The desire for privacy and the need to belong are a part of human nature. Tonkao Panin looks at a housing project in Bangkok by CASE which aims to reconcile these two often conflicting needs.
Do we want to live alone? Do we need company of others? These simple questions are not easy to answer. As our dwelling habits all differ, it is never easy to tell at which point privacy does turn into unbearable solitude, and when exactly socialising becomes too overwhelming.
TEN Bangkok is a housing project that begins from these questions, aiming to re-define the notion of community and individuality. It offers alternative understanding to both housing design and dwelling concepts, while it explores the fundamental relationship between the two aspects.
To what extent can housing design and dwelling be cooperative? If each and every inhabitant is involved in the design process, then, at which point does design end and dwelling begin? How can one ‘create’ and ‘own’ a place that also belongs to others?
The issue of cooperation between architects and inhabitants has been the focus of CASE Thailand, the creator of TEN Bangkok. CASE, or Community Architects for Shelter and Environment, is a group of Thai architects formed in 1996 with central interests in alternate housing visions. Its major concern lies in the relationship between dwelling and context. Both the physical environment and the human element of the place are considered vital to CASE’s housing mentality.
In many ways, TEN originated from the current housing problems in Bangkok. For people on medium incomes, over-priced housing is out of reach, but they are also ineligible for government housing aid. Hence, they are forced to enter the vicious circle of Bangkok housing, with neither opportunity nor choice.
With this problem in mind, CASE Thailand began to shift its focus towards the concept of community. What would happen if each of these powerless individuals began to build their strength through collaboration with others? As a collective force, would they be able to create a home specific to their needs? As individuals, each remains powerless, but as a community, their economic and creative power can multiply. So, CASE began the process of initiating, looking, searching, discussing, negotiating. As a pilot project, CASE began by searching for the project’s prospective inhabitants who might share the same desire for an ideal home. This concluded with ten willing members of various professions, eight of whom are young Bangkok architects.
The working members/designers/inhabitants of TEN Bangkok then looked at site selection. First and foremost, the land had to be affordable. The site had to be situated in a location that was equally convenient for everyone. Future expansion of Bangkok’s transportation system was thus taken into account. This meant that currently the site does not have to be situated in the most convenient location of the city. All aspects of the context were considered as a potential framework for the design.
TEN Bangkok gradually became a collaborative project which requires contributions from everyone involved. In terms of the physical collaboration, the project would occupy a single plot of land, divided into ten subplots. The footprint of each subplot is equal. Each inhabitant would then act as the designer of their own home, in collaboration with their neighbours.
This method of sharing a single plot of land resulted in the mandatory design collaboration between each inhabitant. Everyone involved would have to set their individual and collective design and dwelling criteria. One could not simply insert one’s own design into the site regardless of careful consideration and negotiation with others. Ultimately, each house would – conceptually – be born out of the site and context, along with other houses. Each inhabitant would, therefore, own a house in a place that also belonged to others.
TEN Inhabitants and Cooperative Design
Ten co-existed dwelling unit means much more than ten varying needs. TEN Bangkok’s unique inhabitants can be understood in terms of both their similarities and differences. Although sharing certain visions, they also differ. They may have something in common, but in details, their ways of lives, dwelling habits and preferences are hardly similar. Thus the question that predicates the design is: to what extent can each and every particular need, requirement and criterion be fulfilled? And to what extent can each inhabitant conform to the collective living within the community. Thus both the individual and collective dwelling criteria needed to be established before the design began.
TEN did not result from the design of a single creative genius. It is a housing project in which each and every unit was born along with the others; each and every design could not be done individually. Although the actual design began after the dwelling criteria were established, each inhabitant began to dwell within the project even before the actual design started. As they worked together to frame the design, the community was formed and the cooperative dwelling began.
Architecture in this case did not result from the architects’ determination and control. Rather, the architecture was the fruit of cooperative design where the architects were the clients and the clients were also the architects. Each design resulted from laborious negotiation with others. Therefore, each and every design had to be shaped and reshaped collectively. As the design transformed, the dwelling requirements of each inhabitant were also reconstructed. The result is a unique collective project whose sense of totality is marked by the diversity of each individual design. Coöperative design works if it also allows individual identity to emerge.
TEN Bangkok set itself up as an experimental project in search of alternate housing visions. This also opens doors for possibility. It may provide choice and opportunity for those who are sympathetic to TEN’s working method and concept. Thus TEN may become a model for the kind of housing suitable for both individual and collective application, as well as for specific locations.
Photography by Pirak Anurakyawachon
CASE (Community Architects for Shelter and Environment)