ASA Forum lecture 2014 by Duangrit Bunnag

Duangrit Bunnag: Who am I? ASA Forum 2014

Good morning everyone. Thank you for coming here. I think it is a very interesting way of spending your Sunday morning listening to an architectural lecture, which I think it needs a lot of effort to do that. First of all, I want to thank the Association of Siamese Architects (ASA) for inviting me here, to talk to you about myself and my work. I can tell you it has been like a century for me waiting for this moment. I want to thank those people who created this ASA Forum which I know so many of them, and I think it is a wonderful thing to create this kind of forum in Thailand. Going back then in 1996, if I remember correctly, I created an old version of ASA Forum. We have invited architects like Peter Eisenman, Arata Isosaki, Tadao Ando, Rem Koolhaas and some others. Though I had stopped helping this forum, but these people still continue this tradition in creating the ASA Forum for Thai people, and made it possible for us to listen to the voices from outside. I think it is a valuable thing and I am grateful for that. What they do is a hard work, so I would like everyone to give them applause here.

What we are going to hear this morning is something interesting. It is something that I have been working on for the last two years on the new technology that gets you to the point of creativity. I am going to put it in a less theoretical way, and I am going to be careful and make it very simple for you to swallow on Sunday morning. This presentation or conversation is going to be about me. It is going to be about me in the way that it is so about you. The way to listen to this lecture can be of two ways. First, you can just sit there like listening to your teacher standing in front of you, trying to ‘blah blah blah’, talking about something that you do not want to listen to; or in a way like you are listening to someone talking about something in a general conversation. On the other hand, it is a choice that you can listen in a way that you are sitting in that chair and ‘you are me’ or ‘I am you’, listening to whatever I am about to say in a way that you would ‘wear’ it to your life. When I say you ‘wear’ it in to your life, it does not mean that you have to really be me. It is just like you try wearing a jacket; see what fit for you and then make a decision whether you are going to make use of that or not. The whole presentation today was made in that sense. It was made for you, not for me, but it is all about me. So, you are starting to get confused already. Anyway, there are two parts in this presentation. The first part of the presentation is a conversation with you. I need to clarify something here first, because where I came from and the way I work is not where you came from and the way you work. We better have that kind of clarification. We have to make sure that you actually stand on the same place, same stand as me, and then you can understand my work. On that stand, you will not hear the word ‘concept’, not because I have anything or issue with the concept, but at the end of the lecture you will understand why concept does not mean anything. The later part, you will see some of my works. You are going to see some of my works that I have never been presented to anyone and anywhere else before. For the first part, you will also see some of my old works in an eight-minute video. Do not worry, it will be very short. Then we are going to go through the conversation and at the end of that, you are going to see parts of my recent work. Finally, you are going to be able to ask me some questions. I would like you to ask questions, because if you do not ask, it means that my lecture is totally boring. So, I wish you will ask some questions.

Who am I?

The question that made me created this presentation is about me. Hopefully, you want to listen to something about myself, but the question came up as ‘who am I?’ Who am I, really? I really mean it! It is not just Duangrit Bunnag in the way that you perceived in the media, and not Duangrit Bunnag as an architect who is doing his work just to survive his life. But who I am, really? That is a question. I want you to ask the question to yourself too. Whether you like it or not, the way you understand who you are is the way you can create the rest of your life. So, I start this conversation by asking myself ‘who am I?’ Believe me, I have been asking this question since the beginning of my remembrance. In order for me to work as an architect, I kept asking this question ‘who am I?’ I spent my whole life trying to answer that question. Until recently, I have been into the technology call ‘ontological model’. It is not modernism, it is not postmodernism, it is not deconstructionism, it is not minimalism, but it is ontological. Ontological is seeing things the way it is, nothing more, nothing less. In that kind of context, it re-creates you to a new thing: to be able to create more. Based on this idea of ontological model, I see myself from another perspective in order to answer the question ‘who am I? That is the greatest question in my life. I asked myself, ‘am I the work that I have done?’ When people asked me ‘who I am?’, the first thing I think of is maybe ‘I am my work’. I have been doing a lot of works, maybe I am the works I have been doing. These are the various works I did in the past which are hotels, houses, commercial projects and some private residences. Those are the work of which you might have known or seen in publications already. The question is, ‘is that me?’ that becomes my work.

Previous works

This is a hotel in Bali, it is not yet being built, and it has been constantly developing, stopped, and went on, and stopped for quite some time.  I have done some interior renovations as well. In my company, we have three architect teams, three interior designer teams, and one landscape team. Mostly we work together – architecture, interior and landscape, like one cohesive team. Sometime we got appointed to a separate entity like interior design alone like the project in Siam Discovery. This is another project for True Corporation long time ago.  Another project we did some time ago is White Café, a restaurant in Thonglor.  We submit this project for the World Interior Design Awards and we got short-listed. We have been working on many commercial projects which we tried to make it less commercial. We have tried to create new ideas, but it always been so limited by the commercial aspect of the project. This is the project we work for Noble Development.  We have been working on four condominium buildings for Noble Development. This one has recently been launched. The next project is Issara Ladprao which have been completed a few years back. It is a condominium in Ladprao area.  It is a fifty-storey building with about 30,000sqm area. This is the project on Koh Phi Phi, we renovated the hotel from the existing base foundation.  This is a project in Indonesia on Bintan Island.  We were asked to design a two-hundred-rooms hotel, a villa with guest room. This project has not been built yet . The last project of my previous work is what we did in Qatar. It is a 100,000 sq.m. hotel and destination spa. It has about 400 to 500 rooms altogether and located right in the middle of the desert. So, it is out of context, nothing but sand and the ocean. We were selected among one of the five companies around the world to give a proposal presentation to the client. This project has not yet been built.

I am nothing: From ‘clearing’ to create & From nothing to everything

Those are some of the works that I have done. But, am I the work that I have done? The thing is my works are in the past- like the past, the present and the future. All of my works exist in the past. With this notion of the past, it means that, if I am my work, then I will become my past, then I am not even here, I am my past. How can you create new things if you are your past? You have to understand that I am not blaming the past. I do not say that history does not exist and the past is not good. So, I start to ask the question ‘who I am?’ again. I may not be the work I have done in the past, because I am not limited to that. If you relate yourself as your work, you will become the past, and in the past there is no future.
How can you create anything if your soul is limited to the past? I think I am not my past, but what else can I be? Maybe I am what exist in the present. Maybe I am here, this is me, right? This is me who exists in the present. What exists in the present can be my body. It is sure that you would say that this is my body. Let us think, if something happens to you like you lost your left arm in an accident, would that make you lesser a person? I do not think you will say ‘yes’, you will say this is still ‘me’, even I do not have my left arm, I am still ‘me’. Losing an arm would not make me lesser a person. Then, what does it mean? It means that I am not my body. I am not my whole body, not a part of my body either. ‘Me’ as myself was not limited to the notion of my body. My body that exists in the present is not me. What else? Maybe I am my feeling. I have anger, sadness, happiness and I could say that my feeling is me. I have a lot of feelings, but then, if I ask you whether you could control your feeling or not? Could you control yourself not to be sad or angry or when you yell at someone maybe your girlfriend, boyfriend, father, or mother? Well, you are angry, right? Sometimes you are sad and you cannot control yourself, then you start noticing that you are crying with tears all over your face. If you are something, you might be able to control yourself, right? If this thing is you, you should be able to control it. Then you realize that your feeling is something you cannot control. So, you are not your feeling as well. Maybe what exists is your thought. The architects will for sure say this is me, definitely my thought is me. I am not my body, I am not my feeling, I am not my past, I am my thought. The way I think and speak about my thought is creating me. Then I think who creates that thought? If you have a thought or idea or concept, you may say it is you. If you really think about it, who gives that thought? Who creates that thought? Then you realize that it is you who create that thought, and you will see that you are not that thought. It is you out there who creates that thought. You cannot possibly be your thought. If you are your thought, then who creates that thought? You start to realise that you are not your past. Also what exists in the present that you think is you, whether it is your body, feeling, and thought are not you. Let us think about what exists as it is the ‘truth or real’. What is the truth or what is real?

You realize that you are sitting in that chair right now; the chair is real for you because it is there. The presences of the chair, you can feel, touch, and put your butt on it. The meaning is another issue to make things ‘truth or real’. You called a chair ‘a chair’; the chair becomes real for you. If you take out the word ‘chair’, it is possible that the chair becomes less real. Think about it. I do not say that you have to believe me, just try to embrace the idea that maybe something you call it ‘truth or real’ because of the presence and the meaning of it. You will find that very valuable. When something happens to your life, as ‘truth or real’, you will start to notice that it is not, because you create the presence and meaning of that thing. This is the original idea, original beginning at the beginning of creation. Something will be ‘truth or real’ as long as it has its presence and meaning. I will become ‘real’ only if I exist in the present. It means that I create the meaning for myself, because I am ‘real’. Standing in the stage talking to you, whether or not, it is the ‘truth or real’. You created that meaning, whether or not; everything is real from your point. Whether it is ‘real or truth’ or ‘not real or not the truth’, it is because you are the one who created the meaning. You can control everything in your life, in the world, in your design, because it is you that create the meaning to be incorporated with the present to create reality. So, I am not my existence in the present, because all the existence in the present as ‘truth or real’ is the meaning that I have created. I am not real or exist in the present. Now I know your brain is starting to get toasted and confused. You do not actually see what I am talking about, and you think that this guy must be crazy. Just keep following. Do not try to understand. What I am trying to say is you are either your past or present. The next answer to my question is ‘who I am’ can be understood from ‘what I do’. When you are someone and you do something and you get something done, you can trace it back from what you do in order to understand who you are, not what you did in the past. It is not about your work anymore, but what you are doing right now in this room with your life. What do I do? I realize that what I do is ‘I create’. As an architect, we create. Even if you are not an architect, you still create. You are creating your life. You create a conversation. You create your work. You create your friendship. You create your family relationship. You create your relationship with others. You create, especially a conversation for an architect is about you ‘creating’ something. You were meant to do that, you are an architect, you were meant to create. As an architect, what do you create actually? It is quite obvious, is it not? You create a future.

You are sitting in this room creating the future, every moment, every second, every minute, every hour, every day, and every year. You are creating your future. Now, in order to understand who you are by being a person who creates. Let us have a look at the first moment of creation which is unlikely for anyone to be able to see it clearly, not even if you are teaching in the school or an architect who professionally works in an office. I do not mean that you cannot create, but sometimes you do not know when the first moment of creation happens. It has been a secret for centuries and I am going to tell you now. In the first moment of creation, you must be a ‘clearing’ or space for the future that will be created. Think about a sheet of paper. When you want to draw something on that sheet of paper, it has to be clear, is it not? If you want to draw a new drawing, and you have already drawn everything on the paper, there has no space left, you cannot create anything. When you want to create something out of nothing, it means that you have to become a ‘clearing’ or space. You have to clear yourself in order to create something-the future. You start to see the word ‘clearing’ or space, not a space of architecture, but a ‘clearing’ for something to happen. In that ‘clearing’, there is no such a thing that we know as ‘I’. ‘I’ is my worst enemy. ‘I’ may stand for yourself, your identity, but not your creation. If I think about creating a new work, ‘I’ in that work is not going to happen. Most architects stuck once they got into some kind of fame-which everyone in this room will do. You will get your worst enemy; your identity. Your identity ‘I’ will be the first thing that obstructs your creativity. Believe me, most architects have never thought about that. You think more ‘I’ is good because you will use ‘I’ to create your next work, and your next work, and your next work. Then you suddenly realize that your works become less creative, your work contain less creativity. It becomes a repetition of you, not a new thing anymore. So, ‘I’ is the worst enemy of an architect. You cannot allow ‘I’ to be in the ‘clearing’, because it is like you try to draw something on a fully drawn sheet of paper. No space left or lesser space to create than what you think you might have. Without anything, the ‘clearing’ would be at its best. In the first moment of creation, you do not need anything, only an empty space. It is you who create your future with nothing are inside that ‘clearing’. That explains why somebody wakes up in the morning with something in the dream- the new idea of architecture, then one wakes up and starts to draw something. Someone might have had a good idea emerged during a moment in a toilet; some might have it while on a plane. It is a moment that you mind is clear. There is no concern about the project, your family, your relationship, your work, your job, your boss, your client, or you, and you become so clear, and that moment of ‘clearing’, it creates. You do not have to force it. You do not have to think whether you have the concept or idea. It is just that moment when the ‘clearing’ happens. The ‘clearing’ itself will create, but of course without ‘I’ in that ‘clearing’. Again, who creates that? It is ‘I’ that create. If you ask who creates that particular project and you said ‘I’, then it is ‘I’ that create. You actually create from the moment of ‘clearing’. It will be brief and very short, probably a minute or a second. Hopefully, you are the one who creates that ‘clearing’. From a certain view, it can be understood that I am the ‘clearing’ which is going to create. So, it is not you who is sitting here in this room, but you are the ‘clearing’ of something which is going to happen. You are not just a person, you are the ‘clearing’, you are the space that everything and anything in your life has just happened in that space. You are not just sitting on that chair, you extend yourself beyond that room, beyond this convention hall, beyond the city, beyond the world. As a result, you might end up into the conclusion that can be well considered what ‘I’ is. After all, it comes to me that ‘I am nothing’, but an empty space for everything and anything to happen. It is the most difficult job for an architect to become nothing, because the first thing you create is yourself, and once you become yourself, you will stick and hold on to that. You will say this is me and this is my work that is all about me. You can live with that. You can challenge yourself with that. What are you going to do when you get stuck? I have been recently playing the Ask FM application. A lot of questions came in, asked me what I did when I get stuck. Most people in this profession get stuck with new idea, sometimes they spend days and weeks and months to come up with a new idea. In my office, we do not get stuck, because there is nothing to be stuck, no ‘me’ to get stuck. If you consider back then, what you really get stuck with is yourself. It has never been about a client or a program. You keep complaining that the program is too hard, you are not given enough budgets, the client was so bad, the project has the most difficult context, you were forced by the economics of the project, so you cannot create the project in a way it should be.  In fact, everything you get stuck is yourself. I did not mean that those things do not exist. It is there, but it is not what you get stuck. You try to make your project looks good, because you can be famous and you get stuck with that. You try to make this project make money for you, and you get stuck with that. You try to make the project repeat the success you had before, and you get stuck with that. I am not speaking this for myself, because ‘I am nothing’. I have nothing to prove. I do not have to prove that I am right or wrong in this conversation. It is a gift for you. If I say ‘I am nothing’, what about you? I am not saying this because I am looking to saying this, but I really do feel that ‘I am nothing’, but not all the time. If I want a coffee, ‘I am not nothing’. I will only be ‘nothing’ in the moment of creation. In that moment of creation when you are ‘nothing’, you will be able to listen. You will listen to your colleague, your team, your client, and fully to your context. You should listen to another place which you will see or hear things differently. How many times you got into a meeting with the client and you do not listen to them, because you already have a judgment on him/her that could worsen the project. How many times you do not listen to the engineer who tried to tell you something you did not want to listen? How many times you do not listen to your colleague? How many times you do not listen to your team? How many times you do not listen to your boss? You can start seeing that being you have nothing to do with making your career moves forward. For me, I am nothing. I have no intention to do or achieve anything except being the ‘clearing’ in the moment I want to create which I can create everything. Seriously, I can create everything. I want you to receive the gift that you can also create everything. You just do not get it in the beginning. Once you get into the notion of yourself as a ‘clearing’, you will be presented to the new way to do your design work. It is so powerful just like magic. You will be so light while working, no pressure anymore, because the pressure comes from you when you are defending yourself. You have to listen to me from the fact that I am not right and not wrong. Just try to wear it like trying on your new shirt. If it fits, then use it. I am sure it will be valuable. If it is not, just leave it. I am not trying to prove anything, except to tell you that I am nothing, and with that nothing I can create everything. Let us see what I have created.

Recent works

The first project that I am going to show you calls the Jam Factory. If some of you have been going on the new social network, you might come across this project. The purpose of the Jam Factory was meant to be my office. It has a long story and to make it short and more interesting, it was an old factory and warehouse. I found it near Khlong san market. It is four rais with four buildings altogether. It used to be the iron factory, the battery factory and the pharmaceutical factory where they produce pharmacy. I wanted to move my office to a new place, and to do so many things in the way that I like, but it has been a controversial conversation in our office whether it is going to work or not. Eventually, we decided to move, but we still have about 1000 sq.m. left as we used only 800 sq.m. for the office space.  We moved because we paid 400,000 baht per month to our old office space in Siam Discovery, and renting the whole place here also cost the same rate. It is a rental deal, it is going to be with us for the next ten years. We have a larger space left, so we have to create something to accommodate it. People asked me why it calls the Jam Factory. It is very interesting about the name of things. (pic63) People started asking for the meaning of the name. I am the one who do not give much about the meaning, so the name was just taken randomly from my friend’s house in London. She was staying in an apartment that was converted from an old jam factory, the place where they really produce jam. I saw the letter with that name on the wall which is kind of cool, and I like that name. ‘I am going to use that name for my project someday’, I told my friend. That was the reason, there was no meaning. People try to actually give a meaning to it, like it is ‘jam’ like ‘jam session’ or ‘jam’ like ‘putting everything together’. Some of them start looking for a place that produces jam. I think it is very interesting how people are so attached to the meaning. That is why we get stuck. We are so attached to the meaning, give the meaning to anything and everything we have in our life. So, it is just the Jam Factory. The building itself is an old building. This is how it looked like from the beginning, it does not give any hope. You look at it and say ‘… you are not going to live in that shit!’. In fact, this is a gift to an architect. We were trained to see possibility, it is your value. Every one of you in this room has that gift. You have the gift to create and to see possibility. It is not about concept or idea, it is about possibility you can create from anything you see. If you realise that the capacity of yourself is not directly about creation, but it goes beyond that, you will see possibility that allows you to do more than what you are doing right now. This was the existing condition. It looks like it was very badly damaged, is it not? The thin roof was about to fall off, the structure was not in the place.  Water was everywhere, and it looked terrible. It was way beyond every imagination of a regular person to turn that into an office space. This is how it looks like right now. The idea of the renovation is good, because it is cheap. To build the whole new project will cost you about 60 to 80 million baht, but it costs us only 20 something million baht to build. We did not renovate it to make us look good, but we did it because we do not have much money to create a new building. I am not that good person. We actually kept most of the existing roof, we kept it that way and changed it with metal sheet which has an laminated insulation, and it has the steel underneath. It became a panel which was laid out on the ceiling. We also have two inches of Styrofoam insulation, and it saves a lot of energy. This factory is not heated up in the daytime; even during the summer season because of that insulation.  We put it on the existing roof, and nobody can assure me whether the load we had put can withstand the existing roof or not.  We end up with ten or twenty of them at a time and try to increase. So, it has proven that it stays, then we put on the roof. You cannot imagine we do something like that, but it is real. Perhaps it might fall down someday, I do worry about that. This is my desk , and the view to the grass lawn and the tree.  I want to talk a little bit about the tree. I like that tree; I think it is a good tree. Nobody has ever seen it, even the landlord. Before I came here, this grass lawn is not there, it is all small houses like slum. When we clear them out, we could see that tree, and the landlord came in and said ‘wow I have never seen that tree before’. Think about it in terms of your life, when you have a valuable thing and you do not see it, it is already there, but you do not see it. That gives me a thought. This is the meeting room . We have another warehouse left which used to be the iron factory, we came out with the idea of doing a restaurant. It is a very blunt idea, because I have never done any restaurant before. I have never operated one before. To be honest, I cannot even cook. My business partner used to run a restaurant before, so we said ‘let us do it’. We worked out in the way that we can create the restaurant together. She is very happy with that, and I was very happy with that to the fact that I have never created a restaurant before, and it is very successful now. The design is just to do nothing to it. It is the old factory  and I leave it like that.  It looks terrible, is it not? But people fall in love with it. It looks like there is no design attaches. Let us think a moment about why people love it. I found that people get fascinated by the authenticity of what we did. People do not attach me in when it look good, they attached it to the authenticity in line to the design. So, whatever you do, if people feel it is authentic, they tend to like it. Because now everything is so artificial, it is so unreal. Marketing create things that is not already there and try to make people fall in love with something never exist before and it is not real. This restaurant does not offer anything except reality. The building is authentic; it was left undone. We only do necessary thing to keep it operating. That is the design and the interior. Though, if you notice, the wall already existed, then we put the air conditioner and the concrete floor in. We put the furniture into the kitchen, and fill in some light which was taken from my old office. Technically, I did not invest anything. Amazingly, without creating anything, it is a grateful creation. It becomes a success. I am not speaking from the viewpoint that I am so cool or great about it, but from the view point that it is valuable to people – the authenticity.  That is the restaurant and the furniture I designed.  It is equipped with the gallery.  The first exhibition we had was a Long Long Yala (ลองล่องยะลา) project.

It was a project that we did with some of our friends. We went to the southern part of Thailand to create a street photography exhibition. To make people sure that the city is actually suitable enough to visit. We wanted to create the new aspect of Yala; people were convinced to visit the city. We hope that it will recreate the economy of the city, and eventually, there can be peace in the Southern part of Thailand.

The next project I want you to see is a small project that we did as an exhibition at Venice Biennale.  It was a very small project that nobody realize what it was, because the Association of Siamese Architect gave us a very small tiny space to exhibit it. Nobody actually understood it what it was. It is a block of wood and acrylic that we created as a tool. We are still using it in our office. These blocks are just about thirty something pieces, that help us to create hundreds of architecture in a minute. This is where we work and test how we can create architecture out of these blocks. So, architecture is no longer about supreme being. Anyone can create that; even a three-year-old child can create one. It has nothing so secret about architecture anymore. It is just the way you see it, and how you want to create it. There are a lot of tools in this world that can be used to create buildings. I am telling you the secret (I hope that will not make my fee smaller), and it is something you can use. You can create your own block. It helps us in our office(59.16). I make a contribution to one of my staff; I gave the name to the block as ‘Pai’s block’ (ไผ่) , because she was the one who created it.

The next project is a temple. It is not a real temple, but it is like a meditation centre for private use. The project is in Khao Yai area. It is in the middle of the landscape.  We developed the idea of the Borobudur stupa.  What made them create that kind of hole in the stupa with the another statue inside, why they did that? This thing kept me fascinated for year, because you will never see this anywhere else in the world. It came to me that the person who designed it may have a vision of a glass at that time when no technology could produce glass in that form(I said may because I am not a historian). They wanted to create something that performs like a glass. We got that idea of creating a glass without a glass. I want you to have a look at this important drawing . This is how we created it; there were these columns, and another layer of columns, which is on the same line, and another column which is not on the same line. It creates a penetration of the vision that leak into the space. You have that kind of screen that performs in the way the glass will do. So, it is a glass without a real glass. We wanted to create this temple totally out of glass, but it is not possible, so we created it in the way that it resembles the effect of the glass. We call it a ‘glass temple’. It has a simple layout. We came up with many forms of roof. We finally took out one of the very significant temple roof line of the temple, and we tried to recreate it from that line. If you look inside, there are three temples. In the way that Thai architecture was created, it will be only one layer. As we have three layers of the column, anyone who gets into this Thai architecture is going to yell at me because it is not good to say that to Thai architecture. Anyway, we were driven by it;because we created three temples inside one temple, the roof structure was elaborated, but in the way that it does not look elaborated. You can relate the meaning of the three temples to anything you want.  This creates a very profound effect on the façade and the very clean line of the roof.  We used the material that responds to the titanium roof technology. It was a contradiction about the conventional roofing material.  If you look from one side, you do not see it, but you can see it all from another side. It is the idea of that kind of layering.  Most of the people will ask why I keep doing the flat roof, I said I used flat roof because it does not need anything except the flat roof, but it is not my signature. It is not my intention to create it that way, but why do we create a roof? We must create a roof for some purpose, and it is not just for the purpose of heat transfer only. It is not a roof for tropical design. Get real, it is not. We can create a roof if it means something and it worth a trip. It is not my signature per se.  We designed the floor in a not quite conventional way.  We put the floor on the edge of the dry process stand. When water leaks in, it goes down quietly to their gap between the stone, it is very convenient to clean. So, definitely it is not Thai architecture, but you it has a sense of Thainess, which is very profound for me, because you are creating something that gives the Thai meaning, but it is not Thai.

The last project that I am going to show you has just recently completed. Two months ago, we won the best new hotel design award from the wallpaper magazine. When we knew that we were shortlisted, we were excited. Wallpaper magazine international is a very provocative promoter of hotel design. We were among the five hotels in the world that are so gorgeous and so beautiful. I thought I came this far for the shortlist is fine already. I am happy already, but we won the first prize – the only hotel in the world that gets the awarded for the best new hotel of 2014. This is the Naka Phuket in Phuket. The whole setting is in the valley in Phuket beach called Nakalay.  The valley you face is the front of the private beach. The site is surrounded by two mountains at the back and the mountain sloping down . You would say this is an ideal site for a project. I do not have to do anything, the site is beautiful already. But of course, we have to fit something in. The first thing that we did was to plot the existing trees and layout the project as to keep all the trees. Unfortunately, three very big trees died; as a result, the contractor was kicked out of the site and not allowed to work anymore. That is the way we work. The whole idea of the project is to place all the villas cascading down the hill. This is a lobby. We tried to give an impression of the culture. When you design a hotel for foreigner, you want to give them a glimpse of what the culture is all about. It is my intention not to be so cultural about the architecture, not because I have anything to it, but I do not think we need to. We want to give them something with a glimpse of traditional, but not so traditional. I got an idea from a vernacular building in South Africa. We modified it to make it looks more tropical; cantilever in the way we have an image towards it. It became something like that, not Chinese, not Japanese, it is South African vernacular architecture. That is the lobby; you can see the scale of the people. My client always complained why we have to make it so big, but after it was built, they got the idea completely.  I have just visited them last week and they were so happy about it. When you are working with a client, you have to guide them and do not let them guide you. They do not know anything about architecture until you tell them so. You are the architect, you are the leader. And once you really get into an idea, you must stand for it. Do not give up, because after all everyone will be fulfilled including your client. The lobby looks downwards to the ocean. This is the view from the reservoir pond, you were meant to do that. This kind of environmental thing they ask you to do to reserve of the water before it goes into the ocean. Most of the architects try to lie about it, but I and my client had the same idea. We want to do a really good retaining pond for water. The site they has two natural water ways that run down the mountain. We keep them in this pond, and we make use of it as a barrier for the people in the villa to have privacy from the beachfront. Originally, there are a lot more trees, but they died. There suppose to be a lot of trees in between the villa which we are working on it right now. The client allocated a large budget to put more trees in to replace the dead trees. So, the idea is not about the villa, but the villa hidden among the trees, you do not see much of the villa. Because it is a terrain, you have to climb up from time to time.  We created a walkway and a stair which actually you have to actually tailor- made on site. Those architects who design a lot of resorts will understand that, you cannot really draw it, just give the idea and the contractor has to work their way to it. That is one of the tree we kept which is quite large, and we put the restaurant next to it.  As you can see, all the location of the buildings did not come from me, but it came from the context; the trees. We want to incorporated it with the context. The restaurant was placed precisely behind that tree to make sure that when people sitting in the restaurant, they can have the view of the tree which embraces that view point. The restaurant has this kind of dominating idea that got me from my previous project like Costa Lanta or the project in Koh Samui. It has a similar idea of a very open space that opens up to the surrounding view instead of having our guests seeing the roof. We wanted them to see the view so it is very well opened up. We use the technology of the curtain to help protect the rain. You can see when most of my works were so embraced with the context, it looks good.  To be honest, I did not do very much to it, if you look at the architecture you know there is nothing much about it. Only the way we place it into the context makes it so virtue and valuable. This banquet building has a ‘wedding chapel’ for people to come here and get their wedding events in the space.  We did that in behind that tree. (pic148) There is an old existing tree that gives a very nice figure. We actually intended to put the building behind it and hide our sun lounge deck. We kept that tree and it dominates the figure in front of the architecture. I like the idea of having this kind of wall becomes part opaque and part enclose. Between those patterns, my architect has very well designed in the way that all the column was hidden behind it.  The pattern seems to be random, there is a column hidden, but you can’t see it.  It is a very painstaking work to making all the columns disappear . You can see the view from the front with this part of landscape, the existing context becomes part of the whole thing that makes the composition complete. We think that a context is not just something we have to keep, but to play with, we dance with it. The big idea of this project is the villa. The villa is cantilevered above the sky. It has been my dream to do that.  How can I create any kind of residential space that cantilever out like six meters? I have done that before in a smaller project. When we came to this project, I took it to the extreme. The cantilever is six meters something. The whole thing is Vierendeel truss. It gives that depth of the beam to be able for them to cantilever like that. So, it is safe doing that. If you want to do that, you have to make sure that you got a very good grade in your structure course. That is a very important visual effect of what we try to achieve. That is the bed, living area, and most likely you are actually sleeping in the air. That is the key visual for all the villas except for those which are on the ground. You can see the part of imaginary view which looks like that when you sit on the bed, or on the sofa and looking out.  We put this screening for a privacy issue. (pic160,161) It creates the shadow of the sun to the pattern, which kills away the harshness of modern language architecture, and I like that. When you work on this modern language architecture, you have to be very careful to keeps the balance of everything.  This project is really about cantilever.  It is about sleeping in the air, and if I were to give this lecture anywhere else, not in Thailand, I will talk about something else- you might know, something about when you are on the bed. When you are hanging in the air, what is the first thing you are going to do? I know you think about it and you are not laughing about it because it is not going to make you look good in this culture. That is the villa on the ground. (pic169) Imagine that you are sleeping there.

So, that is about ‘who I am’. Once I get into the feeling of ‘who I am’, it is the only time I can create everything. I want this conversation to be a gift to you in the way that you can use it for your own life, your own career. Believe me, it will be a very sad story to have only one me. We should be a hundred of me right now. Unless you believe you are, you will not be. I am telling you right now that you are, everyone in this room, you are. You are a great architect, you can be one. You just have to believe you are. Once you are and you say so, you will become one. It is not that difficult, because you already are. This is what I have found as ‘who I am’. I hope, eventually, at this moment- last moment of my conversation, you know who you are. Thank you so much.

Q&A session

Duangrit Bunnag (DB): You are going to have the most difficult job on earth. So, we are going to talk in English, right?
Nitis Sthapitanonda (NS): Yes, that is really weird, I have never talked to you in English before, and I do not know why we have to speak English.

DB: But we can talk bad words in English and then…
NS: No no no.
DB: They will not know what it is. Talk about sex as well.
NS: No we are not going to talk about sex today. Well I knew him for 20 plus years I guess, so…
DB: I know you since you were… (low hand gesture)
NS: Yes, I know I know, I was like this (low hand gesture) and you were like that (high hand gesture)
DB: And look at him, he is old now.
NS: Yes, well, since now, I am you and you are me
DB: Good (Applause)
NS: Is there any…
DB: I am glad when I say something and somebody understands it, I really love that.
NS: So, is there anything you want to ask me?
DB: Right, I want to ask you about your sexual behavior.
NS: Okay, let us skip that, it is not about me then, it is about you actually.
DB: I think you might want to skip to the question.
NS: Actually, people would like to know that about you.
DB: Really?
NS: Yes.
DB: You can go to Ask.Fm okay?
NS: You know, when I listen to the first part of your talk…
DB: What do you think about it?
NS: I just want to get out of here actually. It is just too heavy for my Sunday morning you know…
DB: …which is perfect.
NS: No, it is good, it is good.
DB: But the good thing is that nobody leaves, right?
NS: Yes, yes.
DB: Which is very good, they are still here, I think that half of the room or maybe more than half of the room want to get out of here. What I am talking about, it is not easy, it is very difficult, I know.
NS: In a way, you know, since I know so much about you…
DB: You do not know anything about me.
NS: Oh really?
DB: Not yet.
NS: Oh okay.
DB: Okay.
NS: What I know about you is that, actually, to me you are a normal man who likes beautiful women, who likes expensive toys and who likes to ride fast vehicles.

DB: No, but the thing is, it is very interesting, who is not? Who is not actually wanted to be a good looking man? No, I am not talking about me, okay? Who does not want to actually get accompany by very beautiful women? Who is not interested in driving a fast car, right? It seems to be very normal, is it not?

NS: It is normal.
DB: Ok. Good. So, we got that kind of conversation straight.
NS: I mean what is not normal actually is that you are all that, plus you are a very skilful architect who can create beautiful architecture, and that is not normal, okay? That, to me, is a gift actually.
DB: No, actually I reject that, it is not a gift.
NS: Okay.
DB: I am not that good in the beginning right? I keep practicing and in the way that I can elevate my capacity as an architect has nothing to do with gift. I am really contradict to the notion of gifted, otherwise you know, people in this room, they cannot be the most successful architect of their career, if they believe they are not gifted. So, actually I am working on the contradictory conversation of gifted. I do not believe anybody is gifted; it is just the way they wanted to be. If they wanted to be the most famous Thai architect in Thailand, they can. I am not saying I am, because your father is the first one. So, if that you are saying to yourself, who do you want to be, right? That is all you need to do for your life. So, what you want to be, who you want to be, it is not about being gifted. Okay, you can go ahead with your question.
NS: I always thought why father was gifted.
DB: No, I am not saying that, but I am saying that part of his success is because of his practice.
NS: Right, right.
DB: Right. What does your father say? Does he say he is gifted?
NS: I guess not, yes, I guess not.
DB: Okay, I have no problem with that. We talk about your father, right?
NS: No no, so, anybody have questions? You can send them to me or I will keep asking stupid questions.
DB: Yes, if you do not ask questions it means that my whole presentation is wasted.

NS: You know, actually, the first question that came to my mind when I was listening is that how ‘the hell’ do you present your work to your client with this kind of presentation? Do you always present is way?
DB: No, no, seriously, when I talk to the client, I tell them what they want to listen to? What are their concerns? You have to get to the point that everyone in this world has a commitment. If the client wants, they have the concern about the business, and then talk about the business. Do not talk about how beautiful you are going to make it. One of my clients is here in this room, actually, when you talk to the client, talk about what they are interested in, and do not talk about yourself. If you start to talk about how good your architecture is, you are going to talk about yourself, which is not going to work. You should talk to them about what they want to listen; do not lie to them, okay? If their concern is how much money they are going to make out of this project, talk about that, then talk about how your beautiful design is going to deliver that. So, the reason and the way I talk to the client is not about me or my work as an architect. I talk about number, figure, how much they are going to make money, how my good design is going to work in a way around that figure. So, this is how I work. This is how I talk to my client.

NS: Yes, and that is how….

DB: Do not talk about theory, okay? Do not talk about this kind of topographic surface, concept, whatever, do not talk about that, you will be stupid.

NS: Yes and I think that what distinguished between, or what is the difference between good architects and not so good architects.

DB: No, I want to make it clear, I am not that good, okay?
NS: I know I know, I am not saying you are good.
DB: I am workable, I am just functional, I am workable, I work for the client but I am not that good. Trust me, I am not that good.
NS: Alright, another thing is sometimes when we listen to you and see a lot of your work, and it seems like your thinking is quite complex in many ways and you think a lot and you talk to yourself a lot, but what is interesting to me is that, with that complexity, is that how you create such a simple form, I do not know whether you even know it.
DS: Because it is the only way you can create a simple form out of that complexity, by ‘only’ I mean, I think that the achievement of complexity is not about complex architecture but it is a single form, so if you can actually arrive at the certain point of complexity, you will get to the most simple architecture on earth, I can tell you that. This is the way I work, well, there will be another way, another complex thought that deliver complex architecture. There is nothing wrong with that, but if you want to create a simple form of architecture, you have to be so bloody complex, really, and if you are interested, it will be related to your sexual behavior.
NS: Okay.
DB: You do not want to talk about that.
NS: I do not want to talk about it. Well, there is a question from the floor, and it is very scary. DB: I can read that for you if you are too scared.
NS: It says, ‘what is your way of thinking for your current work and what are you going to do from now on?’ Let us answer this one first.
DB: Sorry, is that a question?
NS: What is your concept when you are working nowadays?
DB: What is my concept? That is a bad word! Well, what is the concept anyway. Let us think about that, what is a concept? We have been using that word for a long time but then we do not know what it is, we just thought that, you know, you thought the concept is the beginning of everything, you think the concept is the beginning of creativity. I am not saying it is not, it can be, but you are not limited to that, right? You are so limited by beginning the conversation of concept as a notion of creativity, I am not saying you cannot, you can, but it is so limited. In the way that I work, I am not rejecting to the concept, sometimes I have a concept, but I do not have a concept as a ‘must’, it gives me more flexibility to create my work. Sometimes I do not have a concept and the work is still good. So, I have been asking a question as a student that some of the teacher in some schools these days give the grade to the concept, and eventually, they have to lie about their concept. They have to rewrite it in a way as they wanted to create their work into a concept. Then the concept is not your originality of creativity. So, what is the point for that? I do not get it, so what is the question again, I am sorry.
NS: …
DB: I keep talking.
NS: …what is the way you work today and in the future from now on? Do you have any way of working?
DB: I do not have the way of working; I told you I have nothing.
NS: So, for your next project…start fresh?
DB: Yes, if you get the first part of my presentation carefully, you will get that I am really nothing and within that nothing, I can create everything. I am really nothing at that moment of creation, that I do not have anything in front of me when I am creating something new. I do not have my past; I do not have my present. I do not have ‘you’; I do not have ‘me’. I do not have anything, but that is very important you know, you have to really embrace that idea and think about that as a possibility.

NS: The second part of the question which is the scary part is that, a lot of your late works feels like the work of your relative – Khun Mathar Bunnag, what do you think of this? DB: I love him, no, really. I love him, I think…
NS: Well, you agree to it?

DB: It does not mean that I agree or not agree. It does not matter, right? He works the way his works work, okay? I think in the world of architecture, there is no one right answer to architecture, right? You might be agreeing to that, otherwise everyone is going to work on the same way. Khun Lek has a very sophisticated mind and once you talk to him, you will see the elaboration of his work, of this thinking, so deep until you reach them. I have been in conversation with him for so many times and we became good friends. By the way, we are not real relative; but we are connected in a relative way. We know each other and I respect his work so much. It does not matter how the result of the vocabulary that he turns out to give it to architecture looks like, it may not look like my work but it does not matter. He is so great, he is so sophisticated, he is so refined and I think the way he works is also so refined as well. You know, as long as he still keeps on giving out that work, his work, in that ‘clearing’ of that refinement, of that sophistication, it is going to be great, it is going to be great. He should come for this lecture so that he understands that too.

NS: He should indeed, he should indeed.
DB: Well, I love his work; I think he is one of the greatest architects that I know. NS: Okay, there is a question from the floor.

Audience1: With all due respect, I mean two months ago, you told me that this presentation will change my life….
DB: Has it yet?
Audience1: No.

DB: Too bad.
Audience1: You told me that this presentation will change everyone’s life.
DB: Yes.
Audience1: My question is: do you really genuinely believe that?
DB: It does not, right? You think it is not, right?
Audience1: So, now my life has changed?
DB: Yes, your life has changed.
Audience1: And I have become you now.
DB: No, the thing is that, you do not realize that your life has been changed.
Audience1: Wow.
DB: You have not yet realized that now. The next time you start working on the design, if you actually embrace what I have been talking about, you will actually start thinking about ‘I’ in a different way. You have never actually realized that ‘I’ is there when you start working, right? Now you are starting to ask questions in a way that whether it is possible or not that you do not have ‘I’ in your work and that is very valuable, and that is when you start changing your life. I mean, you do not know about it, but your life changes already. You will know in the next few hours, sometime you are a late popper.

Audience 2: Good morning. You say nothing opens to everything, when I see your architecture, I see one style.
DB: Sorry, can you say it again?

Audience 2: You say nothing opens to everything.

DB: Yes.
Audience 2: When I see your architecture, I see only one style.
DB: That’s too bad.
Audience 2: Yes
DB: What do you see?
Audience 2: I do not, I listen to you.
DB: No, the thing is, you told me that you see only one side, right?
NS: Style, one style.
DB: One style, oh…that is a bad word, style.
NS: Yes, style.
DB: What is the definition of style that you use? Can you tell me about that? What do you mean by the word style?
Audience 2: I will make it simple because it is going to be a long discussion, like you use the word modern.
DB: I do not mind a long discussion.
NS: Maybe the people here mind.
Audience 2: Let us do it after if you want?
DB: No, no. I want to make it clear what is the definition of style, you cannot leave people in this room like that.
Audience 2: No, just as you mentioned the word ‘modern’, you know, that is just the word. DB: You think my work is modern, right?
Audience 2: You said it.
DB: I did not say that.
NS: Yes, you did.
DB: Did I say that? Well, the thing is that you can be so right about it and you can walk out of this room being right about that. I do not have any problem with that, and you can say that I am so. You know, using a modern language in my work, yes, but who does not? I ask you, who does not? Who does not use modernism language in their work in a way, small way, larger way, I do not know. We are living in that world; we live in that kind of a domain of modernism, right? Even postmodernism is a variation of modernism in a way, so we are living in the most critical world of modernism which is actually deriving the world of rational, reason, which is the whole world of modernism, right? Who else is not living in that? That is, if you classify the word ‘style’ in that kind of domain of the idea of modernism, yes, everyone does, I do, yes.
Audience 2: I do not criticize modern position at all.
DB: No, you are welcome to critic.
Audience 2: No, it is not my point, my question is that it looks like in the modern evolution, you say it open to everything.
DB: Yes.
Audience 2: I want to understand this meaning.
DB: No, I want to make myself clear about the presentation. If you follow closely, you will see that what I want to create is myself as nothing, right? And that nothing, I can create everything. I am talking from the stand of possibility to create everything, I am not yet saying that I will create everything, but I am living in that possibility to create everything, right? That is very important. It is important that it is not a conversation about myself, saying from the beginning of my presentation, I make it clear that I am going to talk about myself but it is not about myself, it is about you, and I am creating that ‘clearing’ in the beginning of the presentation that it is not going to be about me talking about myself. So, when I am saying that I am nothing, I want you to embrace that kind of idea briefly that whether or not. If you can be nothing, it is possible for you to create everything. I want to create that ‘clearing’ of possibility that you can create everything and anything you want to create out of you being nothing. That is the conversation, I have my own language of creating architecture and I am so limited to that, that is too bad, I did not show you ten more of my projects that are not within that domain of that language of architecture which is unfortunate. We also design this kind of very ‘Supermachine’ kind of building and very sexy form, which I admire their works, they are so beautiful, and we did some of that as well. But yes, the thing is that it never gets built, that is it.

Audience 3 : Khun Duangrit, I am a follower of your work and I think maybe about five years ago, when you presented your booth design for the ASA back then. You have a wooden model carved with the very, curvy linear mass…you remember that?
DB: Yes, we still have that model.
Audience 3: Is it, what happen to that? There is another thing that you said you have exposed yourself into another way of approach and then you decided to quit on that thing?
DB: No, I have never quit the ‘Supermachine’ type of thing. I have never quit that. If you are my staff in my office you can see that we are still working on that kind of articulation for other project right now, but we cannot tell you. We are still working on that project on that kind of articulation. It is just about time, I think, it is the time that is not there yet, so for the time that the context is ready for it, it will happen, hopefully I think. Thank you for the question, I like that question, alright, what else?
NS: Next question?

Audience 4: I am actually having fun listening to your presentation, it is one of the most entertaining talks. My first comment will be, I felt like on the first part of your presentation, you are Tom Cruise in the Magnolia movie. If someone saw that movie, it is like you are selling us dreams, I mean I am changed. The second comment will be for the first part of your presentation, is it a process of an excuse of being not critical, when you are talking about nothingness with being like selflessness, like nothing and then you can do anything without being critical. Like one of the other speakers yesterday, talked about the world is changing, everything changes and you are promoting selflessness, nothingness, so that you can be floating on top of all the problems of the world.

DB: No, it is not like that at all. I think it is very important and I want to make it clear that it is not about giving up, okay? Being nothing is not about giving up, it is about you are nothing; you cannot be nothing at all time, but at the moment of creation. At the very first moment of creation, think about that. I ask you the question whether you can create and keep on creating for a certain amount of time. Then, there will be someday that you get stuck, you cannot create anymore, because you create a lot already. I am giving you the way out; do you actually try to embrace that? It is the way out, it is the possibility that you can do to still create without a power to create. Right now, I think I admire your work, because you are very young and very energetic. You produced a lot of work, I think that is very good, and just like any other people in this room, they are young, energetic and they produce works, then you turn fifty, let us see what happen. I am not saying that because I am forty eight years old now, in two years from now I am going to be fifty. Now, imagine yourself when you are fifty years old, how can you maintain your integrity to produce the work in that momentum. So, I am actually just a little bit ahead of you in time which not limited to your possibility as myself. You can go beyond me, which is good and I think that there is something you have to look forward to. Everyone in this room has to be better than me when they turn fifty. That is very important, that is how this society is going to move forward, but in a way that if one day, it is likely that you might get stuck and you might lose energy and you start asking a question how do I create this thing? Because the way you are creating is just like the way you did before and your work start to repeat itself. I am giving you one possibility, it is not just one but it is one amongst hundred or thousand, you might want to think about it by yourself. You might realize that there is no ‘you’ in the way you create your work. Just think about a piece of paper. How can you create a new thing on that sheet of paper when everything is already written on it? Think about that and that is the whole idea of what I am trying to talk about, but not in the way that I am giving myself up to be nothing, I am creating myself as nothing. Once you get yourself out of nothing – that emptiness, you have the experience, and then you might see the moment of creation which was powerfully created. This is what my conversation is all about and I thank you for asking that question, it is a very good question.

NS: Okay. So, thank you very much Khun Duangrit.

One comment

  • after i read & listen , feel calm & Smile , feel like Zen Mind , Beginner’s Mind in Architect version
    it doesn’t change me , made me understand more in i with no i just i .
    Good & Difference Lecture

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