313th Meeting - Tuesday,
Reclaiming architecture for the other side of the economic miracle.
A talk and
presentation by Kevin Moore
Blokker, Robert Tilley, Suriya
Smutkupt, Marisa Guptarak, Gernot Huber, Wyndham Hollis, Joyce Barns,
Keller, David James + Mongkhoot, Annelie Hendriks, Manus Brinkman,
Tuckson, David Steane, Klaus Berkmüller, Adrian Pieper, Guy
Titmus, Prissy Boonoliskulchok, Ricky Ward, Matt Yoxall, Juergen Polte,
Hargreave, Bodge Wallingford, Stefanie Shull, Joe Harris, Zachary Lamb,
Felicity Aulino, Nicholas Thomson, Daniel Blau Poran, Celeste Holland,
Vines, Paul Mahoney. An audience of 33 plus a couple more.
A summary of his
prepared by Kevin
Thanks you all for coming tonight.
Thanks to the Alliance Française for
allowing us to use their space on
this Bastille Day holiday. I wish I
could say there were fireworks after the talk, but I hope you stick
My name is Kevin Moore, I am
living in Thailand
this year with my wife
Felicity, who is conducting field work for her PhD in medical
Tonight, I’ll talk
primarily of the background research and
site visits that I’ve been conducting this year – towards
my Masters in
I feel fortunate to share my
work-in-progress with the
Informal Northern Thai Group tonight, as I’m certain there are
many in the
audience who have a far more intimate take on the period of the late
Bangkok, Thailand, and the region – so I look forward to your
– and I’ll try to be brief to allow time for discussion.
After the Crash
The research and narratives
surrounding the 1997 financial
crisis are in support of my thesis design project for my Masters in
Architecture degree at MIT, back in Boston.
When I chose this topic, I
certainly didn’t expect to hear
echoes of this crisis coming from Stateside – and it has been
watch the same patterns of blame, call for regulation, public bailout
private debt, emerge.
It is sobering and frustrating
to see this as a cycle – and
like many architects working within larger financial systems, it is
know what role (if any) the profession could play in tempering the
I must say, I enjoy the Thai
penchant to give a flavor to
economic crises, from the homegrown Setakit
Tom Yum Goong, to our current Setakit
So, I guess in short, I’ll
be presenting some of the
ingredients that went into the Tom Yum
Goong – and, 12 years later in 2009, a view of the leftovers.
And to stretch the metaphor
mercilessly, maybe lay out some
plans for reheating those leftovers? (sorry)
Scenario: Ghost City
proposal from last spring…for a bit of an overview
- After the speculative bubble
of the real estate market
burst and the resulting credit crisis in 96-97, there were an estimated
unfinished projects throughout the city of Bangkok.
- Engineers who perform due
diligence on abandoned
structures for potential buyers (one firm has studied over 40 of the
towers), give the general lifespan of 15-20 years for reinforced
exposed to the Bangkok climate (particularly, the rainy season).
- So for these remaining ghosts,
the time is now to steer
clear of a massive amount of waste…
Sathorn Unique (Slides)
- Architect Ajarn Rangsan
- 47 story residential tower
– perhaps the most iconic of
- South of Sathorn at the Taksin
Bridge Skytrain station,
the tower sits on an 8-story retail pedestal.
- Derisively called a
‘Vertical Shophouse’ by a real-estate
broker, who claims to have attempted to talk Ajarn Rangsan out of his
4m x 16m long
and narrow floor plan for units.
- His own crisis beat the
economic crisis by a few years: in
1993 he was accused of plotting to assassinate the Supreme Court
Praman Chansue. Last year, after a 15-year
court battle (and Praman’s death due to natural causes), he has
to 25 years.
- Now, it seems the building
changes owners almost yearly,
with no-one able to enact a viable reclamation project.
Maison Dom-Ino (Slides)
- (1914) – Corbusier
providing our French connection for the
- A showpiece, to display how
new building technology
demands a new architecture.
- Thin columns, floating stairs,
an open floor plan and
façade – strange, this archetype can be seen in the
skeleton of every ghost
building in Bangkok
- (slide of Honda building,
opposite Nana station on
Le Ville Radieuse
– initial focus upon social
welfare. Provision of housing for
everyone, using industrial efficiency. Thought
it necessary to throw off the
oppressive shackles of history,
and vernacular architecture – the boutique method of building
can’t suffice for
the modern era. Scarcity – no talk
scarcity when speculation overbuilds…
- May be hard to recognize, but
that is Paris
(Slide - see the Seine)
- Modernist ideal of the
high-rise city – ushering in a
classless society, where housing size is based primarily on family size.
- What we see is the same
technology, reinforced concrete,
used by developers
- Social idealism has been
replaced by developers
- I learned during real-estate
lunches that ‘see-through’ is
the industry term for the ghost buildings.
- Of course this conjures up
another ideal of modernism –
here we see Phillip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, CT.
- In these ghosts, there are
echoes of high modernism – it
almost looks like the modern utopia gone awry.
– that the international
story of Modernism was just that – a story – and in that,
one of many
stories. Post-modernism’s promise
that there is no single, universal aim (and believes that
was the language of colonialism) and that strength can arrive from
histories and narratives as well.
(Slides) Chakri Maha Prasat
Throne Hall – finished in 1882
- King Rama V hired British
architect, John Clunich.
- Clunich had worked on the
Governor of Singapore’s house.
- Western architecture became
recognized as the Royal
Preferred style: though the King wished to have an entirely Western
hall, he was advised against it, and the result is the hybrid style.
Uses both forms of European
power and royalty, as well as
‘traditional’ Thai elements.
This careful construction of
identity is exactly the issue
that Postmodernism concerns itself with.
- essentially a baroque and
Italianate palace with a
traditional Thai roof.
- Rama V wanted a full European
Hall in which to hold court.
However, it was a regent who persuaded the King to replace the
proposed dome with Siamese-style spires to preserve the tradition of
- It was at this point that
aspiration for the modern came
in direct conflict with established symbolism.
- The building in fact has
signified kitsch for many, and
has highlighted the mediocrity of a hybrid architecture; however, it is
surviving edifice that marks this period of negotiating cultural
The Duck (Slides)
- From the book, “Learning
from Las Vegas” written by Robert
Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, after teaching a studio that analyzed
architecture of Las Vegas.
- Post-modern identity meets
commercial architecture –
Communicative architecture, one that announces its identity – and
- The Duck and The Decorated Shed
- This is merely a more
outlandish version of ‘branding’ or
‘identification’ that goes on everywhere.
The Robot and The Elephant (Slides)
- The Robot – The UOB Bank
tower on Sathorn, by Sumet Jumsai.
- The Elephant – The Elephant Building
on Pahonyothin, near Chatuchuk park/market.
- Though most frequent examples
are high-end hotels – I’m
sure we can all imagine the ‘Sukhothai mystique’ lobby of a
- Commercial terms –
Image/Identity based architecture transition:
(ZOOM OUT: HOW DID WE GET
One Minute Real Estate
History of the City of Angels
was sacked by Burmese in the late 18th century
- Thonburi, where the recently
deposed King Taksin had
briefly ruled Siam
was founded upon
the east bank of the Chao
as the seat of the
new Chakri dynasty in 1782.
- Layout of the new capital
Krung Thep (the City of Angels):
primary concern was the re-establishment of the
symbols, spaces and functions of the old capital of Ayutthaya
- The walls were constructed in
part with salvaged bricks
from the ruined walls of Ayutthaya,
a gesture that further linked the new capital to the magnificence of
while simultaneously dismantling a potential fortification for a
insurgency or Burmese advance from the north.
- In terms of trade, the City of
was considerably closer to the Gulf
of Siam than Ayutthaya and
lent itself even more favorably
to maritime trade. In fact, Bangkok had
site of a settlement of Chinese traders, who were moved from the
of the Grand Palace
to the area that remains Bangkok's Chinatown.
- Road building:
of 20th century, the ‘Venice
of the East’ began to transform
- Most new road ways replaced
existing canals. In 1905 King
Chulalongkorn had a Mercedes
shipped to Bangkok,
driving on new Rachadamnoen
The Condo Act of 1979
The Condo Act ushered in a new
era of development in Thailand. There
are actually 4 acts:
- Condo Act of 1979 started with
maximum 40% foreign
ownership - such that the majority of any condo building was Thai.
- Condo Act #2 moved that number
to 49% in the 1990's,
during the boom.
- Then rewritten in Act #3
(1999) to allow 100% foreign
ownership after the 1997 Crash, provided the building was within the
Metro and certain other areas (for a limited 5-year period): such
(i) have not less than forty
(40) Condominium Units;
(ii) when combined with the
common property designated for
the benefit of the co-owners, its area shall not exceed five (5)
(iii) has already been
registered at least one (1) year
prior to the date a non-Thai applicant applies to register the
ownership over a Condominium Unit;
(iv) not be located in a
military safety zone.
It is believed that the main
reason for the enactment of
Condominium Act No. 3 and the relaxation in foreign ownership
the need to attract foreign investors and investment into Thailand
suffered a tremendous decline in its economy and GDP pursuant to the
crisis of 1997.
It is clear this is a 'See-through
The project needs to be (i)big, (ii)dense, (iii)distressed, (iv)not
or the army (i.e. undesirable to have finished)
It's worth noting that the Condo Act insures no foreign legacy - in
"..any non-Thai which obtained the ownership of a Condominium Unit by a
way of will/inheritance, must inform the competent authority of his/her
ownership and “dispose of it within one year from the date of
Condo Act #4 (2008) is essential
a consumer protection
amendment, mostly stating that promotional literature must match the
product, and offer a Standard Contract.
"...If the advertisement
material differs from the
Sales Agreement, it shall be interpreted for the benefit of the
So this may be taken as a "No,
never again" amendment.
A sign that the Age of a New Sobriety has begun.
Headline: Bangkok Post
decisions were not driven by sustainable
rents and yields, but by easy access to credit, tax considerations, a
mentality, and euphoria.”
Brief description of the events
around July 2007 that caused
the SET to plunge, losing over 50% value in one week, and draw
a halt in the credit crisis – all caused by profligate lending
building in Bangkok.
Thai Asset Management
Corporation (TAMC) (Slides):
- The 'bad bank' that was
created after the 1997 crisis.
states its mission as follows (and it is a mouthful):
“the objectives in
managing impaired assets of financial
institutions and of asset management companies, debt restructuring, and
business reorganization by taking transfer of impaired assets of
institutions and of asset management companies as well as any other
the property being held as collateral for debt repayments with respect
impaired assets, or by applying any other measures for the purpose
reviving the economy or restoring national stability.”
also called NPL's - non-performing
loans - and the website states that in 1999, two years into the
47.7 percent of loans from Thai banking institutions were in the NPL
In late 1997, Thailand
shut down 56 insolvent finance companies. A year later, the government
auctioning off their roughly $22 billion in bad loans and collateral.
unfinished office buildings on average fetched just half their book
of a liquidation that earned plaudits from abroad but generated
criticism at home as a ‘fire sale’ for foreign bargain
Real Estate Information
Center (REIC) (Slides):
REIC’s five major
the most recognized and reliable Thai Real
Estate Information Center.
analysis and forecasting
capabilities through the effective use of reliable Real Estate Data.
Developing tools and
indicators that reliably forecast
the Thai property markets demand, supply and price levels.
Real Estate Information to the
Becoming a Real Estate
Industry consulting center and
"Condos are for Mosquitoes, Foreigners"
Quote from Deputy
Interior Minister, ironically arguing FOR foreign ownership –
increasing foreign purchasing power will not hurt coming generation of
buyers, because no real Thai would want to live in a condo.
- Xenophobia in support of
Condominium Amendment Bill,
increasing ownership rights of foreigners from 40 to 49 percent of
- rise of Nativism, example
being the ever-vague
- hand-wringing over ‘how
did this happen?”
TOLSTOY – or, how did
“All happy families are
alike; each unhappy family is
unhappy in its own way.’ (Substitute
you get the idea…)
Public/Private gone bad. Also parallels US railroad builders (now
companies), as well as Krung Thep initial road building by royals,
created petite palace estates and rental real estate that started the
- Bangkok Post article:
“He (PM Montri Pongpanich,
initiated contract as transport
minister) was quoted as telling cabinet colleagues Hopewell had a
intention at first to realize the project as it had the right in return
commercially develop 600 rai of SRT land in Hua Lampong, Makkasan,
and Bangkok Noi as well as a corridor of land along the project’s
the current slump in the property sector and overall economy put the
was land, when land looked like gold – as the rail was the
mechanism. When real estate tanked, it
just wasn’t worth it (hence, no more investors interested)
Muang Thong Thani
- Bangkok Land
– Anant Kanjanapas
- Developers of Muang Thong Thani
- Eventually forced to sell most
properties in fire sale, in
order to complete Asian Games sports complex.
“The 4000-rai Muang Thong
Thani satellite town was to be the
largest residential satellite outside of Bangkok,
possible the largest privately-built satellite city in Asia.”
SV Garden (Slides)
- Four riverfront towers, 30-35
stories, on Rama III road
- Rama III was planned to have
been the new CBD
- “Sahaviriya City, better
known as SV City, is 60% owned by
Thailand’s largest steel producer Sahaviriya Steel, with the rest
held by Hong
Kong-based investment group, New Wave.”
- Eric Lai, architect
- Hong Kong density in Bangkok
– didn’t really work out. Ended
placing everyone in SV City
- Missed opportunity to sell as
scrap steel during peak a
few years ago…
Who wins? Charoen,
for one …
One can only hear mention of
Charoen so many times before
yielding to the tug of Google. Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi is rich. In
is currently the richest person in Thailand, head of TCC Group
Charoen Corp Group).
- Whiskey mogul found himself as
one of the few with cash on
hand after 1997, now the largest land holder in Thailand.
Empire Tower (Slides)
- Blatantly pragmatic
- TCC's latest move is Empire Tower,
three towers fused together into single building, near Chong Nonsi
Creating Identity / Energy
- Yellow shirts
(pre-politicization): honoring King Bhumibol’s
80th birthday, and 60 years on the throne
- Heard interesting theory: attempt to get rid of Western suit as only
office wear: Shrinking government
money and spike in energy costs– less money for air con, need for
- Projecting forward –
redefining Thai-ness through
climate-sensitive design (Tropical architecture would be a whole other
- self-built housing examples
- use of space in Bangkok
– Thaksin’s equity plan for pushcart operators
- term ‘anusaowaree’
or ‘monument’ is loaded with derision: derision
for a hometown that most residents find almost unrecognizable, a city
form and size are controlled by very few wealthy families
- blog post as opening to concept
- contingency in the monumental
- photos of ‘ghost
building’ dwellers from PJack.
Feel free to visit my blog,
where I’ve been keeping notes to
myself, gathering info, etc.:
question and answer session, the meeting adjourned to the Alliance
where members of the audience engaged Kevin in more informal
snacks and drinks.