Monday, 22 November 2010

Whole Trees Architecture in Thailand

The architecture and builder, Roald Gundersen and his wife, Amelia Baxter set up Whole Trees Architecture and Construction in 2007 in Wisconsin, USA. It was the culmination of Gundersen's fascination with using whole trees to make houses.

From his 134 acre property in Stoddard he designs and makes houses from whole trees. He chooses trees from his forest carefully and then strips them of their bark. This allows the wood to dry while it is standing. Then the tree is cut down and planks and poles are taken directly from the tree to the construction site. Whole Trees Architecture doesn't send its timber to a mill to be cut to regular pieces.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Mountain Cabin

The pictures below are taken of a mountain cabin in Kanagawa in Japan. So this blog post is not strictly speaking about Thai architecture, but when I saw pictures of the mountain cabin below I immediately thought that an adaption of this design would work brilliantly in a Thai setting. 

The setting on a hill suits many land plots in Thailand which often are on slopes with sea-views. There is a big balcony with the house to take advantage of the view. And the bathroom with sliding doors to open up the bathroom to the outside looks stunning and really compliments the ethos of modern tropical Asian design.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Color in Thai Architecture

Color plays an important part in the first impression a house or villa gives. In Thailand the light is very bright and color makes a strong visual impact. In Thailand as in South America using bright colors is part of the local aesthetic. And whereas using pinks might be considered undesirable in the West the color is not frowned upon in the East.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Suvarnabhumi International Airport Bangkok Innovative Climate Control System

Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok has come up with great architectural solutions to the problem of climate control. The challenge was a tough one for architects and engineers because Bangkok has an average temperature of 25 to 30 degrees Celsius and a relative humidity between 50% and 60%. In short, Bangkok is always hot and sweaty and the challenge was to design an airport with a cooling system that was both economical and energy efficient.

The first thing the architects did was to minimize the effects of solar loads. The terminal sheds on the north side are fitted with fritted glass with a 95% opacity specification that allow diffused light but minimize solar gain. On the hotter south side terminal sheds solid panels were placed on the roof to reduce solar gain to just 1%.

For the main spaces of the airport architects cleverly designed a zoned building. Thus there are no massive open spaces to cool. Instead cooling systems are directed at essential zones of the building. This prevents a lot of waste.

Two types of cooling system are deployed in Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok. They are radiant floor cooling which removes radiation striking the floor of the building; and secondly, an air displacement system with a controllable airstream supplying cool air to space at floor level and at low velocity. This is the genius part of the cooling system at the airport. It works on the principal of thermal air stratification. Namely, that cool air is heavier than warm air. So as long as you can prevent the floor heating up then much of the cool air that you pump into the building at ground level will remain cool. It is not necessary to keep the higher reaches of the airport building cool because nobody is at that level. The air heat is stratified so the air is kept at 24 degrees Celsius up to 2.5 meters above ground level and gradually gets warmer the higher up you go, until at roof level the air temperature is basically near ambient temperature.
Finally, the airport building uses an innovative three-ply membrane roof to allow in 1% to 2% diffused sunlight but prevent solar radiation. These membranes consist of Teflon-coated glass fiber, a coated inner membrane and transparent PC sheets on a steel cable and mesh structure. The inward facing side of the inner membrane also has low-e coatings to block solar radiation heat.

All in all, the architects and engineers at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok have done a great job at energy efficiency for a very large and potentially difficult building to keep cool.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Balustrading in Thai Architecture

Balustrading is a key component of more traditional style Thai architecture. A Thai wooden house is often very open plan with much of the total floor area taken up with outdoor areas. These areas are often elevated from the ground because of the preference in Thai design to build a house on stilts. This means the edges of the outdoor areas often have considerable drops. This is a safety issue that is best rectified with balustrading.

The same is true for balconies. It is dangerous to not enclose a balcony with some type of balustrading to stop people accidently falling from the second floor. Furthermore, in villa design both traditional and modern it is often the case that the balcony looks out over a sweeping view of a bay with a precipitous drop.

 There are a variety of styles and materials that are used in Thailand for balustrading. Wood can be placed flush to the building or in slats.

The wooden balustrading can be simple with nice clean lines or it can be carved and intricate. Often decorative features such as lanterns are incorporated successfully into a balustrade.

Cheap balustrading can be made from concrete which is then 'beautified' with tiles. Tiles gives the option of playing with colour and design.

A modern and sometimes far from appealing effect can be achieved with welded iron and light aluminium balustrading. The advantage of aluminium is that it doesn't rust or corrode in wet weather. In contrast wood and timber balustrades need constant treatment to maintain.

Sometimes a mixture of materials is used on balustrading in Thailand often with mixed results. Below is an example of marble and carved wood. Expensive materials that just don't work together.

Balustrading can be used to define paths and for handrails over bridges. Here is an example of reclaimed hardwood being used in a path through the grounds of a hotel in Thailand. In these eco-conscious times that we live in using reclaimed wood is an excellent idea.

Finally, balustrading in Thai architecture is sometimes used to define a lower floor open plan space. Rather than walls that restrict air flow, balustrades can be incorporated which provide a degree of privacy while maintaining the delightful sense of openness that is one of the trade marks of good Thai design.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Making the Most of the Things People Discard

The green revolution in architecture has many aspects, one of the most important of which is dealing effectively with waste.

Waste is a pressing issue for Thailand. According to the Thai Government Land Development Department agriculture in Thailand produces 58,190,000 tons of refuse annually. 

Throughput in the industrial system from source to end consumer ends up in landfills or going to an incinerator. It is estimated that for every one truckload of product with a lasting value there are 32 truckloads of waste.

Revolutionary Thai architect Singh Intrachooto decided to do something about it. He started out by paying construction workers to sort out unused materials. From these materials he started to make furniture for the project under construction. His innovative and attractive creations soon caught the attention of the public. This allowed Singh to set up his own design studio called Osisu with a partner. They set out to expand their vision and to explore how they could best use the waste streams of different industries.

His efforts have achieved international and domestic acclaim: Singh Intrachooto has won Thailand's Emergent Designer of the Year Award, Elle's Decor's Designer of the Year and Top Environmentalist 2008 Award from Thailand's Department of the Environment.

Singh Intrachooto now lectures in Kasetsart University in Thailand where he has set up his "scrap lab". He is continually getting new donations of every conceivable material - wood, metal, fabric, leather, plastic, glass just to name the obvious materials. With his students he tries to recycle these materials into items of utility and worth. At the same time he is collecting a huge resource library about previous creations made from re-cycled materials to consolidate his revolutionary attitude to waste streams. 

This is a great example of creativity leading the way in architecture and the green movement

Based on an article by Chris Tobias

Monday, 1 March 2010

Windows in Thai Architecture Part Two

In Part One of Windows in Thai Architecture I looked at the aesthetic impact windows can have on a building. In this part I will discuss some of the more technical aspects of windows.

The primary concerns with windows in Thailand are two fold: the first is light, the second is solar gain. In a way the two factors work against each other. The smaller the window the less the solar gain, but also the less light that will be let into a building.

In Thailand where the weather is really hot solar gain is a key issue. It is very expensive to run an air-con unit 24 hours a day. A fan or natural ventilation is much cheaper and more eco-friendly. It is not an option to not have windows only have tiny slit windows because then you rely on artificial light. Artificial light does not contain the full spectrum of light and can cause psychological problems such as S.A.D (seasonal adjustment disorder).

In this post I will look at the various methods there are to have windows but to reduce solar gain.

The first and easiest method is to use roller shades, vertical blinds or venetian blinds. The downside of this is that fabric quickly fades with exposure to the sun and having the curtains drawn all the time creates an unfriendly atmosphere to a house as viewed from outside. An outsider will subconsciously think that the resident is always sleeping or sick or just reclusive.

Another method to reduce solar gain is to use the house or villa construction. Especially for east and west facing windows that get a lot of light, building an awning above the window can reduce solar gain by up to 50%. Another method is to place a window under the over-hang of a roof.



A key consideration when planning windows for your villa is the frame material. The lower the conductivity of the frame material the less solar gain. The least conductive material is wood. The problem with wood is that it rots, especially in tropical weather  where there is a lot of humidity and rain. To combat the wetness make sure drainage is used and treat the wood. Unfortunately, the chemicals used to treat the wood are not environmentally friendly. To maximize the effectiveness of the treatment and minimize the impact on the environment get the wooden window frames chemically treated in the factory and not on-site. For more on the treatment of wood and its environmental impact check out NGS GreenSpec.

UPVC is becoming a popular frame material. It is low in conductivity (not as low as wood) and is durable. The downside is that it is a type of plastic and can ruin the aesthetic of a window in a Thai villa which might be aspiring to a traditional Thai feel. Finally, there are metal frames - they are the highest in conductivity but are very durable. Metal has a very modern feel and only suits modernist architecture in Thailand. Also it is the most expensive frame material.

The final way to combat solar gain is through using something other than just plain glass. Glass is tinted by changing the chemical properties of glass. Tinted glass absorbs light and heat considerably better than normal glass. In some cases tinted glass can absorb as much as 50% of the heat coming from the sun. Unfortunately, a lot of that heat later seeps into the room via convection and radiation. And the other downside with tinted glass is that it dramatically reduces the amount of light let into a room.



The latest method to reduce solar gain through windows is to put a low-e coating on the glass. A low-e coating is a layer of metal only a few molecules in thickness. Most window manufacturers now put low-e coatings on all their windows. A low-e coating is very effective against solar gain. One coating is the equivalent of adding another pane of glass between a room and the sunlight. Low-e coatings are also better than tinted glass because they don't reduce the lighting in a room very dramatically. For more about the different types of low-e coating and ways of measuring solar gain read

Windows are a integral part of what makes a villa feel 'luxurious'. The psychology is obvious - windows promote a feeling of light, space and airiness, they provide panoramas of sea, mountain and jungle, they promise the immediacy of decking and pool, they bring the outside into the house and connect the two. A room with a view is a good room. A room without a view or even without a window is a prison cell. No windows equals claustrophobia and depression. The question is how to have windows and light without overheating your living space.



Wednesday, 3 February 2010

New Bangkok Icon - The Central Embassy Bangkok

Amanda Levete, famous for what critics have called 'blog architecture' has designed a unique and eye catching hotel and commercial shopping space in the heart of Bangkok.

The building will be called Central Embassy Bangkok. It will be on the primary commercial artery of the city, Ploen Chit Road, in the former British Embassy Gardens in Nai Lert Park. Work is due to start this year and finish in 2013. It is an extremely ambitious project, and not without risk in these troubled financial times. If and when it is built it will in some ways define Bangkok. For like Bangkok it embraces tradition and modernity and tries to produce a synthesis that is startling and aesthetically pleasing. You look at the pictures below and decide for yourself.

The Central Embassy Bangkok will combine a 7-storey retail podium with a 30-storey 6-star hotel. It will have an incredible 1.5 million square feet of internal space. The key feature of the building is the sinuous and twisting coil that starts at one end of the structure and rises to a peak at the other end. This is the key aspect that has been influenced by Thai architecture, it is a blade runner style Naga or snake found in Thai temple architecture. To re-inforce the traditional Thai aspect of the twisting coil, millions of bespoke ceramic tiles are going to placed on the surface to break up the monotony of the vast space.

Within the coil or naga will be 2 vertical light wells which will connect the retail podium to the hotel complex. The hotel will include courtyards and gardens incorporated into the central naga motif.

It is, in my lay man opinion, an inspired idea. However, the main base of the building from a side ways angle has a blobby nondescript shape that detracts from the elegance of the dynamic twisting coil. As you can see from the pictures below, the same cannot be said for the bird's eye view which reveals a sleek s-shape in the bones of the building.

What is certain is that Bankok inhabitants will love it. They love huge shopping malls and take pride in the modernity of their city; and no doubt, they will easily recognise the naga motif and see the justness of its use.