Life in Pixels

Life in Pixels

Life in Pixels

The MahaNakhon Tower in Bangkok is Thailand’s tallest, its 79 floors rising up 320m in the very heart of the city. It is also one of its most intriguing to look at. Designed by the ground-breaking German architect Büro Ole Scheeren, what appears to be a ribbon of pixels excavated into the tower’s sleek surface winds its way up the building, to form a series of interior spaces that are never identical and offer endless possibilities for outdoor balconies and terraces.

A mixed-use building with this sort of dynamism and individuality (it contains a hotel and retail, as well as apartments and entertainment) required an interior design to match. Which is where David Collins Studio came in. Invited to create the 204 Ritz Carlton Apartments, complete with an enviable range of amenities from screening rooms to The Ritz-Carlton Club, and a new kind of Vogue Lounge for Condé Nast, the Studio became responsible for 72% of the tower’s interior – that’s a staggering 80,000 sqm.

“We’d never worked in the region before,” says David Collins Studio Creative Director Simon Rawlings, “but we understand modern luxury, and we felt that these apartments would be for someone who leads a pretty global existence but has a particular love for Thailand. Mind you, it’s hard not to fall in love with the place, especially the sheer energy of Bangkok.”

As the Studio began to develop the show apartment along Park Avenue lines, with a stunning circular receptions hall offering access to both public and private spaces, they simultaneously delved into the local region for a relevant colour palettes (“We were looking at turquoise and natural greens,” says Rawlings, “cobalts and yellows”), textiles and craft skills.

Many of the apartments are in the building’s pixelated zones. “That outside complexity means you have some charming and very unique spaces to deal with,” says Rawlings. “They’re like floating glass boxes, and because they’re slightly rotated you can have balcony with sky above you, many floors up.” Out of 200 apartments, the studio designed 175 different types, as well as the Sky apartments – uninterrupted 1000m2 spaces at the very top of the building. “They were sold as empty shells, but we found that buyers wanted our designs,” says Rawlings.

But the entrance lobby was also a key part of the design brief for Rawlings. “You really have to start at the ground floor,” he says. “People might go in and out 6 times a day, and this is the way to someone’s home, not a hotel, so it has to function like a decompression chamber.” With travertine flooring, shagreen walls, and timber panelled ceilings, the space is cooled and calmed by a green stone waterfall which trickles into a pond of lily pads. “I wanted to bring in water and landscape, as a subtle nod to the Thai vernacular – a nod, not an ersatz version of something!”

In the public parts containing games rooms and lounges, the ceilings have been painted gold to create a more intimate effect, while the swimming pool, on the seventh floor and outdoors, is pure white. “It gives an amazing sense of serenity and cleanliness, right in the middle of this crazy bustling city,” says Ros Keet, an Associate Director at David Collins Studio, who also fell in love with Bangkok the day she arrived. “You’re in 45-degree heat, but the pool area is a total sanctuary.” The wood-panelled yoga room is set off with splashes of colour, provided by triangular Thai cushions covered in brightly patterned fabrics. It is Rawlings’ favourite place in the whole building.

Meanwhile the Studio team trawled the local markets to find specialist craftspeople. A family was hired to embroider sets of bedlinen and headboards; curtains were tie-dyed – which proved easier to deliver here than digital printing. Silk is so plentiful that it was paper-backed and used as wall covering. Keet made excursions to the workshops of metal and woodworkers and nearly 200 pieces of bespoke furniture were made. “We also used straw marquetry for door panels, hand-dyed and laid out in starburst patterns,” says Keet. “it’s extremely resilient.” Sculptures, water colours and paintings on silk were all sourced locally, and later the artists and craftspeople – and their families – came round the apartments and public spaces to see how their work had been installed.

In Conde Nast’s Vogue Lounge, on the 6th floor, the guidelines were a little different. “They like black, white and gold, and to include some of their historic imagery,” says Rawlings. “We found that a lot of Vogue visuals contained stripes, so we went with that, and also introduced a gorgeous lavender colour we found in a 1920s edition of the magazine.”
The result is luscious but intimate and with a large terrace where both the sound system and the outdoor cooling is to the very highest specification.

The late David Collins was the master of reinvention and that prevails in the studio today. “We never take anything for granted, and we look for traditional techniques, then reinvent them,” says Rawlings. “But I suppose the most important thing is a sense of timelessness, which we always strive for.” Indeed, the Studio originally started working on the MahaNakhon project ten years ago. Today it looks perfect.

Caroline Roux is a freelance art and design journalist. She is editor of annual London art guide, Frieze Week.

Edmon Leong is an architecture and interiors photographer based in Hong Kong.