When construction of the MRT forced a branch of Kope Hya Tai Kee, a Chinese restaurant in Pan Fah, to shut down, one of the owners asked Thapanut Kaewpan and Supassara Netbamrungrat, founders of Blue Bangkok, to create 3D refrigerator magnets of the restaurant as a keepsake for customers.
"It was an urgent project since the restaurant was to shut down at the end of 2022. One of the third-generation owners told us the Pan Fah location was an old branch and it had emotional value. The owner asked if we could produce magnets quickly, so customers could buy them and take photos in front of the restaurant," Supassara recalled.
"We spoke to our 3D designer, Chetachat Tachat, and tried to speed up the process. Normally, it takes us four to six months to finish a project, but the Kope Hya Tai Kee project was completed in a couple of months. When we delivered the magnets, an elderly owner said that they looked similar to the real building."
Blue Bangkok produces souvenirs. Its most famous products are 3D refrigerator magnets inspired by old buildings. Thapanut, the designer for Blue Bangkok, is talented in capturing outstanding features of old buildings such as concrete awnings, curved arched doors, window frames and stucco art and he incorporates these features into the design of his model buildings.
Thapanut explained he discovered a marketing opportunity after graduating from product design at the Faculty of Decorative Arts, Silpakorn University, and working within the community. He also noticed that his mother collects refrigerator magnets from all over the world and some of them were made in Thailand.
"Magnets made in Thailand were not actually available in Thailand. They were produced by impressive craftmanship and sold for US$10-12 [347-416 baht] which Thai people consider expensive. However, I believe Blue Bangkok is able to design magnets of equal quality. I also believe that creating colourful old building keepsakes can encourage people to learn about historical buildings," said Thapanut.
Kope Hya Tai Kee 3D refrigerator magnets.
The first products by Blue Bangkok were 2D wooden magnets. Supassara, who is an administrator for Blue Bangkok, said that even though Thapanut's sketches of historical buildings were beautiful, the company was hesitant to invest in the product. However, realising the potential of 2D wooden magnets, Supassara decided to post them on Chula Market Place.
"During the early days of Covid-19, Chula Market Place was booming, so I posted photos of wooden magnets with a price of 100 baht-plus. The post received positive feedback and some people commented that we should create 3D magnets instead. Those comments encouraged us to find a 3D designer and the first collection -- four buildings in the Phra Nakhon area -- was eventually launched," said Supassara.
As a start-up company, Blue Bangkok experimented with several materials and launched many kinds of souvenirs such as stickers, notebooks and bags. The most popular products were 3D magnets which can be put on refrigerators or displayed in other places. Even though the price of the Phra Nakhon pieces was 350 baht, the product was well-received by customers, so Blue Bangkok launched other collections.
Before each collection was launched, Thapanut and Supassara visited buildings and photographed them. They also read books and researched to understand the story of each building.
The Mario Tamagno collection features four buildings designed by the Italian architect.
"If we did not dig up information, our work would be shallow. If we did not learn about the history of these buildings, we could not explain it to others. When we introduced our collections, we used information that Thapanut gathered and made it easy to understand. We are glad that people interacted with our posts. The posts encouraged people to visit historical areas and buildings and keep the memories of those places alive. Our souvenirs also brought income to communities," said Supassara.
The most popular collection created by Blue Bangkok was the Mario Tamagno collection in 2021 featuring four buildings -- the original building of the Ministry of Commerce, which is the current Museum Siam; the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall; Hua Lamphong station; and Thai Khu Fah Building -- designed by Italian architect Tamagno who collaborated with the Department of Public Works in 1900 Siam.
"Tamagno worked for the Department of Public Works for 25 years. During that time, there was no pile foundation technique, but Tamagno utilised advanced construction techniques to build the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. The construction of the buildings required knowledge of both Western and Eastern aspects since the architect had to consider weather, wind, light and moisture, so people could live there comfortably. I think the Tamagno collection is the best-selling set because it looks spectacular in neoclassic art style. The collection also includes landmarks like Hua Lamphong."
Thapanut and Supassara were initially not interested in launching a landmark collection because similar refrigerator magnets were already available in the market. However, due to the success of the Mario Tamagno collection and customer requests, they changed their minds and decided to create their own landmark collections.
The latest collection, Bangkok Shophouses.
"Each collection features different designs. The first collection, Phra Nakhon, has a simple and realistic style. The latest collection, Bangkok Shophouses, features vivid colours like those used in cartoon designs. The buildings of the Mario Tamagno collection were built to have perspective. I believe that our landmark collections are distinct from others," said Thapanut.
In addition to collections inspired by historical buildings and shophouses in areas such as Phra Nakhon and Song Wat, Blue Bangkok has designed 3D magnets for educational establishments as per requests from alumni such as Suankularb Wittayalai School, Mae Fah Luang University, Saint Gabriel's College and Debsirin School.
Thapanut found it enjoyable to gather information about these establishments. He discovered that Suankularb Wittayalai School has excellent photo archives which allowed him to see different colours of buildings at different points in time. The designer learned that Assumption College was the first Catholic academy in Thailand, which was established in 1885.
"Saint Gabriel's College was the second branch of Assumption College, but the law at that time did not allow schools to have the same name. Therefore, the school was given a different name, and Montfort College in Chiang Mai was its third branch. Debsirin School's old building, named Man Na Rue Mit, was designed in neo-Gothic style. In my opinion, it was the most beautiful school building. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by a bomb during World War II."
After two years of creating historical building magnets, Thapanut and Supassara have seen buildings go through changes and some even demolished. They understand that buildings must change to accommodate the times and lifestyles.
"Our 3D model magnets feature air conditioners, utility poles and street lights to show that the buildings are old, but still present today. These strong buildings have been improved generation to generation," said Supassara.
"Some people believe that conserving old buildings means not extending them and maintaining them with original construction techniques. However, this is not practical and has high maintenance expense. To preserve old buildings, they must be adapted to today's lifestyle. For example, an old house can extend its awnings and be transformed into a cafe. The appearance of Bangkok today is not like it was in the past. In the future, Blue Bangkok may have a collection of old wooden houses, pawnshops and standalone cinemas. Our magnets serve as a record and reminder of Bangkok's atmosphere in the past," said Thapanut.