THERE ARE TWO GREAT DIFFICULTIES WHEN IT COMES TO BEING A LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT IN THAILAND. FIRST, IS CONVINCING CLIENTS NOT TO REMOVE TREES FROM ONE SITE IN ORDER TO INCORPORATE THEM INTO ANOTHER, AND SECOND, WORKING IN A MANNER THAT ALLOWS FOR THE STUDIO TO MAINTAIN THEIR INITIAL VISION.
What is the concept or working philosophy of Studio Lab?
We put our emphasis on every element and process of natural transformation that takes place in the space we work with. We find ways for the design to blend in with or complement these elements, making them more distinctive. But in the case where there are problems we have to deal with, regeneration is also one of our priorities. The thing that we’re also interested in is the kind of design that allows for people to have a positive experience in using a quality exterior space and where they are able to notice and appreciate the distinctive elements of the space. For instance, a design that offers people experiences with the ‘wind,’ which is this visually invisible element. In the design process, we study, not only the technological aspect but also the aesthetic aspect of it. We may use the kind of tree that stimulates people’s awareness of the presence of the wind. Each tree has its own sound and form. Willows don’t make sound but they have amazing interaction with the wind because the leaves are very small so they flow beautifully. Bodhi or bamboo trees make sounds, whereas grass, at a certain height can create amazing waves when hit by the wind. These interactions allow us to sense the existence of the wind, so even when the air is hot, we feel better about the space somehow. One of our main intentions is for people to acknowledge and recognize the importance of a quality environment so that they feel inspired to contribute something to the improvement of the environment they are a part of. For example, if they come into the space we created and see the green of the trees, the sound of water running, and the experience makes them want to go out there and plant trees, help protect the forest, that’s one of our highest goals being achieved.
What are the projects that best describe the character of your studio?
The Metro Forest project. It was such a great opportunity to be able to experiment with this type of work. It may not directly involve the ‘sun’ or the ‘wind’ but it did revolve around the transformation of nature. We want people to know that the space where young trees are planted can be beautiful and it will become even more beautiful when the trees are all grown. The challenge here is to create the kind of space that doesn’t contain that many design elements, but still makes people feel good and impressed. We worked very closely with the architect to make the entire program realize this great unison.
There are many other projects that allow us to experiment with these concepts. The design competition for SCG is one of the projects where we proposed an idea about regeneration of nature, turning wastewater into clean water. These things are included in the design and they help to change people’s perceptions about landscape architecture, allowing for them to see that it isn’t just about a demonstrative element but that it has this ability to treat, revitalize and solve environmental problems as well. We proposed the idea where trees are used to help with wastewater treatment because you can find that nature is full of these types of processes and it is up to us to figure out how to use them. Another project is the design competition of Chamchuri Park, in which we won second place, and the idea of wastewater treatment was also employed. Our thought was to turn this public park into a place where wastewater could be treated naturally and the treated water could be used to water the plants in the park. It’s basically the idea of a forest park where the trees may not be grown in this beautiful arrangement, but we would choose the trees based on their performance, especially the kinds that could live and survive on wastewater or the types that could produce more oxygen. Chulalongkorn University is interested in the concept and there are issues about maintenance that they worry about, but they did use many of the ideas we proposed.
In your view, what should the role of a landscape architect be?
We are a physical designer, just like architects, interior designers or product designers. But our tools are nature, earth, water, trees and sunlight. It we are able to help improve the environment, that should be the role we dedicate ourselves to. It’s not just about regeneration but also reinforcement, encouraging people to take better care of nature. If we were assigned a project in Khao Yai, we probably wouldn’t have to do anything because the nature there is already so rich so our job would be to help people experience that open space better.
What is your greatest challenge working as a landscape architect in Thailand?
Many times, the projects that we have done were too small to be called landscape architecture. Most of the works we have realized are in urban areas, such as a communal garden in a condominium, which is rather limited in terms of space so the challenge is how to keep ourselves from forgetting what we really should be doing. As a landscape architect, you don’t always get to work on the project where you can really develop your ideas. So, what we do is try to find the kind of project, or design competition that allows for us to develop our thought process. The change in Thailand’s landscape architecture may not take place in my generation, it has always been slow and the focus has always been put on beauty and the social aspects whereas the environmental aspects are prioritized less. These things should be balanced to be in the right proportion.
What are your thoughts on today’s landscape architecture industry in Thailand?
It’s much better now. There are certain preferences that have become a bad tradition. The thing is that Thai people like large trees with 20-30” diameters while in Malaysia or other countries, the maximum diameter is 3-4,” so with the market demanding trees of such size, this requires the relocation of trees from one place to another. So, when a new green space is being created, another one goes missing. Relocation also means that no new trees are being grown. It’s a very bad thing if you think about it. It’s not that I don’t do it, I do, but I always ask my clients, can you wait? If you weren’t in such a hurry it would be much better, if everyone could wait and let the new trees grow. Imagine how many new trees our industry could help grow if everyone took on this approach.
What is your definition of “landscape architecture”?
In my view, it’s a duty, taking care of the environment. It used to involve the idea of how the environment is related to the society and we often hear this saying that growing trees is like creating new lungs for the city. I think that’s the beginning of how a landscape architect or landscape architecture should be defined. We step in to make the environment better. It isn’t just the appearance but the truly improved environmental condition. We, too, believe in this approach, that if every condominium and residential project plants new trees of their own, and doesn’t just bring in already mature trees from somewhere else, that alone would be an improvement.