Saturday, February 21, 2009


Read about an artist, whom I had never heard of before, in the NYTimes Magazine today. This particular description of his work struck me in the part of my brain that is left open for stimuli relating to my thesis:
’To Storr, the provisional, shifting shape of Anatsui’s art is one of the keys to its originality. In the catalog to the coming Museum for African Art retrospective, Storr argues that Anatsui’s work ‘‘is fundamentally anti-monumental: it does not stand its ground. . . . Rather it takes the shape of circumstances and so epitomizes contingency.’(my italics)

Fabric, network, mesh. Thoughts of Ito's bundled columns in the Sendai Mediateque. Woke this morning, with vague worry of time running out here in BKK, but with the image of bundled sticks. Phrase something like 'a thousand imperfect dreams are stronger..' provided the voice-over. What if the image of the city becomes the vision of too few? (monument) Is what can only be interesting to be found in what emerges in the leftovers? (contingency) The work of many hands:

Old Roman symbol, the Fasces, clasped in portraits by emperors - (including the farmer/general Cincinnatus) - a bundle of sticks.

An agrarian metaphor in the age of the city, which alone marks it. Weaving the waste of the industrial process, making them whole and new.


Or its romanized acronym, TAMC, short for Thai Asset Management Corporation, is the 'bad bank' that was created after the 1997 crisis. The TAMC's website states its mission as follows (and it is a mouthful):
the objectives in managing impaired assets of financial institutions and of asset management companies, debt restructuring, and business reorganization by taking transfer of impaired assets of financial institutions and of asset management companies as well as any other rights over the property being held as collateral for debt repayments with respect to such impaired assets, or by applying any other measures for the purpose of reviving the economy or restoring national stability.

The impaired assets are also called NPL's - non-performing loans - and the website states that in 1999, two years into the crisis, 47.7% of loans from Thai banking institutions were in the NPL category.

What if the building projects that have now been abandoned 12 years after 1997 were thrown into the category of RNPL (R=really), and the goals of an alternate TAMC were to allow everyday Bangkokers to map their desires into and onto the buildings?

Relieved of 'return-on-investment' in a strictly financial sense, these shells are brought back into the social fold of the community, filling a void of services, creating a place for homegrown innovation, etc... Now looking for those who can invest time and energy, if not necessarily a pot of money.


Muang Thong Thani is a 90's satellite city that seems to have drifted out of orbit. Is this what happens when urban planners change direction - the abandoned condo towers here echo the Hopewell Projects 13km of solemn, abandoned arches.

It seems like this was more than speculators getting too highly leveraged before the credit crunch. This area seems the work of developers who bet the wrong horse.

MORE SOON .... .... ....

Thursday, February 12, 2009


One can only hear mention of Charoen so many times before yielding to the tug of Google.
Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi is rich. In fact, he is currently the richest person in Thailand, head of TCC Group (Thai Charoen Corp Group). Whiskey mogul found himself as one of the few with cash on hand after 1997, now the largest land holder in Thailand.

TCC's latest move is Empire Tower, three towers fused together into single building, near Chong Nonsi station.

Of course this search led to skim of Thailand's Wealthiest 40 (lots of families), and spilled over into U.S top 400. Inconceivable wealth, all in all. But I guess the current ghost buildings are derivatives of that wealth (contributing to great volatility in Thai Top 40).

Translating it to the average stock owner, would it be something like having some unpainted lawn ornament, small yet annoyingly immovable, show up after your 401(k) falters a bit? Then someone like Charoen comes around, takes the lawn ornament off your hands on the cheap (it's worth the peace of mind), paints it and sells it for a smart profit.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


From article here.

The business environment didn’t justify doing the office development so we asked [architecture and design firm] Woods Bagot to come in and reconfigure the building as a condominium.

And here is the redesign:
“Fortunately it was a single loaded structure, so the core of the building was at the back. It didn’t inhibit the views in any way and actually lent itself to having a lot of frontage overlooking Benjakiri Park and the Tobacco Monopoly’s lakes. We retained that existing central core...then what we did is put the facilities on the top floors, because there were no provisions on the ground floor, which was actually quite a bonus for buyers giving them rooftop views over Bangkok.”


Ushered in a new era of development in Thailand:

Good PDF document here.

Condo Act of 1979 started with maximum 40% foreign ownership - such that the majority of any condo building was Thai. Condo Act #2 moved that number to 49% in the 1990's, during the boom. Then rewritten in Act #3 (1999) to allow 100% foreign ownership after 1997 crash, provided the building was within the Bangkok Metro and certain other areas (for a limited 5-year period):
(i.e., such Condominium shall: (i) have not less than forty (40) Condominium Units; (ii) when combined with the common property designated for the benefit of the co-owners, its area shall not exceed five (5) rais; (iii) has already been registered at least one (1) year prior to the date a non-Thai applicant applies to register the transfer of ownership over a Condominium Unit; (iv) not be located in a military safety zone). It is believed that the main reason for the enactment of Condominium Act No. 3 and the relaxation in foreign ownership limitation, was the need to attract foreign investors and investment into Thailand which suffered a tremendous decline in its economy and GDP pursuant to the economic crisis of 1997.

It is clear this is a 'See-through tower' amendment. The project needs to be (i)big, (ii)dense, (iii)distressed, (iv)not near royals or the army (ie. undesirable to have finished)

It's worth noting that the Condo Act insures no foreign legacy - in fact,
"..any non-Thai which obtained the ownership of a Condominium Unit by a way of will/inheritance, must inform the competent authority of his/her ownership and “dispose of it within one year from the date of obtaining the ownership thereof7”.

Condo Act #4 (2008) is essential a consumer protection amendment, mostly stating that promotional literature must match the final product, and offer a Standard Contract.
"...If the advertisement material differs from the Sales Agreement, it shall be interpreted for the benefit of the buyer”

So this may be taken as a "No, never again" amendment. A sign that the Age of a New Sobriety has begun.

Q: what to take away design-wise?
Thai majority control.
Land, not building ?
Outside investment as stimulant - controlled like Feds interest-rate.
No foreign legacy of property ownership - what would be a 'legacy-free' building look like? One that faded with its owners...

Condo Act greatly accelerated property development, feeding a bubble, then adapted to attempt to clean up after the bubble burst. Most recently took a sober stance toward developers. No longer the Wild West, perhaps land owners want to infuse a little dignity, drive up existing land values (?)

EDIT ME - sathorn unique

Came up in both lunches, with 'only possible use being a huge massage parlor' (then in the next breath, seriously, but it's not within the massage parlor zoned area).

complete violation of height regulations for south sathorn neighborhood. really banking on 8 storeys of retail space, even that podium looms over the surrounding bldgs.

SL called it a 'vertical shophouse' design. terribly cramped 4m x 16m layout - he told Rangsan this himself, and was 'thanked for his comment'.

so what to make of this beast.

was the 'vertical shophouse' Rangsan's nod to kwaambpenthai, just like his awful balconies?

now it seems to be bought and traded, with no real intention of finishing.

SL stated that it, and other current ghost bldgs, just simply should not have been built in the first place. if so, how could they go away?


So the industry term is 'see-through' building. Informed by real-estate investor SL. Love it. Captures a specific moment in construction project - perhaps one of most possibility to redefine visual identity. And also a high modernist ideal in a way.

How to maintain the 'see-through' quality? What if we've come to expect the porosity, the ability to watch the sun set between floor slabs?


Heard from SL at another tasty Japanese real-estate lunch that two white towers on the Bangkok Noi side of the river have been abandoned because of their view.

Apparently the project was blocked because of the towers' view into the Royal Palace. If true, this is fascinating.

This seems to necessitate a sightline intervention - hmmm - how to block the palace view, while still allowing river views? OR perhaps what is needed is a program that doesn't want eastern light? OR any light at all?

Friday, February 6, 2009


More notes from meeting with JP,PV and EM:

JP noted Thai reluctance of second-hand properties, housing in particular. Notion is very different from western notion - typical pattern is to buy and hold, with the expectation of rapid deterioration. Particularly true near the center of town, where land prices are astronomical - if a property is sold, nearly all the value is in the land upon which it sits, the building is an afterthought.

What might this mean for our hulking, second-hand friends?...
(Could these assumption of rapid deterioration be a translation of traditional tropical design - using lightweight, non-durable organic resources - into the modern era? How might decay/rejuvenation be taken into account these days?

JP noted that SV Garden, and other SV developments, were injection of Hong Kong style and density into fairly unreceptive Bangkok environment.

How could modification involve de-densification?... Do residential towers just want to be alone?


A few interventions discussed in the previous week:

* INFILL RETROFIT to reinforce/replace aging structure: F's question, great provocation. Imagine something like petrified wood - the hollows of one material being filled and ossifying while the original material breaks down.

This could be a gleaners tower, one that grows downward as the begins at the top, removing and selling original steel for scrap.
(JP, real-estate broker, told of how SV Garden even missed their chance to sell scrap - as bottom has fallen out of scrap steel market...)

Remember seismic retrofits in CdM - space truss butressing hospital. Perhaps inhabitable retrofit?

* SHAVE OFF THE TOP: JP off-handedly mentioned revitalizing building by removing topmost floor (so damage moves downward, from most exposed structure?..), then using the lower floors. Wow, what a gesture.

* HALF FILLED/HALF EMPTY: using sections of building, leaving rest fallow. (Have example image)