The shophouse was the most common building typology of Bangkok during the process of urbanization of the city in the past century. Due to the rapid economic developments in the past few decades, they quickly became obsolete. Bangkok's urban fabric today is full of underutilized shophouses in most of its prime areas.
The project is an attempt to experiment with and transform the shophouse typology—to solve very common but usually ignored architectural problems of contemporary buildings by using common materials and building tectonic. The existing conditions were two vacant units of a shophouse in a crowded area of Bangkok. Every floor is transformed into a working-living unit, a new typology for a small business or live-in studio, which is quite rare in Bangkok. The ground level is completely open for parking and plants. New steel facades on both front and back were added and filled with prefabricated concrete blocks—the most commonly used and cheapest construction materials found in the country, especially in contemporary vernacular buildings. Even these custom-made concrete blocks were very cheap. The facades also act as sun shading and as a curtain for privacy, not to mention burglary deterrent. The space between the big windows and concrete blocks in the back and the front is "a breathing space" for relaxing outdoors and smoking, as well as for plantings and for A/C units and service.
Bangkok grew with the typology of shophouses arising along newly built streets since the late 19th century. The mixed-use program of commercial ground floors and residences on the upper floors, borrowed from colonial Chinese settlements in Singapore, has been common throughout the city and duplicated everywhere in the country. However in the past few decades, especially in central Bangkok, where the urban transformation has been growing rapidly because of the new networks of mass transportation, the typology is no longer efficient for the contemporary lifestyle. To demolish and rebuild with more up-to-date building types is a very difficult task because each slice of a shophouse row has a different owner, such as in our case. Nowadays many shophouses in many prime areas are abandoned or not fully in use, although they are in areas accessible by new mass transportation. We believe that this is where architectural typology transformation is required, where architects are needed to offer practical but creative solutions. Our transformation offers the new programing and spatial arrangement of the live-in studio, where each floor can be accessed independently from the common stair (the key obstacle of the old shophouse typology is that each floor is accessed back stairs). The owner of each floor can be different. The division between commercial space and residential space on different floors is no longer needed; rather the smaller "working spaces" or studios in connection with small living units would also allow small businesses to flourish.
Stefano Mirti and I designed the preliminary stage and defined the core ideas of the building together. We explored the possibilities of how to make the facade double as a security screen as well as sun shading panels. Stefano came up with the idea of using common and very cheap concrete blocks found in very DIY buildings as a main feature of the facades. The concrete block is easily made with a metal mold, each can be done almost like baking a cake at home. A very small-scale, low-tech manufacture could also make it. The development of concrete block design with the local manufacture was followed by the all(zone) team (so as to the overall design development and construction of the project). Originally each floor of the concrete block facade was to be painted in different bright colors; unfortunately we learned after painting them that the light entering the space was dyed with strong colors—too strong to live in. Therefore, we turned the facade into greyscale.
Nowadays many shophouses in many prime areas are abandoned or not fully in use. We believe that this is where architectural typology transformation is required, where architects are needed to offer practical but creative solutions.
Based in Bangkok, all(zone) is a group of happy design professionals. The key people are all architects by training of different generations and interests. To always have input from new people, we joyfully collaborate with specialists who cross borders of disciplines and country, based on different types of projects. We are fascinated by our ever-changing mega-metropolis, which gives an almost sci-fi form to everyday life. Our observations are always captured by contemporary vernacular design solutions. We try to learn from them in order to create alternative built environments where everyone can feel "at home" in the world.
Sukhumvit 49, Bangkok
Design: Rachaporn Choochuey, Sorawit Klaimak, Isara Chanpoldee, Namkhang Anomarisi, Tharit Tossanaitada, with Stefano Mirti
Type: Shophouse transformation to live-in studio units.
Total area: 650 sq.m.
Architect: all(zone) co., ltd. with Stefano Mirti
Project team: Rachaporn Choochuey, Sorawit Klaimak, Isara Chanpoldee, Namkhang Anomarisi, Tharit Tossanaitada
Engineer: cm one co., ltd.
Contractor: Terdsak Tassayarn
Photographs: Piyawut Srisakul