The Sky Is the Limit

Project Description

PERSPECTIVE
The Sky Is the Limit

by Bonnie Pau, Feb, 2010 [View PDF]

Ole Scheeren opens up an unusual dialogue between the city of Bangkok and its inhabitants with his upcoming pixilated skyscraper

TEXT: BONN PAU PHOTOGRAPHY; COURTESY OF MAHANAKHON AND OMA
WHO: Ole Scheeren
WHAT: Partner, Office for Metropolitan Architecture
WORKS: China Central Television Station, Beijing; Taipei Performing Arts Centre; Scottes Tower, Singapore; Shenzhen Crystal Island transport and cultural hub

Where in Banqkok is the site located? What can you tell us about the context of MahaNakhon?

Bangkok doesn’t have a single centre, but multiple centres. Among them there is an area where most of the big shopping malls, office towers and embassies are around – t his is where the project is located. It’s directly at the Chongnonsi CBD Sky train train stop, so it allows us to connect the MahaNakhon tower and the Cube – an adjacent freestanding seven-storey building – with a direct above-ground pedestrian link to the platform, whereby you basically get off the train and walk straight into the building via the plaza level access.
It is quite a huge advantage because traffic in Bangkok is bad. The ideal connection to pubUc transport ensures that the project is very easy to reach, and there is an environmentally positivity that people don’t have to travel by ca r, but can come in large numbers by train. It is also surrounded by a series of office buildings and hotels nearby, resulting in a massive flow of people.

What are you tryinq to achieve in this project?

The project really wants to become a centre for people to come over, spend their lunch and evening hours. Not simply another building in the skyline of the city, but really a place for people to go to. Bangkok does not have many public spaces for civic purposes. With this project, I tried to open up the communication between the city and its people.

What were some of the main points of the brief from the client?

The brief covered a residential building, a 200- key hotel and retail spaces. Other than providing these programme components, the client had one very important request – the part that definitely interested me in the project. He wants a building that obviously has to work as a commercial undertaking, but more importantly, a building for his home city of Bangkok and its people; a building that the people can identity with. It’s different to an icon in a certain way. Too many icons are reduced to their visual object quality and function as an image, but do not necessarily function as a place to be as a social infrastructure.

When I met the client two years ago, he was looking for an architect who could bring an international calibre to the city, because Bangkok is a city that has a lot of exciting things, yet not really a lot of international architecture or conceptual architecture. He was looking for someone who would understand and know Bangkok, since he did not want to simply place an imported product in the city. Instead, he opted for something which resonates and engages the local context. I lived and worked in Bangkok in the early ’90s, so I was probably one of the few people who could match this requirement.

What issues were you hopinq to address with our concept?

The starting point was really to imagine a building that would bring the city and invite the ci ty to itself. If you look at skyscrapers, typically they have two major issues. They are tall but clad in a curtain wall that doesn’t speak to the outside and present it self. It’s completely enclosed; you don’t know if the building is full or empty, you don’t know if anything is actually happening inside or not, and it simply gives nothing to the energy of life and activity of a city.

At the same time, when you come to the base, typically the towers are strangled by huge enclosure of either parking or shopping. Malls and parking blocks present ‘death walls’ to the street, so there is again absolutely no communication or contact between the life inside and the life outside of a city. It’s rather a repellent that excludes without any interaction.
And how did your concept evolve into the unusual form of the tower?

I wanted to think of a tower that would undo those separations and bring the city into itself, project its own activity back out into the city. I started to basically dissolve it and opens it up with a pixilated geometry that would spiral around the tower, break open the very abstract shaft and introduce a set of smaller elements that first of all break down the scale of this very large tower, and introduce the very small scale of the city.

You can see how suddenly the smaller scale of surrounding buildings, textures, public, human life and the city started to inhabit the tower. On one hand, an aspect of scale, and on the other, it’s not simply a formal gesture.

Fast facts: MahaNakhon
• Upon completion in 201 2, the 310m MahaNakhon will become the tallest building in Bangkok
• London-based David Collins Studio is responsible for the interior design of the 20D-key
Ritz Carlton Residences
•The project will also house ~he Edition boutique hotel, run by hotelier Ian Schrager and
Marriott International
• A dynamic public plaza in front of the main tower will offer a meeting spot and venue for an array of social and cultural activities

These pixels themselves become spaces for life and activity, with each apartment extending out to a large terrace, so also appropriate to the tropics, where living inside and party outside is important – throughout the year, you can actually utilise outside spaces. All these pixels and volumes are terraces and balconies inhabited by people, that become a great quality for the apartments that will also visibly contain lives of inhabitants. Some of them become skybox living rooms that float above the city.

The city of Bangkok doesn’t have many high-rise blocks – how do you devise a design to be less imposing?

It works as a natural landscape, by which passersby feel like they are entering a valley with the structure gently extending to a higher level. Once you come down to the bottom of the tower, I dissolved the big base that no longer encounters the ground vertically, but in a set of soft terraces that contain a lot of landscaping.

So, it ‘s almost a natural experience . Restaurants, cafes, bars, book stores … not essentially retail and shopping, but more social and communal activities really animate and activate the entire area. The idea is to take the activities of the city and let these infiltrate the tower. To bring the life of the city into the tower and simultaneously project the life of the tower back.

I also split the base into two parts – the main building and The Cube on the other side. The Cube is dissolved equally with terraces arranged in two opposing parts. The terraces coming down from the tower, together with the terraces from The Cube, form a natural valley between them. People on one side can watch the people on the other. Suddenly there is the whole excitement of being in a community – seeing people sit there or passing by . Urban life becomes an enjoyably spectacle.

Did you incorporate any special features to deal with the tropical climate in Bangkok?

Yes, it is very important to consider shading to deal with the hot weather, so we used a lot of high performance glass. I invented bi-fold balcony windows, which differ from traditional folding/sliding doors. Coming in glazed units that fold open inwards to the ceiling, the windows provide an innovative and unprecedented conversion of indoor to outdoor space for inhabitants to enjoy high level of permeability.

What challenges did you encounter in the design process?

I think my challenge in every project is no repeating the status quo. For each project, I try to come up with something new and move forward.

You have been living and working in a number of Asia cities – how do you like them?

I really like Bangkok a lot. It’s an incredible intense, dynamic urban environment. It’s full of contradictions in the best possible sense. There are a lot of traditional elements and yet it is very futuristic at the same time. It’s very gentle culture, yet it’s also a very brutal city. And a that energy that is there really provides for great context to imagine architecture.

I am currently based in Beijing, and I travel lot between Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore Taipei – al l these Asian cities have their own characteristics that intrigue me.

Which of these offers more possibilities for architects to experiment and realize bold ideas?

I do not regard architecture as experiments Architecture is about responsibility – to be responsible to the public and the client.