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New Design School Interview: Somkiat Lo-chindapong

Interview: Somkiat Lo-chindapong
Deputy Managing Director

Q: Please describe your architectural design approach for school projects. Somkiat Lo-chindapong: The idea of “21st century learning” in which teachers are well-informed, classrooms are flexible, and corridors are more functional spaces for interaction, is actually something we have been exploring for some time. All of these points act as basic guidelines for us.

SL: Applying sustainability to a project is no longer questioned as we now automatically include it in our thought process. We always encourage teachers not to use air-conditioning if the weather is nice. We always actively promote cross ventilation and other similar strategies. Even practical issues of sun or rain protection, with current advances in technology, should adopt more aesthetically pleasing design solutions. There is a lot that we can continue to work on, even with simple spaces like corridors and walkways.

We also discuss a lot about emotional impact. Corridors would be designed with space for students to sit and talk. The railings could allow students to lean on while having a chat. Stairs could also perform multiple functions.They could have wider steps that are convenient for people who are on the phone while walking or who are having conversations with friends. This is part of our design approach at Architects 49 (A49), which we would describe amongst ourselves as “sensitivity.” Mr. Prabhakorn Vadanyakul, President and Managing Director at A49, stresses

this idea of “sensitivity” or, in other words, the emotional impact that comes with attention to the smallest details. Stairs are not only for moving from A to B. With some adjustments, like lowering the steps or widening the landings, people will move at a slower pace. People who walk while using their phones will feel more at ease, because they won’t have to worry about falling. I talk a lot about phones, because they are embedded in our daily lives. We would add seating areas in front of the dormitory bathrooms

so students can sit and chat while waiting. Even concrete railings are finished with wood, which is much more pleasing to the touch and appeals to the soul. These are ideas that we apply to every project, not just schools. At A49, the five senses, sunlight, and wind, all come into play. Little details like this define our spaces and our design approach.

Q: So, to put it simply, the A49 approach, in terms of school design, is not form-based but rather emotional or sensitivity-based.

SL: It might sound a little cliché, but we start working from what is practical, and then add sensitivity-based features. We have worked with this approach for quite a while now. In the past Mr. Nithi Sthapitanonda, Founder of A49, would suggest that we add a glimpse of light at the end of a dark corridor so that it feels a little less melancholic. We then have to think about how to let the light in and allow a breeze of wind to blow through. These kinds of subtle gestures give the practicalities a more human touch. 

We also focus on the physiognomy of a school in our designs. Every school should have its own distinct characteristics– Roong Aroon School (designed by Arsomsilp) is a good example of this. An example from A49 is the new Rajini School in Chachoengsao, where focusing primarily on the school’s heritage in the design was only possible to a certain extent due to cost concerns. Thus, we went with a more contemporary design while keeping the heritage through the cluster of buildings that act as a community center. After researching into the school’s history, we picked up elements of its identity and determined a particular school spirit that should be kept. Every school needs to find its own personality, its own character, or its own DNA that sets itself apart from other schools. With Rajini School, we suggested that Thai dramatic arts should be taught in a context that is similar to the traditional setting of a Thai pavilion with a wooden floor on wooden structure that requires students to be mindful when taking steps. This is how our design details reflect the school’s spirit. On the other hand, if it is a science school, then it might be full of design elements that would provoke innovation and enthusiasm for creation. Students might be able to adjust or adapt classrooms to their own liking.