THE LONG HISTORY OF ANOTHER OF BANGKOK’S LANDMARKS IS ABOUT TO TURN A NEW PAGE
The influence of the Cold War during the 1960s resulted in the United States playing a significant role in Thailand’s politics including providing financial support for the nation’s economic development during the time that the Vietnam War reached its peak intensity. American military officers and government officials came to work and stay in Thailand while the world saw the blossoming of tourism and the aviation business. It was also the time when America’s giant airline, Pan American Airways (Pan Am) opened its route to Thailand.
Thanpuying (Lady) Chanut Piyaoui began her hotel business under such economic and political condition. The growth of Princess Hotel (1949), the first hotel on Charoenkrung Road, followed the economic and tourism boom at the time. From 60 rooms to 106 rooms, the hotel was expanded to accommodate the station manager and cabin crews of Pan Am as well as foreign tourists.
Thanpuying Piyaoui became familiar with Pan Am’s staff who were among the hotel’s regulars as her knowledge of tourism grew. She traveled the world to study and gained experiences in the business used to develop and expand her own hotel, preparing for what was about to happen in the future—the construction of a new large-scale luxurious hotel, the Siam Inter-Continental (1966) designed by Joseph P. Salerno (1915-1981) with Pan Am as its owner. The coming of the Pan Am-owned hotel meant that she would lose regular customers such as the airline’s cabin crews, and it became one of the reasons behind her idea to open a new, internationally standardized hotel that would place her business in a bigger league. The decision led her to sell the Princess Hotel and begin the first page of what would be the glorious history of Dusit Thani (1971).
During one of her visits to Tokyo, Thanpuying Piyaoui stayed at Hotel Okura (1962), one of the most famous hotels in Japan at the time. Designed by architects Yoshiro Taniguchi (1904–1979) and Hideo Kosaka (1912-2000), the hotel was regularly visited by Pan Am’s cabin crews. Through her personal acquaintances with the airline’s staff, Thanpuying Piyaoui was introduced to Iwajiro Noda (1897-1988), Hotel Okura’s Chairman of the Board. She told Mr. Noda how impressed she was by the ambience and architecture of Hotel Okura as Mr. Noda learned about her experience in the hotel business and that she, too, was planning to open a new hotel in Bangkok. He later introduced her to a young architect named Yozo Shibata (1927-2003), one of the architects who was on the design team of Hotel Okura. The meeting led Mr. Shibata to be assigned the task of designing Dusit Thani hotel where he worked together with Tokyo-based company, C-Itoh for the supervision of the construction, which was carried out by Thai subcontractors.
Yozo Shibata graduated from the Department of Architecture, School of Science and Engineering, Waseda University in 1952. During his college years, he was working in a lab supervised by Junzo Sakakura (1901-1969), Japan’s pioneering modernist architect. In 1962, after Hotel Okura was completed, he opened his own firm, Kankoōkikaku sekkei-sha (currently operated under the name KKS Group) with most of the projects being hotels and resorts. In 1965, he designed the New Otani Hotel, a project that garnered the firm great recognition for it was Japan’s highest building (the building is 17-storys high), accommodating 1,058 rooms and a total space of 83,150 square meters, which was considered to be an incredibly large architectural project at the time. With Yozo Shibata as the architect of both projects, New Otani Hotel’s influence on the design of Dusit Thani can be found in several interesting details.
In 1965, after playing a significant role in the turning of the New Otani Hotel into the tallest hotel in Japan, making Dusit Thani into Thailand’s tallest building and a significant landmark, following Thanpuying Piyaoui’s intention, was Yozo Shibata’s new challenge. The triangular floor plan of Dusit Thani’s 22-story-high tower is similar to that of the New Otani Hotel. However, with its comparatively smaller size, Dusit Thani’s architectural form is more compact while the additional presence of the balcony is derived from the tropical climate of the building’s location. The restaurant and tower’s lengthy gold spire remind one of the experimental project, Dymaxion House (1927) by Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) where the top part of the building was intentionally extended. The idea of using triangular and hexagonal geometric forms as the grids that determined the structure’s basic elements and space was more or less influenced by the floor plan Frank Lloyd Wright (1867- 1959) designed for Hanna–Honeycomb House (1937).
For the courtyard area that links to the lobby, the landscape employs the use of a waterfall and a terraced garden to physically connect the two different levels together. The gimmick of the façade and design of the roof installed around the courtyard bear a resemblance to what Yozo Shibata did for New Otani Hotel with the differences being the characteristic of Tropical Architecture of Dusit Thani’s roof structure and the much larger landscape architecture of New Otani Hotel.
NO MATTER HOW LONG THE CITY AND PEOPLE OF BANGKOK HAVE SHARED THEIR MEMORIES WITH THE LONG-EXISTING HISTORY OF DUSIT THANI, THIS IS ONE OF THOSE THINGS THAT IS TOO HARD TO RESIST.
Another interesting gimmick can be found in the structure of the exterior facade. Dusit Thani’s podium and structural compositions of the lobby may remind one of the contemporary building, Dhahran Airfield and Civil Air Terminal (1961), by Minoru Yamasaki (1912-1986), a famous contemporary architect at the time. While the design of Dusit Thani sees the use of Prajam Yam, an ancient Thai decorative pattern, Dhahran Airfield and Civil Air Terminal embrace the exposure of the materials’ true nature.
In 2015 after six decades of operation, from the day of its opening, which was two years before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Hotel Okura’s owner announced the possibility of the demolition of the hotel. The historic edifice will be replaced by a new 35-story hotel, which will be located on the same plot of land with the construction scheduled to be completed before the upcoming 2020 Olympics. After the news broke, architects, academics and contemporary architecture conservation organizations like Docomomo International began protesting against the demolition due to the building’s historical value and its status as a significant milestone in Japan’s architectural history. It’s been two years and the debate continues with no update having been made about the future of Hotel Okura. Back in Thailand, Thanpuying Piyaoui’s Dusit Thani Hotel is facing the same destiny as Hotel Okura that inspired its conception. It has now been 50 years since the day she walked in the Crown Property Bureau’s office and asked to lease the area where one of the holdings of the Crown Property Bureau, Bann Saladaeng, was located. It is on this very piece of land where Dusit Thani Hotel was born and this coming March of 2018, the lease will come to an end. Dusit Thani Hotel will be torn down and replaced by a ‘mixed use’ development comprised of a hotel, condominium, office space and a shopping mall. No matter how long the city and people of Bangkok have shared their memories with the long existing history of Dusit Thani, this is one of those things that is too hard to resist. Sadly, all we can do is succumb to the change justified by the turning of time and undefeated mechanism of Capitalism.
TEXT: WICHIT HORYINGSAWAD