We believe that a city is in a never ending process of development. Construction sites are the constancy of an urban fabric. However, it is not always necessary to erase the old and replaces it by building new. ‘Live with what we have’ is a rather more environmentally friendly, sustainable and historically sensitive approach.
In the late nineties, an eight story apartment project, commissioned by the Narula family, was nearing completion. The building structure was complete, when the Thai economy took a severe hit, known today as the ‘Tom Yum Kung’ financial crisis. As a result the family lost ownership of the building and the project was abandoned. Two decades later, Narula’s next generation collected enough funds to purchase the property back with the intention to reconstruct what his father has left. With this rich heritage in mind, we realised that embedded within the concrete structure is a significant chapter of history for both Thailand and the client. Thus, it is befitting that once revitalised, this monument will open its doors to the public as a serviced apartment and the Narula family residence.
Using the existing structure and floor plate is not without its challenges however. Narrow external windows and deep units are not desirable when compared to today’s apartment development standard. It was a major challenge to allocate higher amount of units whilst ensuring everyone enjoys the limited façade area. Our solution was to turn away from convention, and orientate each unit’s balcony towards the inside of the building. This freed up precious external surface area, thus allowing the residents access to more natural light as well as providing the entire project with cross ventilation. Each unit is designed as if they are a single detached house with open space around them. Trees are also planted along the perimeter of the floor plates on alternate floors to further enhance the residents’ living experience. The arrangement created a vertical street system that provides the residents with the experience of living in detached homes rather than on top of a typical apartment building.
Special care was taken to minimize alterations to the existing structure to protect and celebrate its history. The new constructions are inserted into the existing structure to distinguish between old and new. Materials are selected with great sensitivity so that the difference between old and new is clear enough that the volumes won’t interfere with each other, yet subtle enough to maintain the building charm and character. Locally sourced bricks are utilised for walls. Which as well as supporting local businesses also has the added benefit of giving the building the illusion of being ‘unfinished’ continuing its historical symbolism.
The project is an essay in sensitive conservation. The revitalized building will not only provide a uniquely comfortable home for its residents and continue the Narula family’s legacy. But most importantly will allow passers-by a glimpse into Thailand’s history preserved well into the future.