The first time I heard of the Department of ARCHITECTURE, my reaction was “okay, this is very Thai.” Just in case you don’t know, they are an architectural design studio, and they boldly and prominently include their main business in the name of the studio, calling it the “Department of Architecture” (which can also be translated as “School of Architecture”). This made me imagine a conversation that goes like this:
“Where do you work?”
“Department of Architecture.”
“I mean, which company?”
“It’s just the Department of Architecture.”
Anyway, even though the name may seem like a shortcut or laziness, this architectural design studio from Thailand has brought tremendous shock and influence to the local and even Southeast Asian communities.
Established in 2004, they started with hotel design, avoiding the typical Thai-style vacation cottages and creating “Thai-ness” architecture based on feelings. Subsequently, through various projects such as the Bangsai Beach Multipurpose Pavilion, the Thonglor Public Community Mall, the Chulalongkorn University School of Architecture Library, and the “Red Pavilion” Community Center, they brought non-hotel type architecture in Thailand into the public eye.
In the entire Southeast Asian architectural community, they are recognized as a design studio that “brings the most common types of buildings in Asian cities, such as hotels, malls, culture, and education, to the masses, and spreads meaningful contemporary Thai architecture through the media.”
At this year’s MINDPARK Creative Conference, we invited the co-founder and lead architect of the studio, Amata Luphaiboon, to share his thoughts and practices on public space design.
Here, we will introduce some of the classic projects of the Department of ARCHITECTURE, allowing you to experience how they cleverly use space to activate community culture.
The Commons Thonglor – A Public Community Mall
When it comes to commercial space design, Bangkok is a city that cannot be ignored. Among them, The Commons Thonglor is a highly anticipated project. Despite being a small commercial project of only about 5000 square meters, it has become a popular destination due to its open space, huge wooden steps, and a collection of trendy food options.
The project has also won multiple awards, including the ARCASIA Architectural Award, the World Architecture Festival (WAF) Special Award, the American Architizer A+ Jury Award, and the Thailand Property Design Award.
Thonglor is a high-quality living area in Bangkok and the second largest commercial district. In addition to large shopping centers, there are many hidden gems in the alleys. This project is a small commercial complex located on a side street.
Bangkok itself has a high urban density, and the humid and hot climate severely limits outdoor activities. Amata and his team hoped to create a lively and comfortable outdoor environment when designing this project, opening up a small outdoor public area in the dense urban buildings, where residents and tourists can come all year round.
To achieve this, they designed a huge high-ceilinged atrium, which is also the biggest highlight of the project.
The large wooden steps at the entrance of the mall, which occupy about 2/3 of the total width of the site, have become the backbone of this commercial complex. Various green plants are dotted among them, turning it into a very pleasant public space. People can sit, dine, and play here, and gradually climb up the steps to enter various shops.
Moreover, it is hard to imagine a commercial space without air conditioning, especially in Bangkok.
The open space design and installation of industrial fans on the roof allow for natural airflow throughout the area, even in the summer. The landscaping on each level also helps to cool the space to some extent, making it a vibrant shared space all year round.
Although this project is small, it has achieved great success and has attracted international attention to Thai architectural design.
Soon after, the owner collaborated with the Department of ARCHITECTURE again to create another highly anticipated project – the “Red Pavilion” public community mall.
The Commons Saladaeng: A Public Community Mall
The Commons Saladaeng is a public community mall located in the central business district of Bangkok. The name Saladaeng can be translated as “red pavilion,” which refers to a small train station with a red wall and roof that was part of Thailand’s first railway line over 100 years ago. Most of the houses in the area at that time also had roofs with a similar design.
To pay homage to this lesser-known community history, the team at Department of ARCHITECTURE designed a unique roof with small pavilion-like structures that resemble the past architecture.
Similar to their previous works, the team aimed to create a space that would bring the community together and inspire energy. Therefore, the focus of the project was on creating shared spaces.
They designed a high-ceilinged atrium and wooden steps to gather people. Additionally, there is a large banyan tree next to the project that is almost a century old. Amata, the designer, made sure that the project was built around the tree, so that people could see it from anywhere in the space.
At the same time, the tree provides shade and privacy to the outdoor space, while also creating a visually cool atmosphere during the hot summer months.
© The Commons Saladaeng
The Commons Saladaeng is a three-story public community mall. In addition to the high-ceilinged space, the top floor is also a multifunctional open space that can host various community activities or seminars.
The business model of The Commons Saladaeng is different from that of general shopping malls. The commercial atmosphere here is not strong, and there is a feeling of a community creative zone inside.
Although Saladaeng is a very trendy commercial area that is already crowded with various restaurants and cafes, the “Red Pavilion” public community mall with more than 20 coffee shops still attracts a large number of locals and tourists after opening, thanks to its vibrant space design. What people come to enjoy is not just a meal, but more of a comfortable and relaxed feeling of living in the bustling city.
The Flow – A Versatile Pavilion at Bangsaen Beach
Today, we will introduce a small project located on the Bangsaen Beach in Bangkok – The Flow, a multipurpose pavilion.
The client’s brief was simple yet vague – they wanted a structure that could serve multiple purposes. The pavilion is situated on a large concrete platform on the beach, with only a row of coconut trees behind it.
Although the potential for the space seemed vast, the architects had to define the pavilion’s functions themselves. They spent a lot of time visiting the surrounding community, understanding the needs of the local residents, and considering their feedback – such as enjoying the sea view, having picnics, playing, doing homework, and gathering for events – to determine the functions that the area could accommodate.
The result they delivered is the pavilion shown in the picture above. At first glance, it may seem similar to the typical rest pavilions we are used to seeing. However, the Department of ARCHITECTURE put a lot of effort into the details, especially the pavilion’s flooring. They designed several different-sized “steps” that are stacked upwards, with each fold’s height, width, and slope carefully considered.
On these steps, people can lean, lie down, or sit. They can gather in groups or sit alone, with an unobstructed view in all directions. You can freely choose which direction to face, whether to enjoy the sea view or watch activities on the field behind the pavilion (such as ball games).
In summary, the pavilion has indeed achieved its goal of being “multipurpose.”
Some of the steps also serve as seats and tables, allowing you to sit and work or do homework (as shown in the image on the right).
In addition, because the pavilion is located in a very open area, it is completely exposed to the sun’s heat during the day when the weather is good, so ventilation and heat dissipation are also important considerations. In this regard, the Department of ARCHITECTURE has a wealth of experience.
They drew inspiration from the leaves of coconut trees and designed a double-layer hollow roof for the pavilion. Air flows between the two layers of the roof, helping to cool the pavilion and providing concealment. The top layer of translucent corrugated material is a beautiful orange color, creating a striking contrast with the sky and the sea.
Little Shelter Hotel
As previously mentioned, Department of ARCHITECTURE started out as a hotel design firm. Amata and his partner Twitee, while working at Metric firm, completed the Six Senses Samui Resort in Koh Samui as lead architects. This project earned them their first ASA Architecture Award and established them as hotel design experts.
However, they did not want to be limited to just one field. After opening their own firm, they refused hotel projects for a period of time and focused on office, commercial, and restaurant projects.
Therefore, hotels may be an inevitable topic when discussing them (after expanding their business, they resumed designing hotels).
Located in Chiang Mai, the Little Shelter Hotel is a project that has gained a lot of attention in recent years. It opened in 2019 and pays tribute to the handicrafts and culture of northern Thailand through its unique design language.
© W Workspace Company Limited
The hotel’s exterior is inspired by the traditional local tiled roof, with wooden tiles covering the roof and walls on three sides. Modern polycarbonate material is also used, making the entire building’s exterior sparkle like small shiny pieces. During the day, it reflects sunlight, and at night, it emits light from the interior, resembling a gentle lantern on a riverbank.
In addition, instead of the traditional symmetrical four-sloped roof on both sides, they designed an asymmetrical roof for the hotel, allowing it to blend better with the surrounding environment. The rooftop platform also offers a panoramic view of the surrounding scenery.
The design of the public areas harmoniously echoes the simplicity of the building’s exterior, presenting a gallery-like texture. The top of the space is decorated with custom-made installation art (inspired by the classic Boh-Srang umbrella), which interprets local handicrafts in a modern and exquisite way.
The Little Shelter Hotel is a successful attempt to blend traditional and industrial materials, connect local cultural elements with contemporary art installations, and create a dialogue between the old and the new.
After the outbreak of the pandemic, discussions about “community” seem to have increased. From new consumption to spatial design, people are thinking about how to deepen community engagement and stimulate community vitality. In this regard, the Department of ARCHITECTURE not only has rich practical experience, but also has developed their unique methodology.
Of course, as a widely diversified firm, they have also made achievements in interior design, landscape design, cultural and physical environment research, and the use of new materials.
If you want to know the stories and thoughts behind the classic projects created by the Department of ARCHITECTURE, gain new insights into public space design, and learn more about cutting-edge perspectives in the creative design field, don’t miss this year’s MINDPARK Creative Conference!
↓ For more information about the conference, please click here ↓
4 Accelerator Packages to Make Your MINDPARK Creative Conference Worth the Ticket Price
All images in this article, unless otherwise specified, are from the Department of ARCHITECTURE official website.