Yvonne Xu talks to prominent Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag, a man busy shaping both his country’s architecture and its future designers.
7 November, 2012
Early on a Monday morning, high up on the 28th floor of Siam Tower in Bangkok, architect Duangrit Bunnag’s office is in full swing. Its sweeping, open plan gives a full view of the team at work. Many of its members appear to be young – a scene its principal architect says is reflective of the state of the practice in Thailand.
Bunnag shares that while Thailand’s architects, like their contemporaries in the region, are emerging on the world architectural scene today, “many of them quit mid-career.” Universally notorious for being a tedious profession, is architecture something even harder to pursue in this country?
Siam Discovery (interior renovation), Bangkok
“Look at this city.” Bunnag turns to the view of Bangkok behind him – a grey vista of highways and buildings. “It looks very messy. Thailand is not as affluent as other Asian centres like Hong Kong or Singapore. We are still limited in that sense. When building budgets are limited, this is just how it is.”
Bunnag, not yet 50, is a well-respected figure within the Thai architectural scene and the reputation is garnered equally from his buildings and the talents he has shaped. He is looked upon by many as a mentor and a teacher. He runs an eponymous architectural practice, Duangrit Bunnag Architect Limited (which he also calls The Jam Factory – “like a jamming session,” he explains). Additionally, he has set up Anyroom – a local furniture design and retail brand – so that aspiring architects and designers alike can come under his wing.
In fact, after our interview, Bunnag has an important appointment: a group of students will be in the office for a mini lecture on architecture.
Hotel de la Paix, Luang Prabang, Laos
Bunnag admits that he is “very busy,” and one-to-one coaching or mentoring sessions are hard to come by. But when he has discussions with his team, he encourages them to find answers – answers to questions “not about projects, not about architecture, but about life, about people.”
Reflecting on his own career, Bunnag says he is in a much better place today than he has been in the past. “Before, all I wanted to be was a famous architect. I hated Sunday evenings,” he reveals, hinting at how the profession at times felt toilsome. This was before he clarified a kind of raison d’être.
White Cafe, Bangkok
Today, Bunnag wants to share his work and knowledge with people, and he does this on many levels – through lectures, talks, interviews, and not least through multiple online platforms where he shares projects, ideas, and sometimes insights to his personal life.
But the prolific architect also says that he is not interested in the deep, complex reaches of design theory. “I am not a very deep person, I surf the web in the way of the original meaning of the word surfing – on the surface, covering things as I go along.”
Design for The Naka resort, Phuket, Thailand
This easy, outward, and all-embracing attitude is certainly observed in Bunnag’s architecture, which always offers something beyond itself – be it an opportunity for a quiet afternoon, shoeless on a hammock (a scene Bunnag himself is partial to), or in fulfilling a developer’s vision or a young designer’s dream.
As Bunnag reveals, his interests are wide, but “could be just simply about life.” A practice shared with people, and one unlimited to architecture, is what makes the career “easier” for this architect.
Thailand Creative and Design Center, Bangkok
Duangrit Bunnag Architect Limited (DBALP) / ’The Jam Factory’
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