11 May 2014

60 Lost in Circulation : Loha Prasast Wat Rachanatda

 Loha Prasast Wat Rachanatda (literally translation --> Metal Castle of Rachanatda Temple) which was just completed recently after more than a century of construction, is renown as the only metal castle (prasast) in Thailand and the only remain in the whole world (it seems that the other one in India was already destroyed). The building is 7-storey high with 37 dark color metal spires with very detailed decorations. It is rather different from most of Buddhism architecture we have here in Thailand. Besides the peculiar form of Loha Prasast, the interior space is by far more complex and interesting than the exterior metal feature which is usually known. 

Loha Prasast could be called as 'architecture of circulation', because the whole building is mainly circulation centering around the center with 2-axis symmetrical plan on every floor. The ground floor is layers of corridors formed by arch colonnades that are exactly the same on the four sides. Natural light penetrates through the layer of arches leading through the darker center where the spiral stair situates.

Walking up through the central spiral stair until reaching the second level, the first scene is a Buddha image with natural light on its front. The light is from a very narrow open space layering between the main part of the building and the outer ring colonnade where the Buddha images are placed. Turning back, left or right, the exact same scene appears. Without seeing the surrounding, it is impossible to tell where exactly you are, which direction you are facing. The rest of the area on this floor is mainly a circulation layering around the center, like an onion structure, which does not lead to anywhere, but getting you lost in the space. The more you try to get out via the outer ring of the building, the more you get lost because every direction looks the same. It is as if you are confined in another world, complete cut from outside.

Finally after giving up to get out from the outer ring, you walk up to the next level from the same spiral stair, the same kind of scene appears again - every direction looks the same. Again, orientation and direction sense are destroyed. The world outside is totally blocked.

The techniques of de-orientation and de-perception of the outer world  are the key issue of the interior space of Loha Prasast. On every level, getting up higher, you will have to get through the process of losing your orientation and cutting yourself from the outside world. It is not until they reach the 4th level that you begin to have small glimpses of the world outside.

When reaching the 7th level, the destination, where Buddha's relic is installed, you can see the whole outside world from above - the whole city is before your eyes.

It is said that Loha Prasast is an architecture built upon the teaching of enlightenment practice in Buddhism (พระโพธิปักขิยธรรม) which carries 7 chapters and 37 rules. The building, then, holds 7 levels with 37 spires. But if scrutinizing closely into architectural design aspect, the building means a lot more profound than the numbers.

The journey from the lowest level until the highest one to pay respect to Buddha's relic could be compared to one's journey of practice to reach enlightenment. The interior space is to display the state of mind of those who are into the journey of practice - getting lost, not being able to understand the world, getting higher and higher through the internal stair, while the natural lights just help to identify roughly the territory. The higher one gets, the brighter it becomes, because the distance between the center and the parameter of the building deceases reversely with the height. When one reaches the highest point of the building, after getting lost in the dim space, the extremely bright space appears before the eyes, the mind get relieved and lighted. This is an imitation to the state of mind when one reached the enlightenment that one could see the panoramic view of the world from above. Finally the world is the world.

Thinking of the circulations in the building more, it could be also use as a walking meditation space for those who practises meditation to reach enlightenment.

The building began its construction since the reign of King Rama III, which is about 160 years ago, and just completed recently. It is perhaps one of the best buildings in Thailand that could interpret Buddhism teaching into physical space with very refine and subtle techniques.

In comparison to the recent trend of using whatever Buddhism philosophy as a label claiming to  bring back our 'glorious' past of Thailand through architecture just symbolically, Loha Prasast could offer a lot more to learn.

Continue Reading

25 May 2013

59 TOYO ITO - Tomorrow Where Shall We Live? Bangkok, 1996

It was in January 1996 when Toyo Ito gave his first lecture in Bangkok.

Actually he was already in Bangkok in early 80s. Then he got the impression of people living 'like a fish' on the watery environment from the canal of Bangkok.

“I recall a boat ride I once took on a canal in Bangkok and the impression made on me by the sight of people living on the water’s edge. The people had adapted successfully to their watery environment......... The people dwell like fish, their bodies steeped in water......... The water flowing about those people was overwhelming, and the space that enveloped them was extraordinarily humid.”

from Toyo Ito, “The Transparent Urban Forest”, The Japan Architect, 1995-3 (Programming)

First excursion of Ito-san in 1996 visit, therefore, was a boat ride in the canals he likes.

In the photo here, there are Kulapat Yantrasast, Sujin Osatarayakul, myself, Ito-san, and Pratran Teeratada

On the back of the boat, we have Pakorn Mahapant and Suphakij Pathamanad. 

The boat ride, perhaps, fascinated Ito-san even more, because Bangkok was, no longer a natural primitive environment as when he first visit in the early 80s. But rather it was partly transformed into a modern metropolis with recent advanced technology influenced the way people living with its original primitive environment - people living on the canals were equipped already with cellular phones and satellite systems.
The way people in Bangkok lived, impressed him. While the way he got impressed, fascinated us who had been living in Bangkok since we remembered.

The title of the lecture was "Architecture in the Electronic Age". Ito-san introduced the concept of living with the new technology, especially in the media environment.  The role of architecture as an artificial or second nature to integrate the relationship between man nature was emphasized.

The lecture was hosted by art4d  and sponsored by Mitsubishi Electric (Thailand) and Japan Cultural Center Bangkok. Thanks to Monkon Ponanutree and Pratarn Teeratada, the editors of art4d, who actively supported the event. Kulapat Yantrasast of WHY architecture, who, by then was completing his Ph.D. at The University of Tokyo and I were coordinating the event.

After the lecture, Ito-san got a great idea. He proposed us (art4d + Kulapat + I) to continue our event in Bangkok by doing a competition and exhibition throughout the year of 1996. We were extremely intrigued and very honoured. He even offered to help for sponsorship from Japanese companies in Bangkok. Ito-san told Mitsubishi Electric executives that he must to support the future architects of Thailand!

The series of events in 1996 in Bangkok, began with the lecture in January, followed by the competition for ideas for an installation with the title "Tomorrow Where Shall We Live?".

"ในช่วง 20 ปีสุดท้ายของศตวรรษที่ 20 นี้ เมืองใหญ่หลายๆ แห่งของไทย โดยเฉพาะกรุงเทพฯในฐานะศูนย์กลาง ดูจะได้พัฒนาไปอย่างมาก พื้นที่เมืองหรือ urban space ที่เป็นผลพวงจากวัฒนธรรมไทยที่หล่อเลี้ยงสภาพแวดล้อม น้ำและธรรมชาติที่อุดมสมบูรณ์ในเขตมรสุมนี้  ได้ถูกพัฒนาไปโดยได้รับเทคโนโลยีสมัยใหม่เพิ่มเข้ามา อาคารมากมายหลากหลายถูกสร้างขึ้นมา เครือข่ายการสัญจรขยายตัวออกไปอย่างกว้างขวาง นอกจากนี้ยังมีพัฒนาการที่รวดเร็วปานสายฟ้าของเทคโนโลยีการสื่อสาร (communication & media) ที่ผ่านประสิทธิภาพที่สูงขึ้นของระบบคอมพิวเตอร์ต่างๆ อาจกล่าวได้ว่าเทคโนโลยีเหล่านี้ กำลังทำให้พื้นที่อยู่อาศัย (living space) ตลอดจนรูปแบบชุมชนของเรา เปลี่ยนแปลงไปอย่างมากทีเดียว แต่ทว่า พร้อมๆ กับความสะดวก หากกลับกลายเป็นผลที่เราได้รับจากการที่มีคนมาอยู่อาศัยร่วมกันในเมืองใหญ่ จนปัจจุบัน "ปัญหาคนเมือง" เหล่านี้ได้กลายเป็นวิกฤตการณ์ในชีวิตประจำวันของพวกเราไปเสียแล้ว ณ.วันนี้ ที่เรากำลังก้าวสู่ศตวรรษที่ 21 ถึงเวลาแล้วที่เราต้องมาช่วยกันคิด เปิดมุมองพิจารณากันใหม่อีกที ถึงความสัมพันธ์ระหว่างธรรมชาติและเทคโนโลยีและสภาพแวดล้อมพักอาศัยของเรา ว่าจะมีลักษณะอย่างไร แล้วสำหรับตัวคุณเอง อยากจะอาศัยอยู่ในสถานที่แบบไหน สภาพแวดล้อมอย่างไร ในอนาคตอันไม่ไกลนี้ ลองเสนอความคิดแบบมีรูปธรรมมาดูกัน แล้วมารอดูกันว่าเมื่อฝันของคุณได้ทำให้เป็นจริงขึ้นมาแล้ว มันจะมีลักษณะเป็นอย่างไร "

Competition Brief of "Tomorrow Where Shall We Live?". 

This time, we got the support from Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University as a co-host with art4d for the event. Also Ito-san helped us to get the sponsorship from Shimizu Corporation, Taisei Corporation, Thai Kajima Corporation, Thai Obayashi Corporation, Thai Takenaka Corporation and of course, Mitsubishi Electric.

In May 1996, Ito-san came back to Bangkok to judge the competition. Six students entries and Six professional entries were selected.

After that the twelve selected entries worked on developing their ideas into an installation which was installed during Chulalongkorn Academic Exposition 1996, in November the same year. It was a very big deal event. I was then studying in Colombia University in New York and returned to Bangkok for one week for the event. Kulapat was also working in Japan, he, as well, returned to Bangkok. It was a big reunion too.

We went to venue together a day before the event with Ito-san, and got very excited. Almost every corner of Faculty of Architecture buildings were transformed into an installation space in an attempt to answer the question of Toyo Ito: Tomorrow Where Shall We Live?

I wrote a report on the whole year event for a+u magazine 97:11:

..."(to answer the question) Tomorrow Where Shall We Live?" seem to focus on media and communication technology according to his lecture and message. However, the most interesting point in this event is how to formulate the message of the future with the specific context: Bangkok, the opposition of nature and technology.

From the imagination of participants to a time they have never reached, an urban approach is used in Blowing in the Winds, Penthouse SALA in the Forest City and Express Way Module House. The imagine Bangkok urban space in the future as a product of the present development such as a left over space between buildings, under expressway structure or the rooftops of high rise buildings. The solutions result from using media as an additive dimension compensating for the loss of pleasant space. Particularly in Blowing in the Winds the flow of winds and media is an important characteristic to generate living space according to their similar nature.

At the same time, Experiment in Ripple Space, Future Resident System, Share Time, Envelope and Virtuosoic Evolution predict new social conditions and use architecture as a response to new social systems.....

Exposed Living and Naked House focus on the lost of tangible human dimension by extreme use of media and computer technology... The last group seems to answer the question of tomorrow by more abstract installation with an idea from Buddhist Philosophy. Wel Come Home expresses the journey of our life through time that finally ends with death...... Untitled 1996 which is full of multimedia installation, approaches living space as the mass of energy of four basic elements combining to be emptiness, while 'light' in the architecture space represents enlightenment, the infinite for the future.

Almost all of the installations propose to visualize their ideal space from the imagination. They produce direct experiences in the audience through the model space and inadvertently architectural form itself seems to be less important. As the nature of invisible media, architecture with minimal form but maximum effect would be the answer for our tomorrow....."

Ito-san also sent his installation with the name of Tarzans in the Forest of Media - the idea of media cladding which is light and flexible and that protects us and controls the profuse flood of information was represented in the installation by a model of the rather abstract version of the interior space of his by then on-going project, Sendai Mediatheque.

The installation "Tarzans in the Forest of Media", Bangkok, 1996

In the world, although the event could be very small drops of water in the big sea, it was very significant for the place such as Bangkok. Many architects and young students were inspired and encouraged to rethink about their role as an architect, the environment where they live and want to live.

In 2006,  ten years after, when Ito-san had his solo exhibition, The New Real in Architecture in Tokyo, his exhibition allocated a small part to mention our event in 1996. He hopes to see the future of Asian architects / architecture growing up from Bangkok! 

On March 17, 2013, it was announced that Ito-san is 2013 Pritzker Prize laureate, the sixth Japanese architect who received the honour.

His great works have shown how great architect he is. But it is not only that. The very small events he did with us in Bangkok has shown that he is greater than the works can tell. His enthusiasm to engage the future generation of architects anywhere is truly impressive.

I am certain many architects in Bangkok, who in 1996 had a chance to be in his lecture, to be part of the competition and finally installation including myself, got influenced by Ito-san eagerness to create solution for people to live peacefully, pleasantly and naturally in the built environment. We promise we will try our best to answer your question every time we build...  As the question is very simple, very true and very inspiring --- "Tomorrow Where Shall We Live?".

Thank you very much Ito-san. 

The participants in "Tomorrow Where Shall We Live?" installation:
The Exposed Living: 
Kanika R'Preedakul
Wel Come Home:
Terdpong Mongsonti, Wuttinun Jinsiriwanich, Wit Ariyasriwattana
Blowing in the Winds:
NopppadolChatpattanapong, Sant Suwatcharapinun, Tortakul Nisawattannun
Penthouse SALA on the Forest City:
Hiroyuki Nishioka, Tomohiro Nakamura, Prasitchai Promliphonkul, Prajerd Chabchoy, Vicha Leelathanankul
Naked House:
Yanyong Junviranong
An Experiment in Ripple Space:
Runroj Leesinsawad
Future Resident System:
Direk Wonpanitkrit
Expressway Module House:
Seri Sawangwattanarat
Share Time:
Noppon Pisutharnon, Jessada Srivanichayaporn, Norrarit Boonsomchitr, Sarawoot Juntarasangaram
Virtuosiuc Evolution:
Puttichart Wanichtat, Kitti Monkolwibool
Untitled 1996:
Sarawut Chutiwongpit

Continue Reading

07 March 2012

58 Watery Living

Water has great influences in our way of life since the beginning of time here in the region. Floods, flooding are nothing new. Just recently we forgot how to live with it.

 Sumet Jumsai, a prominent architect of Thailand, writes a controversial book 'Naga: Cultural Origins in Siam and West Pacific' on how water shapes the so-called amphibian lives of people in the region. Although some parts of the book are slightly too fancy about water, it is rather inspiring.

Toyo Ito, a prominent architect, has made a very interesting observation on how we, people in Bangkok, live with water, from his boat ride trip:
 “I recall a boat ride I once took on a canal in Bangkok and the impression made on me by the sight of people living on the water’s edge. The people had adapted successfully to their watery environment......... The people dwell like fish, their bodies steeped in water......... The water flowing about those people was overwhelming, and the space that enveloped them was extraordinarily humid.”

:Ito, Toyo, “The Transparent Urban Forest”, The Japan Architect, 1995-3 (Programming), Tokyo: Shinkenchiku-sha, 1995.

From 2011 floods, it seems that, really, we have forgotten completely how to "dwell" with water as Ito describes. 

In 2010, floods damaged many cities in Thailand. Bangkok was somehow safe. However, we were quite alarming with the damage and danger caused by the water. Many architects and designers got together by TCDC discussing about floods and how designers could be part of the flood reliefs or preparations. As a result of the meeting, with Pim Sudhikam and Terdsak Techakijkachorn of Chulalongkorn University, we organized a summer workshop on "Watery Living" during June - August 2011, just right before floodings...
The workshop was not aiming to 'invent' a new way to deal with floods, rather to study how the local have been dealing with floods & flooding in the past centuries. Perhaps, perhaps, we can help to improve something, using our design skills.

We chose a small village at the junction of two small rivers in Ayutthaya,  Hua Wiang as a case study. Ayuthaya is a giant plane where usually receives floods every year. (When it was a capital of Siam during the 14th-18th century, the strongest weapon of the city when enemies surrounded the city was flooding). By then common people were living mainly on floating houses. The village used to be a small market with several floating houses along the river junction. But in the mid-20th century, floating houses were prohibited because of its nomadic nature as well as the arrival of engine boats which made strong waves. So they were moved and fixed on ground. In Hua Wiang, many houses can still be traced back to the original typology of floating house. However, because of the floods, the-fixed-on-firm-ground houses are developed to deal perfectly with their annual floods.

This is the general view of the village on the rivers.

Most of the houses are elevated super high from the ground, around 4-6 meters depending on the area.. the overall is quite strange because you can walk through under all the houses.

You can see that some houses are lifted very high from the ground and the shore. The villagers have lifted the houses several times in the past 2 decades because the level of the floods keeps raising up. (The method to lift the house is also super interesting, we will talk about it later in the future post).
During the dry season, people would walk under the houses with short cuts from one to another - a dry walking network. Well, of course, during the floods, they use boats - different network is formed. 
Since some houses are lifted so high that some elderly who don't want to walk up and down from the ground level to the main level of the house 20 times a day invented "a mezzanine living platform" between the two levels for dry season only. During the floods, the platform is under water. They simply move the stuff up high.
You can see a small living room with a fan, a cushion, a mat and small person items. A lounge.
With the similar concept of the in-between platform, some houses along the river are built with several platforms with different levels.

The interior space with many levels, the space is rather complex and interesting. They can organize their lives according to the water level, move their stuff up and down. At the same time, it is not too far from the 'ground'. Since the house can be reached via different ground levels or water level.

The veranda space of a house is much lower, closer to the water level, while the main house is rather high up.
One of the house is a beauty salon of the village. The lady with glasses is the owner of the salon. Her salon is really high (level).
Because of the flooding nature, everything here is rather light and movable: all the furniture and utensils. Everything is ready to be relocated in case of floods --- living light. Even some parts of the walls, the floors are movable and adjustable.

The plants are all in pots ready to be moved up and down upon season. What a light life! ^_^ Not to mention some of the electrical wires attached with outlets or light bubs that can be rolled up when water arrives... ----> genius indeed.
 With the bamboo structure, they can plant vegetables above ground. At least when the flood is not too high, they can still have some stocks of vegetables.
The best invention so far is the super high plant tanks. They use the pre-fabricated concrete rings (usually used for water storage) stacked up to become a high plant tank, so that during the floods, they still have fresh herbs (such as hot pepper, basil, lemongrass and etc. - very crucial for local cooking).
Not only the houses are lifted so high, the spirit house is also elevated so high from the real ground to meet with the water fluid ground during the floods.
Learning from the village, we were brought back to where we perhaps used to be - living lightly with water. It may sound rather romantic, however, seeing all these, I believe we can improve our modern city, modern life to blend more with water with very simple methods. This year 2012, hopefully, we will be able to handle more. Since water is all around. -_-"

Continue Reading

01 November 2011

57 Body Borders: Anything Can Break by Pinaree Sanpitak

We are designers, surely not artists.
Compare to them (artists), what we do are closer to the utility side of things. However, we love art. We love the way art blows our minds and brings us to the territory where we cannot completely reason with our logic - it makes our hearts beating fast, our brains going dizzy....

Recently we have a chance to be closer to this mind-blowing territory we like. Thanks to Pinaree Sanpitak, one of the most prominent contemporary Thai artists who gave us a chance to collaborate with her on one of her trilogy exhibition, Body Borders: Anything Can Break at The Art Center, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. (She actually held her exhibition as 3 parts in 3 venues at the same time last August. The other two were at 100Tonson Gallery and H Gallery. You can say that not so many artists could achieve such a thing here in Thailand).

(photo by Aroon Permpoonsopol)

In this exhibition, we were basically installation display consultant for Pinaree. She had this idea to fill the whole gallery's ceiling with thousands of Origami Flying Cubes mixing with her glass Breast Clouds. Also the whole space would play music interacting with the movement of people. We just helped to realize the physical parts of the installation. It was great fun and super interesting.

The first day we met with the team who were, apart from Pinaree herself, the other two consultants of sound and interactive system. (It was just the beginning because at the end of the installation we have learned that there were many other collaborators with different systems: music, lighting, fiber optic, installation and so on). This is what she showed us on the first day: Her extremely beautiful Murano Breast Cups and her latest Breast Clouds, both are very nice and cute.

Talking to her, we had this image of the space in her painting - a bit blurry and weightless - flipping from the wall on to the ceiling.

78 X 98 1/2 IN.)

We went back to the office and tried to mock up an installation technique. Basically we used a very common metal grid unit which street venders used to set up their stalls as a main structure to hang the Breast Clouds and the Origami Cubes - very simple, very cheap and light.

Then we got Kris Manopimok, our super lighting designer to involve. After checking the venue, he recommended that we should also have a light source coming out from some opaque Breast Clouds.

The only solution would be fiber optic light because it would not create heat and can be lit in a very small spot

Beyond the floating objects on the ceiling, actually there were many layers of technical elements superimposing on each other - the interactive sensors, amplifiers, fiber optic lighting system, the existing light tracks, the metal grid units hanging the cubes and the clouds... They worked together smoothly. Here is the ceiling plan:

The process of installation was pretty complicated too. Thousands of Origami Flying Cubes were made in advance, but they needed to be arranged and hung. So the contractor made several roles of long structure where more than a hundred units of metal grids could be placed, and then the cubes were hung --- the space looked like a 'farm' growing some birds (since the cubes could slightly move).

After the interactive and sound systems were installed, the units of the metal grid was lifted up and hung with the ceiling structure one by one.

Sometimes when there was something improperly installed, the assistants had to 'dive' into the sea of thousands Flying Cubes using a tool made out of some sticks to make a room... You can see how deep it was -_-".

Kris came back after everything is almost done for the last lighting set up.

This is the final...Thousands Origami Flying Cubes floating in the space with the Clouds. The cubes were slightly moving... as if they were alive... their little glittering paper surface greeting with the light gently.

The sound interactive installation was very nice. Moving around the space as drawn by the slightly moving cubes and clouds, every few meters, the music changed.. with many people in the space at the same time, the music was randomly mixed... the whole space became a forest of sounds, clouds and cubes... very dreamy... I think we have reached the image we had in mind from the beginning: to make her painting into physical space.

At the same time, another exhibition of the other twos, was on this flying cubes made out of rattan.

The exhibition at H Gallery, you could sit casually on the Flying Cubes!

Along the process of working on this installation, we have learned at lot about art, about Pinaree.. It was great fun. Thanks to Pinaree and everybody involved, you have made our hearts beating fast again. Body Borders: Anything Can Break is flying to Sydney next June. Looking forward to.
Continue Reading