Scaling the Heights in Bangkok
BANGKOK POST – BRUNCH MAGAZINE
Scaling the Heights in Bangkok
by Itthiporn Tan, Aug 9, 2009 [View PDF]
In creating MahaNakhon, Bangkok’s tallest building, Ole Scheeren is fusing the good, bad and ugly side of the metropolis to forge a bold landmark and break the skyline, by Itthiporn Tan
I wondered if Ole Scheeren has a secret portrait like Dorian Grey, because he so understands that vital balance that shapes our world. Tall, lean and dashing like Oscar Wilde’s hero-monster, Mr Scheeren is one of the Germany’s top designers.
The 38-year-old is the man behind Thailand’s tallest building, which when it is completed will rise 77 storeys and be constructed like no other building in Thailand or the world.
Mr.Scheeren is also the business partner of legendary architect Rem Koolhaas. Their firm, called Office for Metropolitan Architecture, has been responsible for stunning buildings like China Central Television Station CCTV and the Television Cultural Centre TVCC in Beijing.
As he spoke of the idea behind MahaNakhon, a sleek monolithic structure on Sathorn Road scheduled for completion in 2012, I found his language smartly guarded, and understandably so.
After all, this is a five billion billion baht venture that its incestors – local Pace Development and Israel’s Industrial Building Corporation – hopes to be worth 18 billion baht at some point in the future.
To be sure, he wanted to take baby steps before landing a giant punch.
But anyone with half a brain would have realized from the graphic design that MahaNakhon is anything but conventional.
Mr.Scheeren uses words like “pixilated” and “excavate” to describe the incisions he has made in the structure.
In face, he has gouged entire sections of the monolith almost with the same skill as ice carvers using ice picks to chisel their frozen masterpieces.
The result of his attack is to give the building a broken façade, perhaps to deliver a decaying look against its slick, shiny skin. The name Dorian Gray echoes again in my mind.
Notably, when looking at a cross section of the building it almost reminds one of a strand of DNA.
Confronted with this observation, Mr Scheeren sheepishly admitted the people in his Hong Kong office dubbed the project the “DNA Building”.
Very much like DNA, it contains all the traits of what the structure represents, pimples and all. Mr Scheeren is purposeful and admits that being in Bangkok frequently through the years has shaped much of his outlook.
The Buddhist insistence for balance, the ying and yang, light and darkness, beauty and grotesque, are all but one.
“Ten years earlier I had come to Bangkok to organize an architectural exhibition as part of the ‘Cities on the Move’ campaign globally,” he explained. “The six months I spent here in 1999 were some of the most important in my formative years.
“It was during this period when I grew to appreciate the stark contrasts that make Bangkok such a great city.
“There are magnificent high rises side by side with the old temples and blending with the broken down sections of the waterfront.”
Even as ancient settlements crumble, new structures take Bangkok farther into the future. “Bangkok is a very intense city. That makes it one of the most beautiful places I have been.” He says.
Even more shocking is the fact that the project is being built at a time when the Thai property market, like the rest of the world, is plummeting.
“This period reminds me of 1999, which was two years after Thailand’s worst financial crash. Then, like today, you could see the energy was alive and things were going to rebound with a vengeance,” he recalled of the year when the BTS Skytrain started operating, signalling a new era had arrived for the capital.
Mr Scheeren’s work is a tribute to our 200-plus year-old capital. When he was creating the MahaNakhon on paper, much of his first-hand encounters inspired him to take the most honest route in making an honest symbol of what make Bangkok such a thriving centre, in spite of the chaos that runs through its congested streets and political structure.
On the more mundane front MahaNakhon will also set some of the highest prices for leased residential homes, starting at 250.000 baht per square metre. Its smallest two-bedroom apartment sells for 30 million baht. The lease term is for 103 years.
MahaNakhon will house the Ritz Carlton Residences, which will have 200 luxury units. It will also have a hotel called The Edition, to be run by Marriott.
The main tower will be joined by a second building and a plaza that has a massive public square that would be perfect for holding outdoor events.
He admits the That project has been challenging and was delicately drawn to comply with all existing local rules and regulations.
“In contrast, we did exactly the opposite with the CCTV project in Beijing. The Chinese authorities were able to understand what we were doing. We explained we did not want to employ the old hierarchical concept with a top-down order and where high floors represent good sections and lower floors represent bad sections.”
In communist ideology, workers were as important as leaders. In a recent interview Mr Koolhaas explained the adjoining structures connecting the towers symbolizes how intricate and interwoven the communications organizations have to be to excel.
For Mr Scheeren, “Bangkok is a city where the past, present and future comes tighter”. “The Thai year 2552 is based on Buddha’s birth, 500 years older than the Western calendar. I used to fantasise that in 2552, many Western cities will look like Bangkok.” He laughed.
While Dorian Gray kept his real identity secretly hidden in a painting, Mr Scheeren’s spirit, it seems, will be encased in the brilliant buildings he has drawn, which are deliberately blemished to attain perfection.