Open House

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Bangkok, Thailand

Open House is located in the Central Embassy complex 50m above Bangkok. Within this vast 4,600sqm double-height interior, a village of spaces has been created, each with a familiar human scale - restaurants, lounges, bars, galleries, stores, pop-ups, libraries and workspaces that all seamlessly fit together. A space that anyone can feel comfortable in, feel at home in, spend all day in, relax in and be inspired in. A place to hang out, a place to play, a place to catch up on work and a place to eat and drink.

Today’s mega cities - especially in Asia - have turned their back on the people who visit, live and work in them. People are either working, shopping, eating or in transit between spaces. There is nowhere to pause, take a breath, sit or simply get back in control of your senses, especially in the stifling heat of Bangkok. Open House was seen very much as the antidote to this - it is an oasis, a getaway - a place where you can feel at home.

The brief revolved around fourteen restaurants and bars, a bookstore, a co-working space, a kid’s space and various communal areas. With so many components and functions it became clear right from the outset that navigation was the key to the project. How could we break down this aircraft-hanger-like space into an understandable and seamlessly connected village? By developing a series of towers for each of the restaurants we could:

- Make the restaurants visible from a distance by making the towers act like totems
- Hide the kitchen hoods and ventilation ducts
- Enclose many of the columns with the space and reduce their visual impact

The towers are clad in a family of different timber fretwork patterns; the variety in these patterns serves to change the way light passes through the towers as you move through the space. During the day the towers seem more solid while at night they dissolve, creating interesting layering effects and moiré patterns. Mirrored panels on the ceiling around the towers make them appear to extend beyond the space and also break down the immensity of the ceiling.

The bookstore element, rather than being a large square box, is instead linear and weaves its way through the space - a path with rest spots along the way where you can pause and read. A tall book tower anchors the bookshop at one end of the space, and a large double height library wall wraps around at the other end. The bookstore seamlessly integrates into the bar and restaurant spaces and allows people to browse freely. In a world dominated by online book sales, highly curated bookstores like this, which focus on Asian art and culture, are becoming increasingly important and popular now that the physical browsing experience is everything.

Open House also includes ‘the greenhouse’ a co-working space which is located behind the book wall and provides a quieter, more secluded space for working as well as a suite of meeting rooms. Food and drinks from any one of the restaurants can be ordered and delivered to your desk.

The Central Embassy complex is in a surprisingly leafy area of Bangkok, overlooking the British Embassy complex on one side and more green tree tops on the other. We wanted to extend this notion of greenery inside and so suggested that the whole of Open House stay under a huge canopy of leaves. To achieve this and reduce the impact of the extensive white ceiling, we devised a pattern of leaves that spreads across the whole space. The 9,600 leaves were hand painted over a series of six weeks and collectively create an amazing art work, an iconic and memorable element of the space.

Activating the space with talks, book signings, culinary workshops etc. is key to keeping the space alive and a vital part of the city. ‘The steps’ seating area allows for this kind of activation very easily, whilst also providing a related seating area when it is not being used for events. The kid’s play area is abuzz with noise and fun and there are children-friendly restaurants nearby – Open House truly is for everyone.

Over the last few years Bangkok has become a sophisticated world-class retail and food destination. With the city changing so quickly the challenge was how to design a space that would always be a part of the moment and always be a familiar retreat - a true Open House.

Since opening the space has been a huge success, it is used by local and tourist alike. Open from 10am to 10pm Central Embassy are now looking to extend opening hours both morning and night. The most common social media comment? ‘Why doesn't every city have an Open House?’

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