Identified as one of BBC’s top 100 most inspirational and influential women of 2020, landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom’s inspiring story is definitely one that will be shared with many generations to come. Strongly determined to create a better environment for her hometown, Bangkok, and to mitigate the devastating impact from climate change, Kotchakorn fully utilised her profession’s expertise to build the landmarks of her dreams. She had foreseen the natural pathway to design urban parks that would not only carve out more green spaces in the urban city, but also heal the city and its people by letting them feel nature’s refreshing vibes and making Bangkok more resilient to climate change. Her unique landscape architecture master pieces have been acclaimed by the UN for their contribution to environmental conservation in the urban concrete jungle and include , the Puey Ungphakorn Centenary Hall and Park, and the Chao Phraya Sky Park.
Let’s explore Kotchakorn’s cool urban transformations.
1. Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park
Located at the heart of Bangkok with an area covering approximately 12 acres, Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park is the first park in the country to be designed by a female landscape architect. To commemorate Chulalongkorn University’s centenary, Kotchakorn reflected on what the university could leave to Thai citizens in another hundred years to come. At the time, society’s concerns with climate change inspired Kotchakorn to create a large scale innovative green park.
The three-degree inclined park, or a park with a gentle slope, features as her main concept to help reduce risks of urban floods in surrounding areas. The park is designed to collect and to hold up to a million gallons of water. Its five components are a water retention pond, a constructed wetland, green roof, water retention lawn, and rain garden, all of which work harmoniously together to contribute to water retention in their own way.
When it rains, the rainwater will be retained in the retention pond in front of the park, before being distributed to 300 varieties of plants and trees grown around the park. In addition to being a water retention centre and green park to help combat Bangkok’s air pollution, the park also serves as a leisure area for people to relax and exercise, and is a much-needed outdoor space in the current smog grey city of Bangkok. If you have the chance to visit this innovative park, you can also enjoy Bangkok’s world renown street food in the area.
2. Puey Ungphakorn Centenary Hall and Park
Now let’s move to the next green park in the suburbs of Bangkok, which is similarly located on university ground. This is the Puey Ungphakorn Centenary Hall and Park (also known as the Puey Park for the People), located in Thammasat University, Rangsit campus with an area of approximately 60,000 square metres. The park was built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Professor Puey Ungpakorn and hosts a 3-storey building resembling the letter “H” for “Humanity,” which represents equality, democracy, fraternity, and the freedom of Thai citizens. The park is designed to tackle climate change with the risk of food and water scarcity as its main concern. Its “Green Roof Urban Farm” is the largest of its kind in Asia and the third largest in the world, covering an area of approximately 7,000 square metres.
As the park’s motto is to contribute to society and its citizens, the “Green Roof Urban Farm” is open to Thammasat University’s students, professors, and staff, as well as low-income citizens, to come and plant organic vegetables for household use, or for sale at the university canteen for extra income. The park is open to the public and acts as the “lungs” for people in the area, filtering out carbon dioxide. According to Kotchakorn, the man-made simulation of a rice terrace, whereby part of the concrete roof is covered with plants and trees, helps reduce the temperature inside the Puey Ungphakorn Centenary Hall, thereby reducing the use of electricity for air-conditioning purposes.
3. Chao Phraya Sky Park
The last masterpiece that I would like to introduce you to can be seen when driving across the Chao Phraya River on Phra Pok Klao Bridge and Memorial Bridge. Once here, you cannot miss the spectacular view of the innovative Chao Phraya Sky Park: the very first sky park in Thailand and the world spreading across a river. This park is unique in both its design and location. It emerged from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Urban Design and Development Centre (UDDC)’s Bangkok Master Plan 2017, which seeks to preserve and to restore historical parts of the city. The plan aims to render these historical areas more dynamic in line with the future development plan. With this objective in mind, an elevated but deserted structure across the Chao Phraya River, initially built for a skytrain three decades ago, was turned into another leisure area for Bangkokians, which we now call the Chao Phraya Sky Park.
Despite being only 280 metres long and 8.5 metres wide, people can still enjoy strolling and relaxing in the park, while taking in the stunning scenery of the Chao Phraya River. The sky bridge is designed to be inclusive and accessible for disabled persons and the elderly, with elevators provided to facilitate their visits. If you have the chance to take this amazing walk across the river, you will also see many beautiful, historic structures across the city. For example, the stupa of Prayurawongsawas temple, Santa Cruz Church, the Kudi Jeen community of Portuguese descendants in Thailand, and the grand Pagoda of Wat Arun temple. All in all, this landmark sky bridge will take you on a memorable journey through Bangkok’s history and diverse cultural heritage.
Kotchakorn has truly become a role model and one of the most well-known figures of 2021. She has proved that by standing firmly by her goals, she was able to thrive in developing her expertise and realising her dreams. All the three parks that I have taken you through have made a valuable contribution to mitigating the impact of climate change and providing Bangkok with much-needed green space and lungs to filter clean air. Kotchakorn’s unique landscape architecture has won praise from both the local community and international accolades, so don’t miss the chance to visit them when in Bangkok!