Discovering the Creative Heart of Bangkok: A Look into the City of Design

Michael Sopon New

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What makes a designer? One could argue that it’s a combination of training and inspiration. With its rich history of architecture and fine arts, its bustling and vibrant streets, and its world-class schools and public facilities, the City of Angels (no not that one — I’m talking about Krung Thep, otherwise known as Bangkok) is well deserving of its title as a Creative City of Design.

Bangkok’s flourishing cultural landscape

Founded in 1782, Bangkok’s history can be seen throughout the city in the form of beautifully preserved temples and palaces festooned with colored glass, intricately carved naga heads, murals depicting fabled battles between the monkey warriors and the giants in the Ramayana, and statues sheathed in gold leaf.

The Golden Grand Palace of Bangkok in the foreground and the skyscraper view of cityscrape in the background
Source: TWStock / Shutterstock.com

Thai design traces its roots to a wonderful combination of Khmer, Chinese, Indian, and Western influences. Its iconic motifs are seen in all kinds of mediums, such as the ubiquitous kanok pattern.

Thailand’s unique culture and past are all around. Weekend and morning markets, street food carts, busy side alleys, and more. An artist with a block need only walk around the block to fill their mind with sights, sounds, and sustenance. Bangkok is home to over 100 major museums, 60 universities, eight theaters, six conventions and exhibition centers, sprawling green spaces, and more art galleries than Wikipedia can keep track of.

Many of these places are free and open to the public. It’s as easy as crossing a street to catch the latest rotating art display at the National Art Gallery after perusing the various department stores of the Siam shopping district or wandering into the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles after a visit to the Grand Palace.

Collaborations for creativity and accessibility

Seatscape Beyond is a concept for public urban seating which was a part of Bangkok Design Week 2023
“Seatscape Beyond” concept for public urban seating. Source: Bangkok Design Week 2023 Website

The city has grown a lot over the past two centuries, with many of its original waterways giving way to sky trains and highways. However, that same love and appreciation for art remains, with over 35% of the jobs in Bangkok based in design. Drawing upon the immense creative capacity of the capital, Thailand’s Creative Economy Agency (CEA) organizes the annual Bangkok Design Week in collaboration with over 2,000 designers and creative businesses, presenting new possibilities and the potential of creators and entrepreneurs.

UNESCO has accepted Bangkok as part of its Creative Cities Network (UCCN) — no small achievement. As part of its membership, Bangkok has pushed to redesign urban spaces for better accessibility, revitalize historical areas (like Bangkok’s canal markets), and transform underused spaces (like the new Benjakitti Park expansion).

Gp Capt Athikun Kongmee Director-General of the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration shaking hands with Feng Jing Director ad interim and Chief of the Culture Unit at UNESCO Bangkok
Gp. Capt. Athikun Kongmee, Director-General of the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA), shaking hands with Feng Jing, Director ad interim and Chief of the Culture Unit at UNESCO Bangkok. Source: UNESCO / C. Wongot

A pioneering development in recent years has been a concerted push towards sustainable tourism, and cross-sector collaboration is key to success. 

According to UNESCO Bangkok Project Officer Montakarn Suvanatap Kittipaisalsilp, UNESCO and the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA) have jointly worked towards establishing “a sub-regional network of tourism professionals among Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Thailand who have the capacity to maximize and sustain the widespread benefits from our cultural common goods, in other words, our intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and cultural and creative industries (CCIs).”

The final measure of success of any such project will be to achieve a high standard of accessibility, so that everyone may enjoy all that Bangkok has to offer and be inspired in their own way.

Urban architecture from temples to towers

Architecture is a big part of a creative city. It embodies the very essence of a place. Architects (with some help from engineers) shape skylines — and certainly, in Bangkok’s case, they did so with broad strokes. 

From the aforementioned temples to the wooden houses on stilts, to the concrete monoliths of the 70s, to the modern glass and steel skyscrapers, Bangkok has it all. A city where history and contemporaneity live side by side. 

Wat Benjamaborphit or the Marble Temple in Bangkok Thailand
Source: Bule Sky Studio / Shutterstock.com

Bangkok-based universities offer seven bachelor programs in architecture and its alumni have certainly left their mark. Some notable standouts include the Robot Building, the Elephant Tower, the Thailand Cultural Center, Central Embassy, and Rosewood Bangkok. These landmarks are iconic, bold, and exciting.

Cityscape in Bangkok Thailand
Source: MOLPIX / Shutterstock.com

Sustainability is top of mind in the modern world of architecture. Incorporating new green technologies with traditional design features, Bangkok buildings can be elegant, comfortable spaces that aim to keep energy consumption and carbon footprints to a minimum. ICONSIAM, one of Bangkok’s largest and most expensive constructions, was even able to achieve a LEED Gold rating through a combination of water efficiency, sustainable materials, heat exchangers, innovative design, and natural cooling techniques. At the same time, the city is changing its public transportation to more environmentally friendly options including electric boats, buses, trains, and cars.

For those looking to see the latest blueprints and models on the leading edge in the region, Bangkok hosts an annual Architect Expo at Challenger IMPACT convention center — the largest of its kind in ASEAN — where young architects can showcase their work and gain attention from the movers and shakers of the industry.

Owning the runway and the streets

Design has many forms, from the places we work and live to what we wear. Bangkok’s fashion industry has been growing rapidly over the past few years establishing itself as a key player in the Southeast Asian scene. 

Models walking in the Bangkok International Fashion Week 2019
Source: Jade ThaiCatwalk / Shutterstock.com

Thailand is home to a vibrant mix of emerging and established designers who are known for their use of rich colors, innovative designs, and cultural influences — blending traditional Thai elements with contemporary styles and textiles.

In recent years, Bangkok has also been attracting international attention as a fashion hub, with a growing number of fashion events and exhibitions being held in the city. These events provide a platform for emerging designers to showcase their work and network with industry professionals, helping to grow and develop the city’s fashion industry. One beloved event is the Silk Fashion Week in honor of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother, which challenges designers to create different styles using high-quality Thai silk.

All this combined with Bangkok’s eclectic street fashion and its boutique markets offering a wide range of pieces makes the city a fashion lover’s paradise.

Once confined to tourist wear, breezy elephant pants are having a moment. Source: ruji555 & sirirak kaewgorn / Shutterstock.com

City of designers, for designers

What makes a designer? Well, Bangkok.

It is a city that cherishes art and design. It helps young people to grow and seek opportunities in their chosen industry while offering a high quality of life. It nurtures creativity and celebrates art.

The best designers draw from several disciplines to rethink and reshape what they see around them. As Bangkok’s designers flourish, the hope is that the city they live and work in will continue to become more liveable for all of its denizens, become a better ecosystem for businesses and investors, and grow and adapt sustainably into the future.

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Michael Sopon New

Michael graduated from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada where he studied Civil Engineering. After working in the engineering field for a few years, Michael moved to Thailand where he worked as a lecturer at Silpakorn University, a translator, a language consultant, and a construction manager before he began his acting career in 2013. Since then, he has worked in television, film, online platforms, and cartoons as an actor, writer, and producer.

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