Interviewed for Bangkok Post / 17 March 2012
Architect Duangrit Bunnag, known for minimalist work, says his approach embodies luxury because it offers people something they don’t see every day. By Kanana Katharangsiporn
Call him a minimalist designer, a preeminent architect, a revolutionary thinker. When Duangrit Bunnag does his job, the simple yet elegant designs often become luxury. He does not believe luxury is something related to gold, silver or diamonds but it is about differentiation that relates to a context, bringing about an identity or uniqueness. People often associate luxury with a brand, he says. But a brand is actually an outcome of luxury. A luxury brand wants to show value.
Luxury is differentiation, says the 46-year-old architect, who has often remarked in talks on design and creativity that market demand for a product is not limited to a few ideas but can vary as much as the world population of 7 billion.
“The idea of luxury varies with the individual. It must differ from the context we are living in. Its definition for each person is different,” he says.
There is no single terminology for luxury as people’s feelings about their values are not the same. For some middle-aged men, luxury could mean a brand-name object: Young people with less capacity to obtain money may also crave something physical. But working people give less thought to luxury as their values focus on achievement, not objects.
THE IDEA IS TO OFFER PEOPLE SOMETHING DIFFERENT, SOMETHING THEY DO NOT FIND IN THEIR EVERYDAY LIVES
“People consume luxury objects senselessly,” says Mr Duangrit. “Some people love design but often it is more about the design belonging to the brand.
“Luxury is for the sake of identity, for the sake of value which directly relates to a person. It adds value to him or her. It completes them and builds their confidence at a certain level.”
The same psychology can apply to designing a hotel, depending on the desires of the owner who hires the architect and the type of guests the owner expects to attract. The local fondness for Roman columns is a good example. A “luxury” hotel boasting Roman columns may have little appeal to wealthy clients who already have such objects in their own home.
The idea, says Mr Duangrit, is to offer people something different, something they do not find in their everyday lives. That helps explain the popularity of rugged-looking designs featuring exposed brick walls or glazed concrete floors.
LUXURY IS SIMPLICITY BUT PERCEIVED THROUGH ELABORATE EXPERIENCES
A luxury hotel for a wealthy Chinese entrepreneur may mean marble, but for the owner of an advertising agency that generates billings of billions a year, it may be a yacht or a boutique hotel with a simple yet elegant design that he or she regards as the ultimate experience.
Hotels are products in which luxury can be clearly signified as people need a different experience from what they encounter every day. There is growing demand for a luxury element in residential properties such as condominiums and houses, and to a smaller extent for commercial property such as offices and shopping malls.
For Mr Duangrit, though, simplicity is what guides most of the design work he does because this is what he values the most.
His creations include Costa Lanta, a hip, industrial-look resort on Koh Lanta in Krabi; X2 Resort in Kui Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan; and Hotel de la Paix, formerly the Alila Cha-am in Phetchaburi. These properties touch and seduce many affluent guests who might have a luxury house in a classic or modern architectural style but regard the hotels’ simple designs as luxury.
“We keep [hotel design] as simple as possible as we believe guests need something different from their daily lives,” says the managing director of Duangrit Bunnag Architect Limited (DBALP), which he established in 1998.
His simple design for Costa Lanta was named one of the Best 50 New Hotels in the World by Conde Nast Traveler (UK Edition) in 2004. It also received an honorable mention from the ASA (Association of Siamese Architects) Architectural and Design Awards in 2004 and a Gold Medal at the ARCASIAAwards in 2005.
For a property developer, luxury may be found in a location where land values are high, and a project needs to be marketed to people with higher purchasing power.
But who would have imagined a luxury condominium on Lat Phrao Road, an area few developers consider very up market? Mr Duangrit did when he designed The Issara Ladprao located between Soi Lat Phrao 12 and 14.
Aside from residential and hotel projects, his simple yet striking design approach can also be found in the HI community mall on Soi Thong Lor, which won the first prize in the ASA Architectural Competition in 2006.
In his field, Mr Duangrit admires global peers who do distinctive and groundbreaking work, such as the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
“He is an architect who has interpreted luxury in a new way. He designed the Prada Store in New York which changes the meaning of luxury.”
Others thought about platinum for its “luxury” connotations with the Italian brand. But Mr Koolhaas – named one of the World’s Most Influential People in 2008 by Time magazine and the designer of CCTV Headquarters in Beijing – used steel.
In Bangkok, the modernist Mr Duangrit regards the new Dior shop in The Emporium as a new luxury trend. The design uses double-layer large mirrors. Each has its own pattern to create dimension. The front mirror has Dior’s signature code, known as cannage. A Dior feature in many of its products, the design reflects the dynamism of the craftsmanship.
“It is very sophisticated. It can underline luxury,” he says.
“Luxury is simplicity but perceived through elaborate experiences. It must create a different experience. This is its definition.”