Bangkok Urban Challenges Equal Design Opportunities
Hope is the central tenet of landscape architecture discourse. As an active practitioner in the Design industry, positivity is a (if I may borrow a famous terminology from the planning school of thought) ‘mandatory’ requirement, as design and its manifestation seek only to find and create good in place, space and people. This was primarily evident in my recent trip to Bangkok in part to attend the exceptionally well- run 2017 International Federation of Landscape Architecture (IFLA) Asia Pacific Conference, and to navigate the capillaries of fine grain and ultra-dense urban environment of central Bangkok under its infamous elevated BTS network (equivalent to our sky rail) and ‘sky walk’.
The IFLA conference was well attended by design professionals from the Asia Pacific Region. Amongst some of the key note speakers were Thai landscape architects who spoke passionately about the future of their city and the emergence of South East Asian landscape architecture, including the talented Pok Kobkongsanti of TROP Terrains & Open Space Design and the SHMA group. Key to their message was their sense of responsibility to contribute to the betterment of their cities. Over a 40- year period of continuous urbanisation with urban population double to Melbourne at 11 million, Bangkok, like many cities around the world, Bangkok is constantly in peril of losing its amenity (open space, quality public realm), culture and identity
While at the conference, I took the opportunity to explore downtown Bangkok and visit some well-known public realm projects. At each site, I found a range of interesting factors that I believe could be successfully applied to Australian projects, or at the very least, begin and influence conversations with a myriad of local stakeholders back home.
Public realm is fluid and is not contained by arbitrary lines. Consider the removal of the word ‘public’ from a project name. By doing so we start embracing the private realm and their investors as key agent of change, or ‘patrons of the craft’. Conscious decisions by Landscape Architects to remove the delineation between public and private, ensure their projects broke the ‘imaginary/ legal’ boundary of land ownership and embraced the city and the community with it, providing benefit across multiple users and stakeholders of a single site as you can see by the main image above.
An acute awareness of opportunities by designers, their clients and the community (as users) and acceptance of mutual benefits is achieved from high amenity spaces and places, as excellently demonstrated by the Commons ‘community’ mall in Bangkok’s Wattana district: https://thecommonsbkk.com/.
MBK Centre Night Market (and BTS Overpass)
A layered approach to time, space and function as demonstrated by how pedestrian preference for the elevated ‘sky walk’ to avoid the harsh afternoon sun may be perceived to ‘kill the street’. But as the sun goes down and temperature drops, these so called undesirable ‘undercroft’ space (with lower rental values) nourish night markets and invite pedestrian to be grounded and navigate the city differently. As an urban designer, this is a truly fascinating phenomenon. In its superficial chaos, there is an elegant order driving the City, and in response, the City continues to evolve and shape itself to survive and flourish in a way that is refreshing, and an antithesis to our Australian obsession for order and control. In shaping our cities, landscape architects, urban designers, policy makers, decision makers, community members and investors, we need ‘hope’ as a ‘shared goal. I invite my colleagues in Melbourne to be courageous in their endeavour as agent of change. Policy must evolve as cities continue pushing the boundary beyond what is ‘comfortable’ as something, somewhere has to give.
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