The luxury of wastefulness, exploited by clever design

Real Estate August 30, 2013 00:00

By ML Chittawadi Chitrabongs

Bangkok's most charming open space recently became even more interesting when Parsi Indian conductor Zubin Mehta led the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert framed by the majesty of the Grand Palace.

Before this spectacle, Sanam Luang conjured impressions of an older era and offered up picturesque scenes from a tinted yesteryear. Mehta’s open-air theatre was designed to highlight the aesthetics of cultural juxtaposition. 
Red carpets paved the way from the footpath surrounding Sanam Luang through to the reception and seating areas hidden behind tall partitions. Guests in formal outfits slowly walked on this ribbon of red towards their assigned seats.
The vista of the Grand Palace was scenic even from the lower steps of the theatre. The music was fantastic despite the primitive sound system. Photographs cannot convey the magic suspended in that space on that day. 
Bangkok showed its usual hot and humid face, but a steady breeze mercifully cooled this pop-up open-air theatre. Neither luck nor Mother Nature was responsible for Sanam Luang’s balmy weather that day. The cool breezes blew from the gaps between the risers, the edifice on which the audience seating was arranged. The air-conditioning outlets were hidden from sight. 
This is by far the best example of energy wastefulness we have encountered in a long time. Bangkok’s inhabitants are generally familiar with indoor air-conditioning. They may be accustomed to outdoor air-conditioning in demarcated spaces such as the courtyards of luxury hotels. On this night, however, thousands of people enjoyed an artificial microclimate within Sanam Luang. 
A total waste of energy, in this case, enabled pleasurable living in Bangkok. 
Wastefulness can be read as a sign of luxury. Extra money buys limited goods and services, and the limited item, at Mehta’s theatre, was not a feature such as lighting, which at some point in the evening becomes necessary and not optional. Cool breezes in Bangkok, on the other hand, provoke the sense of magic in the air: the weather unusually good, the right seat, and the wind blowing. 
Cool air affects our sense of space. Sanam Luang was converted into a theatre that could have been sited anywhere except, ironically, where it actually was. 
The ratio between gain and loss is important in architecture. The subtle application of something additional to the norm can transform an entire space at proportionately little to no cost. Elevating the ceiling height a foot higher than the legal standard is a simple strategy to create a luxurious effect; there is suddenly more air to breathe. The act of waste does not always signify a loss.
Wastefulness can be a means to an end. A similar example concerns time. 
For busy professionals, it can be luxurious to devote time to no practical purpose. An architectural representation of this is a distant approach from front gate to main door, a long arcade, or convoluted passages. 
Thai architect Lek Bunnag, for an example, demonstrates this technique at The Barai Spa in Hua Hin. The hotel’s thick walls are decorated with voids shaped like stars. The voids filter light and shadow through the main corridor’s enclosure. 
Even more appealing is the transitory space, a passage that connects the main corridor to the central courtyard. Its walls seem to part like theatrical curtains in its course towards the reflecting pool in the open-air courtyard, which is rimmed by colonnades and frames the sky. 
The Barai approach is dramatic and opulent. Wasting time by delaying its elapse is a tactic for constructing desire, and it can sometimes be achieved successfully by design. 
ML Chittawadi Chitrabongs, PhD lecturer, department of architecture, faculty of architecture, Chulalongkorn University