Project done for Benoy Architects (London)
The "Chanel Bag" and the "Wai Thai"
The "Chanel Bag" and the "Wai Thai"
Location, Scope & Challenges . Located in the center of Bangkok right by Chao Phraya Riverfront, this shopping mall is integrated in a masterplan designed by Foster & Partners, which comprises 2 residential towers, 1 shopping mall, 1 observation tower and 1 riverfront plaza. Our scope was to design this 9 floors stories high shopping mall, which basically challenged the standard scale / height of these type of commercial buildings. The other challenge was the client itself, which allowed us very little “conceptual room” to maneuver, since she (a very wealthy and well travelled Thai lady) had very strong ideas concerning the design direction for which the project should go for. Consequently, the result of this project was a mix between some our of client’s very specific ideas and requests with others of our own.
General & Spatial Concepts . The shopping mall was divided in two main areas: an exclusive riverfront facing luxury mall area, to be treated conceptually as a partially independent building and on the back a generic shopping mall area dedicated to high street retail spread vertically along 9 floors, each one of these with its own different character. The ground floor would be a modern reinterpretation of a traditional Thai market (which included water canals, as requested by the client) and the last floor would be and open rooftop terrace, which included a multipurpose auditorium, roof gardens, sports facilities and panoramic rooftop restaurants. Internally the idea was to create a fluid circulation space based on a figure of “8” by overlapping slightly different shape voids around one big central space and two “buildings within buildings”, which would be treated and cladded as such. The result was a “cathedral type space” where natural light flows from the skylights located 8 floors above creating a pretty impressive spatial retail environment.
Massing & Façade Concepts . As requested by the client, the main building should work as a simple backdrop for the luxury building. It should be “simple and elegant like a Chanel bag, mainly white and with golden or silver accent lines” (client’s quote). Our minimalistic approach was equally simple, objective and pragmatic. We proposed the simple rectangular massing to be cladded in diamond shape white concrete panels, which unfold along the façade towards the river like Japanese origami. The edges of these panels would form recessed 20 cm “U” shape channels cladded in golden aluminium panels, from which at night continuous LED lights would glow. The luxury building in another hand, according to the client request, was to be more impressive and based conceptually in a “Kratong”, a lotus flower shape offering that Thai people place floating down the rivers in special occasions. In alternative we offered the client a second option, which we felt was much better and appropriate for the site, since it was more abstract and not so much figurative and/or “tacky” (even) as the “Kratong”. Yet, deeply rooted in Thai culture. We called it the “Wai Thai” option and its basic inspiration was the “Wai”, the typical Thai gesture of putting two hands together as a sign of welcoming, tribute or respect. The profile or movement of the “Wai” also coincides with the shape of the traditional Thai roofs and it was this basic shape that we used and reinterpreted in a bold contemporary architectural language. The client liked it. However, unfortunately, she end up choosing the first option, which corresponded in fact to her fist, somehow, preconceived idea.