, I discovered it took on a life of its own. It had a rich history judging from the traces left behind through time and the power of storytelling that came with age. Together they became my front-and-center concerns.
“I refrained from applying new principles to it, but preferred instead to let inspiration happen during the designing process. Long story short, it’s this project that introduced me to Wabi-sabi, the traditional Japanese aesthetics.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the Truth of Nature, which is the core concept of Wabi-sabi. It’s one of several abstract ideas from Eastern philosophy. There are also Chinese belief systems governing how people think and behave, among them a thought credited to Laozi, literally “The Old Master”, and the ancient Chinese text Zhuangzi that deals with the philosophical problem of change.
“Overall, they combine to give me a foundation or moral principles guiding my thoughts and my work.
“Precisely, I’m not in business to build structures or spaces that will last for all eternity. That’s not for me. Rather, I want to create something that’s beautiful in its time.
“So, whether I’m working on an old house or a new one, it’s of the utmost importance to reconnect with nature. When humans are linked with the natural environment, it calls to the conscious mind the image of Wabi-sabi, a piece of architecture that accepts the natural cycle of life. It leaves behind the traces of time that act as a catalyst of change.
“I use the word “complete” to describe the subtleties of change effected on the surface of an old building material. The same textural subtlety cannot be produced again on a new material. Each trace of time is unique and can never be repeated. And that’s the power of storytelling that captivates me.”
Q: Does the context of a project, physical or cultural, have any significant impact on your design? How?
A: “To answer that, I’d rather use the term “neighborhood” or “community” rather than the word “context”.
“In modern urban planning, the original circumstances that form the setting of a place are long gone. Plus, the real estate market has expanded at a faster pace now than ever before. New landmark buildings have mushroomed everywhere. I’ve always thought that the term “neighborhood” or “community” would be more appropriate for the present circumstances.
“Locality” is another word that I’m interested in. In fact, we should pay attention to the “landscape” and try to understand the characteristics of the “people” and their ways of life. This will give us a better understanding of cultures and social interactions in a locality.
“It’s synergy and a sense of belonging that I experienced growing up in rural Taiwan, where neighbors came together, talked together and good times were had by all. Well-thought-out architecture, such as shops, restaurants, café, et cetera, can play a role in bringing back those fond memories.
“I adapted an old house making it suitable for new use and created a welcoming atmosphere in which authentic Taiwanese tea was brewed and served the traditional way. It connected with nature for health and well-being according to Eastern philosophy.
“While doing that, I spent time in that old house every day to get the feel of the place and everything about it from sunshine to surrounding lush green fields. Inspired by the location and the house interior, I changed the floor plan almost weekly until I found the right balance.”
Q: Your designs are mostly residential and commercial spaces. Will you follow the same principles in doing larger projects?
A: “I’ll give you an example. We’re in the process of developing a large-scale project, the initial phase of which involves transforming a neglected area of grounds into a public park. A tall building will come after that. In Taiwan we have to wait a year or two to catch up on some paperwork and get everything legally approved. While there’s no construction going on, the unused grounds transform into an open public space for people in the neighborhood.
“It’s filled with plants indigenous to Taiwan with a small teahouse in a peaceful country setting. The teashop provides reflections on the Wabi-sabi concept that finds beauty in imperfection and change taking place over time. As soon as construction gets underway, the teahouse will move out to serve a new purpose as school building in a remote area. Every step of the way, people are aware of the cycle of change taking place in the community.”
Q: From then till now, are there any serious challenges preventing Soar Design Studio from achieving its goal?
A: “We established a business offering our design styles in the midst of uncertainty in the real estate market. Like everything else, starting is often the hardest part. There were some clients who didn’t get what we’re trying to achieve. But things have gotten much better lately. We got a lot more work coming in thanks to our ability to get the message across and present our concept and our belief to a wider audience.
“By the way, I’m still a paper-and-pencil man who prefers drawing by hand to using apps. It’s great to begin with hand drawing for it helps me think and discover new, exciting possibilities. The computer comes in next to finish the job. It’s the main tool to get things done and communicate with others. I’m trying to find the right balance even as I speak.”
Q: On the design principles that embody Eastern philosophy. How are they catching on among the Taiwanese? Are they well received by the young generation?
A: “They seem to be popular with small social groups outside the mainstream of Taiwanese life. Nowadays, Western cultures still have an influence on the perception of beauty among most people.
“The clients who come to us are mainly those who appreciate beauty from the Eastern perspective. By participating in competitions at the international level, we have been able to create greater awareness of Eastern concepts through our well-thought-out designs.
“In reality, we may not be able to keep Western influences out of designs created by Taiwanese architects. I think that Taiwan being an island is at an advantage. We have long-established cultures and distinct identity of our own, but everything is changing fast. The question is: how can we begin to carry on work at preserving our design principles amidst challenges?
“I’m really pleased that young generation architects have made local values front-and-center concerns in their designs. So Taiwan can expect unique and interesting phenomena in architecture in the foreseeable future. I hope that we’ll be able to strike the right balance between Eastern and Western values.”
/ Story: Phattaraphon / English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Duy Nhat, Le Ba Loc /
Here’s Sep’on Heartfulness Center, a small-capacity boutique hotel built on an elongated rectangle in Nha Trang, a coastal town in the South of Vietnam. Even with a narrow frontage to the street, it offers 600 sq. m. of accommodation spaces with views of the city landscape. The design-driven wholesome destination conveys a great deal about truth-to-materials architecture, which holds that everything is used in its natural form — unadorned, unpainted, neither polished nor hidden.
Named “Sep’on Heartfulness Center,“ the boutique hotel project is the brainchild of 324PRAXIS, an architectural practice based in Ho Chi Minh City. Their main mission: overcome every challenge on the project site and come up with a small stylish hotel, one that’s full of character and suitable for an urban environment.
The result is a five-story building that’s graceful and chic in appearance. Its front façade is made attractive by small balconies accessible from guest rooms on the upper floors. Enclosed by twisted wrought iron balustrades, they give good views of the cityscape, admit fresh air and add natural light to the interior.
Such is the elegance of design that’s also found in several places throughout the five-story concrete building. The ground floor contains a semi-outdoor sitting room and coffee bar decorated with greenery that has become a popular meeting place among locals and tourists.
Hotel rooms on the upper floors are accessible via metal staircases attached to the rear of the building. They are built outdoors to give the appearance of a more open engineering structure, thereby showcasing the true nature of building materials.
The same open-concept design applies to the roofed platforms and passages along the outside of the building. They are suited to serve several purposes, from outdoor sitting rooms and cityscape viewing spots to yoga workout class and room to practice meditation. It’s a calm and peaceful place to take a breath of fresh air and enjoy views of the city.
Even with its small capacity, the hotel is able to provide a variety of accommodations ranging from suites to deluxe rooms and duplexes consisting of two apartments. They share one thing in common — a design that faithfully represents the principle of truth-to-materials architecture.
This holds that any building material is used in a way that’s the most appropriate, while the method of construction is unhidden. Besides taking in views of the cityscape, it’s about bringing the outdoors into the room, thereby creating a comfortable ambience filled with fresh air and natural light.
Plus, furniture is kept to a minimum to ensure the room is uncluttered, safe and right for simple living.
Taking everything into account, Sep’on Heartfulness Center is a boutique hotel beautifully made to fit the circumstances that form the setting of the coastal city neighborhood. Despite the challenges and limitations, the design team at 324PRAXIS is able to create a place for board and lodging that’s stylishly chic. It’s a charming place to be next time you sojourn in this part of Vietnam.
/ Story: room Books and Living Asean Editorial Staff /
/ English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Baan Lae Suan Fair Press Room /
A collection of inspiring quotes and flashbacks to the room x Living Asean Design Talk 2023, at the Baan Lae Suan Fair Midyear, BITEC Bang Na, Bangkok.
The latest architecture event “room X Living Asean Design Talk 2023” took place last Sunday 6 August. Convening a group of well-known experts from three countries, the annual conversation was on the theme of “URBAN FUSION / RURAL FLOURISH: Interweaving Urban and Rural Designs.”
It’s the star of the show at this year’s Baan Lae Suan (home and garden) Fair Midyear.
The panel included M.L. Varudh Varavarn of Vin Varavarn Architects Ltd., Bangkok; Supawut Boonmahathanakorn of JaiBaan Studio, Chiang Mai; Japanese architect practicing in Vietnam Shunri Nishizawa of Nishizawa Architects, Ho Chi Minh City; and Antonius Richard of the design atelier RAD+ar, Jakarta, Indonesia, with Bangkok’s Deputy Governor Sanon Wangsrangboon as special guest speaker.
The Design Talk centered around the shared interest in design that’s friendly to the environment and conducive to social development in both urban and rural areas.
And the Deputy Governor of Bangkok came in handy to touch upon the subject of official policy tools and collaborations with various efforts at developing public spaces and improving the quality of life for people in Bangkok.
Essentially, the conversation is about building strong networks that will enable us to stay tuned to things happening in the city and communities across the country.
It’s seen as a confluence of ideas between architects and people from different disciplines inspired to create a sustainable future together.
The conversation event started with Bangkok’s Deputy Governor Sanon Wangsrangboon, who spoke on “Urban Development Policy: Thoughts on response from and interactions with residents from different backgrounds.”
He shared a great deal of careful thoughts and his vision of a “livable city,” which he defined as one capable of accommodating people from all walks of life.
It’s the place where residents live together in harmony. In other words, it’s the type of surroundings where people participate in creating sufficient open spaces that lead to improved quality of life.
Sanon plays a part in furthering policy objectives and collaborating with multiple agencies working towards common goals. Front and center are projects aimed at improving the public spaces deemed crucial to the quality life of people in the city.
Apart from providing all the conveniences, a good city must offer the opportunity for people to live together happily. A “Livable City” can be defined as one that’s open for everyone to participate in the development process.
When people feels a sense of involvement and affiliation to a place that’s suitable for them, they have high hopes of making it better both for themselves and for others.
He emphasized that architects had an important role to play in helping to reduce social inequality. They had the knowledge and skills in the art and technique of designing and building and they could use them in the best interests of the people.
M.L. Varudh and Vin Varavarn Architects have won acclaim serving clients across a wide range of industries. Lately his focus has shifted towards designs that help solve problems in the society.
They ranged from schoolhouse planning thoughtfully devised to deal with earthquake risks, to low-cost housing opportunities for overcrowded city neighborhoods.
All of them speak volumes for the principles governing Vin Varavarn Architects’ ideas and design strategies.
Essentially, it’s about creating the right design that’s capable of bringing about a change for the better for the people and the society as a whole.
He sent a strong message about the need to create living spaces that harmonize with the circumstances that form the setting of a place. Upon reflection, the relationship between man and nature is impossible to disentangle.
Shunri Nishizawa has practiced in Vietnam for over 15 years. He believes that an architect is duty bound to have a complete understanding of the context surrounding a project being developed.
This can be anything from humans and animals, to plants and the natural environment, plus the cultural context and so forth.
All of them must be treated with equal respect if we are to create a piece of architecture that adds a good complement to the surroundings.
Nishizawa Architects’ finest works to date have made living with nature front and center.
Besides harmony with the natural surroundings, the designer group attaches special importance to choosing only materials that are right for the context of a place. That’s the role of an architect the way he sees it.
He laid greater emphasis on biophilic design that called for rewilding the built environment and the restoration of all aspects of the physical world.
At the very center, the health of the natural environment is as important as that of humans, perhaps even more so.
Supawut and Jai Baan Studio are renowned for their nature-inspired design, effort at environmental conservation and ability to connect with a sizeable proportion of the rural population.
Through multiple collaborations with property owners, Supawut is able to promote a good understanding of the connectedness between man and nature.
He gets his message across to the public that “time” is of the essence when it comes to restoring the natural environment to health.
His outstanding works include a project that transforms unused land into a green oasis in the city. It’s achieved by rewilding, a process of reintroducing native trees and plants, thereby creating natural habitats for birds and other organisms native to the Northern Region.
As “ambassador” speaking on behalf of nature, he proves the point that the relationships between humans, animals, and ecosystems are inextricable.
Last but not least, architect Antonius Richard of RAD+ar, Indonesia, spoke on the topic of “Different aspects of design in response to the environment and surrounding circumstances.”
He shared many useful techniques to incorporate natural elements in contemporary design. Plus, it’s a discussion alive with insights into design features unique to Tropical regions.
Mr. Richard spoke on the topic of integrating elements of nature in architectural design with respect to circumstances unique to Indonesia.
For the most part, his works deal with experiments undertaken to test the performance of new design in real life situations.
His experience encompasses a wide range of designs, from small projects such as cafés and restaurants, to homes and offices, to big projects such as commercial spaces and mosques that are designed to accommodate a large number of people.
Regardless of size, they share one common feature – a strict adherence to sustainable living ideas and design that’s compatible with the environment. It’s the quality that has served as the signature of Mr. Richard and his group of architects, designers and thinkers from day one.
More about architecture and design for better living, plus ideas for a sustainable society and conserving the environment, known collectively as the “Betterism” concept, are waiting to be discovered. Follow us and room Books for more!
/ Story: Story: Lily J. / English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Courtesy of Jai Baan Studio /
For Supawut Boonmahathanakorn of Jai Baan Studio, it’s easy to get why humans crave the touch of nature in their lives. It shows in what they’ve been doing all along — from ecotourism that combines travel with conservation, to an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city that happens from time to time. Why not? Out in the country the atmosphere is salubrious and the natural landscape pristine. Priceless!
But from the opposite point of view, what’s generally regarded as good also has the potential to inadvertently do harm to nature.
Not to mention the uncontrolled urban growth that can lead inexorably to unwelcome change in such a way as to impair the values and normal function of a rural community.
That’s where the designer group Jai Baan Studio led by Supawut Boonmahathanakorn, comes into play. Interestingly, they are determined to pursue a goal in creating designs that strike the right balance between satisfying basic human needs and protecting nature from harm, thereby adding to its ability to replenish.
To them, it’s a quality achievable through well-thought-out planning, a conception of design that prioritizes wisdom, prudence and function over form that brings aesthetic pleasure.
room and Living Asean have the honor of presenting Supawut Boonmahathanakorn of Jai Baan Studio. It’s a group of architects, planners and thinkers specialized in design that expresses our common humanity and the need to reconnect with the natural environment.
Mr. Supawut will be one of our guest speakers at the annual room X Living Asean Design Talk 2023. The event will take place on Sunday August 6 at the room Showcase zone inside Baan Lae Suan (Home and Garden) Fair Midyear 2023, BITEC Bangna, Bangkok, Thailand.
Q: What’s the basic principle of Jai Baan Studio? In other words, what’s important in the course of action you’re pursuing?
A: We regard restoring nature as the most important endeavor of our time. In doing so, we make every effort to “rewild” of the environment, be it built or natural.
We look for effective ways to restore balance in nature, thereby bringing the ecosystems back to health. In essence, it’s not about designing just to satisfy basic human needs alone. There are other things worthy of consideration, too.
In the past, when people built something, they seemed to have a worldview that’s different from ours in this day and age. Back then, people didn’t separate things into different parts as is the case with works of architecture at the present time.
Their perspectives on life are evident in structures that conveyed a great deal about who they were and their relationship with the context of a place. Likewise, that’s what inspires us with a vision to pursue a wide range of contemporary design.
Among other things, we look at creating commercial spaces that are responsive to customer needs. At the same time, we look for design that strikes a balance between human needs and nature conservation. That’s important to us.
We feel that the world is at a crisis point in history, a period characterized by mass extinction events brought on by the loss of habitats across a wide geographic area. It’s a time of intense difficulty that we are facing.
Yet, we feel that architects, designers and thinkers have a role to play in bringing public attention to the danger in a more perceptible way.
This is because the Earth’s surface, as we know it, has undergone transformation in so many ways. At the same time, human impacts on the environment continue with no end in sight.
Intentionally or not, the spreading of urban developments has had tremendous negative effects on the surroundings, both urban and rural.
That said, it’s important for us to be able to speak on behalf of nature — living organisms, humans, animals, insects, plants, and let their voices be heard.
Mind you, the flora and fauna of the land have needs just like we all do. Hence, it’s good to do our share of the joint effort at restoring the balance of nature.
This brings us to the term “rewilding” the environment, which in essence is about restoring ecological systems to a stable equilibrium. That’s the message that we’re reaching out to communicate with our clients.
Q: How do you respond to the rise of urbanization and the consequences of land change in areas where you work?
A: Urbanization is a process that’s happening every day. We’re constantly making partial or minor changes to the city we live in.
Over time, it expands into outlying areas and small towns in the countryside. Even in the remote corners of the country, changes are taking place there, too.
Our office is located in Chiang Mai, but a sizeable proportion of the population is originally from Bangkok and other provinces across the country. They have come to call Chiang Mai home trying to fulfill their dreams of living in close touch with nature.
It’s an interesting phenomenon in which people feel a powerful desire to live a healthy lifestyle embraced by nature. They come in droves, and that’s what gives us architects new challenges.
The solution to the problems lies in whether we can find a balance between the form and function that people want on the one hand, and sustainability and quality of life on the other.
Suddenly, it dawns on us that our work can no longer be confined to landscaping design alone. Rather, it has to encompass all aspects of residential planning, environment improvement, and interactions with nature.
Therefore, it’s important to reach out and create an awareness among the residents. In doing so, we are able to offer the kind of thoughtful planning that’s clear and easy for building contractors to follow.
It’s a gradual process. Meanwhile, we must allow nature time to take its course and regain the ability to replenish.
Q: In your opinion, how can design or your role as architect help toward community development, and society as a whole?
A: Let me answer in two parts.
First of all, we play an important part in communicating with the public in a respectful and subtle manner.
We don’t just tell people without explanation what good canal design should be and whatnot. Rather, we approach the task from a wider perspective, raising the issue of water pollution and how best to protect and restore the environment to health.
The same applies to other issues that involve public participation to resolve — from problems in the local economy, to impacts on ecosystems, to culture.
It’s about reaching out and talking to people, a role comparable to that of a diplomat, except we speak on behalf of nature. We wear two hats: humans who see things as humans do; and ambassadors of the environment that’s negatively impacted by change brought on by urbanization.
Done right, we can make our community a better place to live, together.
Secondly, in helping toward community development, we collaborate with people from different walks of life.
Unlike old times, today’s architects often find themselves working jointly with people from different fields. Together, we look for an excellent, well-thought-out plan with help from a variety of knowledgeable sources.
It’s a conducive work environment, in which everyone is treated as equal regardless of economic backgrounds or points of view. Good design comes from a nexus of ideas that all parties bring to the table.
Above and beyond anything else, it’s about bringing people together and making success happen.
Supawut Boonmahathanakorn is one of our guest speakers at the annual room X Living Asean Design Talk 2023. He will touch upon the topic of a balance between human needs and nature conservation. Plus, it’s an opportunity to keep abreast of the latest developments in design, architecture and landscaping. The event will take place on Sunday August 6 at the room Showcase zone inside BaanLaeSuan Fair Midyear 2023 at BITEC Bang Na, Bangkok.
This year’s Design Talk is on the theme of “URBAN FUSION / RURAL FLOURISH: Interweaving Urban and Rural Designs.” Admission is free. Just a friendly reminder, seats are limited. Advance registration is recommended.
/ Story: Lily J. / English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Courtesy of Jai Baan Studio /
Imagine what to expect as urban areas relentlessly expand into the outskirts of a city. More basic physical infrastructures are needed. As to be expected, they have a significant impact on rivers, canals and natural water bodies. Not to mention new roads that traverse a vast area covered with forest and agricultural land. Some see it as a welcome change. For others, it’s a rude awakening for its potential to have an effect on the ecosystems. Precisely, there’s a good chance it could afflict harm to existing “Ecological Corridors.”
What are “Ecological Corridors,” anyway? The term refers to both natural features of Earth’s surface and landscape planning strategies designed to prevent or reduce the effects of habitat loss.
Be it natural or man-made, they provide habitats crucial to the survival of indigenous florae and faunas great and small. Simply put in plain language, they are natural homes to plants, animals, birds, insects and other living organisms.
It’s for this reason that a property owner in Chiang Mai decided to create an open public space that’s central to the physical and mental health of both humans and animals. She started out with 12 Rai of land (slightly shy of 5 acres) of her own that’s part of a housing development on the outskirts of the city.
Named “Kaew Khum Oey Garden,” the green space project connecting Chiang Mai people with nature is undertaken by the homegrown design atelier Jaibaan Studio.
Supawut Boonmahathanakorn, architect and founder of Jaibaan Studio, said that for a long time the 12-Rai plot was left largely undeveloped after much of the upper layer of earth had been excavated to fill a strip of land designated for road building.
It lies environed by more than 30 housing developments without a single open public space. That’s reason enough for the owner to put in good quality parklands complete with bike trails, jogging trails and workout spaces for the community to enjoy.
Change is a good thing. The green is open to people of all ages, plus it’s thoughtfully devised to connect with existing ecosystems in the surroundings.
To create an oasis of calm that allows public access, the designer has been meticulous about its appearance and made spaces available for commercial activities, including room for the restaurant business.
It’s a thoughtful consideration since it’s the business that will generate the incomes needed to fund the upkeep of the park, thereby freeing the property owner from burdensome responsibilities in the long term. Plus, it helps to operate within budget.
With respect to landscaping, the designer further improves the visible features of the land by putting in trees and small plants indigenous to Thailand’s North.
Ironically, some of the species are less commonly known even among locals. As the growth of urban sprawl continues, neighborhood greenery matters. That’s the way he sees it.
Hence, the restoration of the area to all its former glory becomes his front-and-center concerns. Besides giving local residents the opportunity to reconnect with nature, he treats it as a design laboratory in which the flora and fauna and other living elements native to the area are incorporated in the design.
As the designer of Jai Baan Studio puts it, the park doubles as nature conservation, a restoration of the natural environment in which native plant species take precedence over any other consideration.
Trouble is that nowadays the garden market is awash with excessive amounts of decorative plants, including species imported from abroad.
Because of that, most landscape developers across the country have elected to integrate foreign imports in the design despite the kingdom’s rich and diverse native florae. As the imported tree species become more popular, nurseries and garden markets comply.
Subsequently, the landscape designer is compelled to act according to demands. And before you know it, there aren’t many native plant gardens around anymore, let alone the nursery business that produces them.
To solve supply chain problems, the landscape designer builds his own nursery, one that’s specialized in native species production to fulfill the park’s specific needs.
He crosses the hill and sifts through the water collecting specimens of native florae and faunas needed to repopulate the area, literally starting from scratch. A job very well done, he’s succeeded in breathing new life into what was once a neglected piece of ground.
Some of the more commonly known species he reintroduces to the park includes herbal species, such as
(1) Ngu-khiew (พันงูเขียว) or Brazilian tea (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis);
(2) Tri-chawa (ตรีชวา) or squirrel’s tail (Justicia betonica);
(3) Kraprao-daeng (กระเพราแดง) or Red holy basil (Ocimum tenufiorum);
(4) Ho-rapha (โหรพา) or Thai basil (Ocimum basillicum var. thyrsiflora); and
(5) Fai-duenha (ไฟเดือนห้า) or Butterfly weed (Asclepias curassavica). The list goes on.
Kaew Khum Oey Garden is by no means a one-off project. It’s the designer’s finest work to date. So the information about the native florae used here will be stored in a repository of data for future landscape developments similar to this one.
The data will also be made available for public access in time to come with a view to stimulate demands, thereby encouraging the nursery business to fulfill the emerging needs for indigenous plants in the future.
For a carefree, laid-back vibe, it’s the designer’s intention for the project to be nothing out of the ordinary, a public green space that operates without too much control or intervention.
As he puts it, “There may still be parts of it that aren’t arranged neatly or in good order here and there, but hey, that’s perfectly normal if we wish to restore an area of land to its original uncultivated state.
“After all, we have different notions about beauty in the 21st Century. Wouldn’t you agree that there’s a sense of beauty in imperfections, too?”
It’s the different conception of beauty that brings our attention to “Rewilding the Environment,” the term used to describe the return to a state of being unorganized or leaving it alone again, naturally.
By design, it’s a far cry from the impeccably manicured garden. Rather, it’s one rich in the flora and fauna of the Northern Region, including insects. It’s a design that views human users as inextricable parts of nature.
So if you’re looking for a place to relax, lean back and chill, Kaew Khum Oey Garden is the place to be. It’s made with the user in mind. And that’s precisely the message that the design atelier Jai Baan Studio tries to communicate.
Find out more about nature-inspired landscape architecture and ideas for a possible course of action toward environment-friendly design similar to the above-mentioned project at the upcoming room X Living Asean Design Talk 2023.
It’s an opportunity to meet up Supawut Boonmahathanakorn, architect and founder of Jai Baan Studio as well as a panel of experts from three ASEAN countries.
This year’s conversation event is on the theme of “URBAN FUSION / RURAL FLOURISH: Interweaving Urban and Rural Designs.” The Design Talk is scheduled for Sunday August 6 at the room Showcase zone inside Baan Lae Suan Fair Midyear 2023.
Admission is free. Just a friendly reminder, seats are limited. Registration is recommended.
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