Making nice in the city
Bangkok Design Week projects highlight 'Urban'NICE'zation' as a gold standard for positive change
The 6th Bangkok Design Week is now under way with the theme "Urban'NICE'zation". The event's catchword refers to the aim of helping to create a friendlier, nicer city for residents as well as entrepreneurs in six aspects -- environment, mobility, culture, business, community and diversity.
Festival sites are spread across nine districts until Sunday with some combined as a single space: Charoenkrung-Talad Noi, Phra Nakhon, Yaowarat, Samyan-Siam, Ari-Pradipat, Phrom Phong and Kaset.
Events in Phra Nakhon, a main district for BKKDW 2023, were created by Urban Ally, a research and design centre at the Faculty of Architecture, Silpakorn University. Singhanat Sangsehanat, an assistant professor at the university and director of Urban Ally, said the group has created events for Phra Nakhon district based on the theme Mit Bamrung Muang, which means Friends of Bamrung Muang Road.
"Our group created events for BKKDW 2023 by focusing on areas where we wanted to create better vibes for Bamrung Muang Road, so that it's more pleasant to walk in. If more people come to Bamrung Muang Road, local businesses will earn more money. This will result in a creative economy that enhances the value of existing culture through redesign," Asst Prof Singhanat said.
FOS design studio covers Maen Si Water Pumping Station with lighting design and projection mapping. (Photos courtesy of Urban Ally)
Mit Bamrung Muang components have been situated in three main venues: at Silpakorn University as a "drawing room"; at City Square as a "playing room"; and at the old Maen Si Water Pumping Station as a "living room".
At Silpakorn University's drawing room, the Fine Arts Department, Urban Ally and FOS Lighting Design Studio teamed up to create a light-and-sound show in the Hall of Sculpture. Another co-operative effort comprised Silpakorn University Art Centre, the Japan Foundation Bangkok, Goethe-Institut Thailand, the Embassy of France and Film Archive who worked together on the Art Centre Film Festival which screens movies, documentaries and animations free of charge at Silpakorn University Art Centre.
Urban Ally offers many activities to encourage participation at City Square's playing room, that is, BMA Bangkok City Hall. Health and fitness enthusiasts can join Thai Fit Studio where exercise is combined with traditional dance movements created by Madaporn Noynid; Thai Fit is available Feb 4 to 11 from 5-6pm. The playing room also lives up to its name by giving buskers an opportunity to present their musical talents on Feb 9 from 6-9.30pm.
City Square as a ‘playing room’.
Maen Si Water Pumping Station was shut down more than a decade ago but its eye-catching buildings and old tank remain. From Feb 4-12 at 6pm, FOS design studio points up the charm of this historical site with special lighting design and projection mapping.
Another project organised by Urban Ally is Creators in Residence at Phra Nakhon district. Asst Prof Singhanat explained that Urban Ally selected four Thai creators and four international creators to reside in Phra Nakhon to learn the culture of the district and later design exhibitions for BKKDW.
Nuttawadee Suttanan, a Thai creator in residence, is a co-founder of Sonjai House which is best known for the exhibition "New World x Old Town" that took place in the abandoned New World Mall in Bang Lamphu area. For BKKDW 2023, Sonjai House organised the exhibition "Gold Grows Glow Goldsmith District Story Through Gold Story" which takes its name from Ti Thong Road meaning Gold-beating Road. Nuttawadee said that at the beginning of the project, she assumed that Buddhist alms shops in Phra Nakhon were related to gold-beating. After conducting research and speaking to people in the district, she discovered that her assumption was wrong.
‘Thai Fit’ entails movements mixed with Thai traditional dance.
"During the reign of King Rama V, royal goldsmiths who made gold-leaf paper were allowed to work outside the palace. Therefore, royal goldsmiths relocated to work in the area of Ti Thong Road," Nuttawadee explained. "After that, making gold was not limited only to palaces. People were also allowed to make and purchase gold. As a result, many goldsmiths who made gold-leaf paper resided on Ti Thong Road. However, in the present, there are no goldsmiths who make gold-leaf paper on Ti Thong Road.
"Early in the Rattanakosin period, Chinese migrants who moved to live in Trok Fuean Thong nearby Ti Thong Road were goldsmiths, but they made gold jewellery not gold-leaf paper. These Chinese goldsmiths passed on their gold-making skills to Thai employees who mostly came from Isan. This business passed on from entrepreneurs to their employees rather than to their family members. As to the Buddhist alms business, I discovered that it is not related to goldsmiths on Ti Thong Road at all. They started by making robes for monks and changed to selling Buddhist alms, which they have been selling for the past 40 to 50 years," said Nuttawadee.
Located at Bumrung Nukulkij Printing House, the exhibition "Gold Grows Glow Goldsmith District Story Through Gold Story" is separated into three sections -- Gold-Leaf Paper, Buddhist Alms Shops and Gold Jewellery.
Organised by Urban Ally, Creators in Residence is another project in Phra Nakhon district.
"The history of Ti Thong Road is told through artefacts, sound and installations. We used elements that remind people of alms shops to create the installations. For instance, visitors can hear chimes and see fabrics which they normally hear and see at alms shops. For gold jewellery, visitors will see the production process of a gold ring using real tools," said Nuttawadee.
To effect change in the city, Urban Ally has initiated urban design experiments to determine ways a city can change positively in a short time period. Last year, Urban Ally launched the project "Unfolding Bangkok" which introduced three hidden temples to the public. One of the temples was Suan Sawan Temple, an abandoned site built at the end of the Ayutthaya period. The event included project mapping of the temple building and music performance.
"Suan Sawan Temple is located in a community, and people in the area take care of the temple," said Asst Prof Singhanat. "During 'Unfolding Bangkok', we organised a garden in the temple and set up electricity for the buildings. Elderly and young people who visited Wat Suan Sawan during the event said they were glad to hang out at 'their temple'. Like 'Unfolding Bangkok', activities for BKKDW are not artificial. The activities in BKKDW provide an opportunity for people in the community and people everywhere to experience how a city changes. The festival triggers a ripple effect."
The Hall of Sculpture in Silpakorn University.
As event creators, both Asst Prof Singhanat and creator-in-residence Nuttawadee hope that people will visit their events.
"I hope a lot of people of all ages participate in our activities," said Asst Prof Singhanat. "Last year, 50% of our participants were elders, 30% were teenagers and 20% were middle-aged people. The elders told us that they enjoyed walking around the district and participating in the activities at BKKDW, and that if there were more activities like this they would not have to hang out at malls."
For her part, Nuttawadee said: "I hope that visitors will learn more about Phra Nakhon district. Many people assume that the area has only chic cafés, restaurants and Buddhist alms shops. However, there are many talented goldsmiths in this district, and I hope people will learn more about them. I encourage people in the community to visit the exhibition. If they visit the exhibition, they may feel a sense of pride for their district."
Mit Bamrung Muang runs at Phra Nakhon district until Feb 12.
For more information about Mit Bamrung Muang, visit facebook.com/UrbanAlly.SU.
For the activity schedule and details of Bangkok Design Week 2023, visit bangkokdesignweek.com/bkkdw2023.
Nuttawadee Suttanan, left, co-founder of Sonjai House, and Asst Prof Singhanat Sangsehanat, director of Urban Ally.