PLEASE WELCOME THE NEW CREATIVE SPACE IN TOWN THAT BRINGS WITH IT THE CONCEPT OF ‘IMPERFECTION.’
If we were to put together the overall composition of the entire Chang Chui project situated on Sirinthorn Road, the characteristics of the building and other elements that are coming into form as well as the vibe of disorder of the building would remind us of architecture constructed during the 60s amid the blossoming of America’s hippy counterculture when young people opposed/escaped the modern society to recreate an ideal community. However, this would be only one of the many possibilities that could come out of one’s imagination due to the project’s idiosyncratic architectural style.
Somchai Songwattana, one of the initiators of the Chang Chui project talked about the collaborators’ intentions for the space to function as a platform that welcomes activities conceived from the ideas of people of various backgrounds. He has opened up the space for ideas from friends, acquaintances and whoever feels they have something good to pitch regarding what a project could become.
In the meantime, Ekavit Koowiwattanachai, the project’s principle designer from XiA Design & Consultant Co.,Ltd. and the mind behind several branches of flynow, said that the design methodology for Chang Chui is ‘improvisation.’ The unique collaboration took place from the brief that was free of any specific requirement for the program, zoning or capacity of retail spaces, aside from Somchai’s initial desire to create a ‘marketplace’ that went by the name of ‘Chang Chui.’
So what exactly is Chang Chui? For Somchai, he views perfection as a made-up ideology, an intangible ideal that ultimately doesn’t exist. On the other hand, there might be no such thing as the ultimate ‘disorder.’ It’s pretty much the same thing as when he was told about someone being the vilest human being on the planet, which he refuses to believe in because such person does not exist. On either side of the spectrum, an extreme view is always problematic. This is the reason why the word ‘Chui’ (careless in Thai) and the negative meaning it implies is interesting, especially in a country full of extravagantly named projects.
For Ekavit, the term ‘Chang Chui’ is conceived to reflect the details of the interior where the workmen’s messiness is often left behind. The idea is to view such mess with a comedic approach and embrace the messiness by escaping all the preconceived notions of perfection such as the traces of a dog’s footprints on a concrete floor despite the visible presence of strings being put up as a barricade. This is the kind of space that accepts these types of things without any feeling of frustration.
The work process of planning the program for the project began with the allocation of the gallery hall, which serves as the main building of the project. A rough drawing was made to specify the length and width before the onsite improvisation began with the skills and points of view of both the contractor and designer being exchanged throughout the process while adaptations were made spontaneously. One building would be finished as they continued to work on the remaining structures inside the program.
Ekavit worked together with Somchai as the two communicated ideas through the use of models, a process which allowed for both collaborators to think freely, try different adjustments and reconfigure the program and spaces from a very organized floor plan to an extremely messy one. Finally, the two came to a conclusion after having roamed night market after night market to see why people come, what they see or want to see, and what the circulation was like. What they found out was that people go to markets not just only to see beautiful products, but also to feel the night air, see the lighting and enjoy some late-night snacks as they browse through the space. Sometimes, they just want to stroll around without buying anything. They also discovered that every market has its own loop. A series of long aisles that allow for one to walk all the way, make a turn and continue to browse the space without having to think too much about it. This type of program is what most people are happy about. With that in mind, Ekavit readjusted the plan to create a more systematic but simpler circulation. As the ideas for the plan fell into place, he began the design of the nine remaining buildings in the project. The program for each building was developed based on the tenants’ interests. The allocation of the main buildings were done out of personal preference and appropriation as the zoning became more apparent and began to reconcile from the conditions. A cluster of five buildings was designed to bear typical characteristics, setting the tone for the project’s overall vibe with their scattered presences. The project also houses a Lockheed airplane whose interior has been refurbished into a restaurant and taxidermy museum. As the project’s iconic gimmick, the plane is located right at the center of the program with the name ‘Naoh’ which is a spoonerism of ‘Noah,’ referencing the ark from the famous biblical tale.
The design process took place alongside the construction with on-site adjustments of both the details and design being made. The key element of the project’s architecture is a copious amount of old windows, some of which are antique frames that Somchai has bought and collected over the years with recognition for their historical value. With the buildings’ key features being conceived from the combined elements and points where different types of materials are encountered, one can feel the naive personality, which contributes to the characteristics of vernacular architecture.
The proportion of each side of the walls of the buildings is roughly calculated according to the speculated functionalities. For instance, the walls of one of the buildings is made up of 70% corrugated zinc sheets and 30% windows, while the proportion for another building is 50-50% or a combination where wooden framed windows are the primary element with the zinc sheets used for cladding here and there. “When the walls of the first building were first constructed, I didn’t brief the workman at all. I asked them, could you build a wall, and I just told them roughly that I wanted more light to come into this corner, so could you try adding a mirror here or for this corner, you could use the more opaque opening and you could use zinc sheets for the rest. At first, they were pretty much afraid of changing the locations of the openings. I had to tell them to try and experiment, and if they ran into any problems, they could consult with me. With this approach, everyone started to enjoy the work more. I normally let the workmen do the work and if there were any problems, they were welcomed to discuss the matter with me and we would work things out, fixing them on site. New problems emerged every day, and we all had to find ways to fix them.”
Today, the project has evolved into something far from what the owner had initially intended. From a normal marketplace, Chang Chui has grown to become a cultural project that accommodates an interesting and diverse array of activities and spaces from an art gallery, theatre, Cineplex, co-working space and restaurants to cafes, a design studio, garden, old-school barbershop, private-run museum, bookshop and a tea house, among other things. One section of the space is preserved to house a flea market as well. Held on Fridays and weekends, the market will sell food and interesting merchandise. Surely with Chang Chui’s improvisational approach, the program is designed to be flexible allowing for future changes and, until its official opening in April, it will probably be difficult for one to speculate just what will happen on these grounds of disarray.
TEXT: WICHIT HORYINGSAWAD