Monday, 12 September 2016

Thailand – You’ll Never Work Alone - and the UK Creative Industries

Khun Anchalee Kongrut makes some very interesting points in her "Bangkok Architecture Mish-mash" article on architecture in The Bangkok Post last week.

The fuss over the new MahaNakhon skyscraper “The Pixel Tower” and use of a German architect is a little worrying for any farang-in-a-vest like me, and for Thailand plc and the warmth of welcome in Thailand for foreign businesses, especially given the 90% fall in Foreign Direct Investment.

Surely on that basis alone Thailand plc should be encouraging foreign business?

We’ve seen in UK recently with the Brexit silliness, and the knee-jerk racism of UKIP, the chilling effect on foreign investment and a brain drain of EU nationals. France and Germany are rather cleverly and cheekily running advertising campaigns to encourage emigration in the STEM and Digital Industries and Creative Industries from London and Manchester etc to Paris and Berlin.

That said, Khun Anchalee’s views on the Robot Building of United Overseas Bank, and general mish-mash state of Bangkok’s architecture is very interesting.

In my advertising role, clients such as Schuco I consider as architectural art, or Cardiff Bay Redevelopment one of the most successful regeneration of projects in Europe with the Zaha Hadid-designed Opera House. Kent’s Thames Gateway 2050 project stretching over 40 miles of the North Kent coast to London Docklands and Essex coast has similar potential, and supervised by Lord Heseltine who oversaw the development of skyscraper-central Docklands and Canary Wharf 30 years ago.

The UK generally has an excellent reputation for town planning with parks and preservation of historical buildings and riversides. But too often destruction by town planner can take over with white elephant shopping malls, hideous car parks and ring roads and drab town halls.

Here in London the excess of skyscrapers (and novelty skyscrapers at that) such as The Shard (Europe's tallest building) or The Walkie-Talkie building (34 storeys-525feet) or The Gherkin (41 storeys-591feet) and The Cheesegrater (48 storeys-738feet)have caused concern over the London skyline, Prince Charles famously referring to the National Gallery extension as a carbuncle, and just last month the view around Parliament – a UNESCO heritage site – gained increased protection from such skyscrapers.

The concern is that by 2025 with a new wave of skyscrapers, London's skyline could be completely altered and for the worse - both Big Ben and Parliament and St Paul's Cathedral are only 20 storeys high. The annual London Tall Buildings Survey and The Skyline Campaign are expressing concern calling for tighter planning regulations.

The demolition this week of the iconic Isle of Grain Chimney, on the Kent-London border, the largest concrete structure in Europe, twice the size of Big Ben, and marginally taller than The Shard, represents the restructuring of Docklands.

As an aside, East Kent’s Charles Dickens set Great Expectations and his iconic criminal Magwitch in the malarial swamps around the Isle of Grain in Kent.

But the Chinese property firm plans for The Spire London, the tallest residential skyscraper in Europe at 67 storeys high, is part of the architectural tale of excess, overbuild, infill and gigantism. Identikit skyscrapers or yet more hi-so malls would also diminish quality of life and tourism in world cities such as London and Bangkok.

In my MP role would Khun Anchalee consider UK support in terms of town planning on projects such as the Chaopraya Promenade (The Embankment riverside walk opposite Parliament is a protected site and the first mega-sewer/water management project in the world) and say Yodpiman and the wider Chaopraya River Walk Partners project?

Even the beautiful Basson docks in HCMC needs careful design management not just a London Docklands-splodge of concrete and glass.

The UK could do with paying attention to the success of the Asiatique docks project in BKK, or the debate in Phnom Penh over the Vattanac skyscraper and Boeung Kak Lake infill.

The Bagan earthquake and tremor waving through Bangkok's skyscrapers represents a self-evident concern for stronger earthquakes in Bangkok's concrete canyons.

Kent has suffered from WW2 bomb damage and V1 and V2 rockets and many towns in Medway, such as Gillingham, or Maidstone are decried as Crap Towns for as-destructive town planning hence the Thames Gateway2050 mega-construction repair project.

But successful town planning can take place - here in Kent we successfully saw off the excesses of Boris Island airport and concerns over Operation Stack Dover ferries mega-lorry park, concreting almost the whole County.

And closure of Manston airport that would have been a cargo airport larger than Gatwick. Near to Gatwick. And Ostend cargo airport, then Europe’s largest cargo airport and overdue for closure with gunrunning and drugs and blood diamond flights into Africa. I know. You couldn’t make it up could you?

And there are sensible initial discussions around Channel Tunnel #2 and Thames bridges.

Last week saw the reconstruction of the whole South Window of Canterbury Cathedral and its 1,000 year old stained glass windows – indeed the Archbishop of Dover Trevor Wilmott (the Archbishop of Canterbury’s right-hand man)used his Easter Message to promote closer Buddhist links in Kent relevant for my Pavilion project, and the work already done by the Thai government with temples in London and Manchester.

I’ve mentioned before my KORA and East Kent Film Office and Studio and Pavilion jazz club and Buddhist temple previously.

The potential must be to define the Bangkok skyline for the future – a huge tourism growth area for Bangkok being the various rooftop bars. I’ve Zeppelin Bar on my wishlist for my next visit specifically for its unusual skyline vista. As well as increasing parks and open spaces (Bangkok having some of the lowest of such features in the world) and as with the Yodpiman project opening up the rivers and klongs as The Venice of the East.

And if Khun Anchalee raises the idea of a better Bangkok then the recent Colliers International property reports may be useful. Bangkok’s 8M square metres of office space may be confined in such towers as The Pixel, but Khun Suracheet Kongcheep of Colliers Property Group highlights innovative office space trends such as serviced offices, mini-offices, home-offices , serviced business parks – and crucially the innovative growth area of co-working office spaces.

Not just a desk and internet connection any more but a quality office community for such companies as Hubba whose motto both headlines this article and namechecks The Liverpool Kop. As well as growth in Facilities companies and jobs to manage such boutique sites along with financing and venture capital and seed capital companies and banks.

In East Kent we have the excellent Fruitworks innovative business hub in Canterbury. Indeed 33% of all employees in Adecco research cited the quality of the office community as key for their workspace. And even more crucially, and something UK is actively trying to redress in its industrial strategy, is less of an emphasis on the corporate giants of Apple or Microsoft or whoever, that tend to yield comparatively little tax and few jobs.

But rather, more of an emphasis on small business and start-ups that generate innovation and growth in jobs, profits and taxes.

And in particular, Thailand and UK could be two nations united in shopping – Thailand’s glittering skyscraper malls are concrete proof of that.

While the Napoleonic insult of England as a nation of shopkeepers is taken as a compliment rather an insult in the UK High St. So, shouldn’t Thailand and UK be active in stimulating retail growth? Both countries could do with each other’s support: this week Marks and Spencer’s the anchor tenant to almost every UK High St (and only 17 stores in Thailand) announced 500 job losses at its head office and revamp of its fashions.

No particular problems at the Great British M&S (over 800 UK stores) just the normal ups and downs of the fashion business, and also a key ASEAN retailer with not just of its stores in Thailand but clothing manufacturing sites in Cambodia, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

As good as reason as any to shop there, and perfect for collaborationwith Tesco Lotus or Jim Thompson or Doitung and other Thai and Laos and Cambodian silk connoisseurs. While Paul Smith and Prince Charles last week began a concerted promotion of the UK wool industry (with a green sheep in sunglasses and an Olympic gymnast display in a suit – wacky but wonderful!).

But back to architecture and the sale of the British Embassy off Ploenchit is a concern in UK and BKK for several reasons. More malls along Ploenchit will create a concrete canyon-effect off-putting for everybody. While the sale would remove all the Embassy gardens and famous garden party events, and a prestigious address befitting the importance UK places on relations with Thailand – in the past, now and in the future.

Innovative property solutions could be found in say UK and Canada sharing the building for maximum use as in the UK Embassy in Phnom Penh. And certainly the garden parties should be a key feature of the Bangkok social and business and sports scene. Why not a 5-a-side footy match or takraw display as well as a green sheep in Raybans?

And shouldn’t the BKK embassy building be a showcase for UK and Thai architects?

While the Thai Retailers Association announced just 2.85% growth – the lowest in 20 years. And if 58% of Thai retail is malls and 96% of these are occupied then the growth area of the future must be Community Malls.

The HCMC Basson not so dissimilar to the design concerns over Fort Mahakan – the UK doing better than most nations in preserving architecture and town centres.
And as Khun Achalee points out with Yaowarat, wouldn’t such sensitive redevelopment be relevant there?

Khun Achalee may want to consider not just the skyline, but also the materials used in Bangkok’s malls and skyscrapers. That old stand-by of construction – and especially in Thailand – wood is making a comeback in Europe.

The 14-storey wooden Treet block of flats in Bergen is the tallest in Europe so far. New advances in Engineered Wood, not just graphene, such as CLT Cross-Laminated Timber and concrete surfacing are both super-strong and fire-resistant.

Useful too in London given the anniversary last week of the Great Fire of London 350 years ago.

Canada is constructing wooden tower blocks of flats at the University of British Columbia (relevant too for extra students at Kasetsart or SPU, downtown heritage sites at Chula and Thammasart?). And Arup Engineers is bridging the design gap with the 21-storey wooden Haut building in Amsterdam. And plans are developed for The Treetop 40-storey skyscraper in Stockholm.

Engineered wood allows for quieter construction with less digging and pouring of concrete and fewer lorries delivering concrete and steel, And of course the ability to carve the material into almost any shape or design.

And the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Natural Material Innovation are working on plans for an 80-storey wooden skyscraper in the City of London which would be the second tallest building after The Shard.

And this week Winston Churchill’s home at Chartwell here in Kent, just a few miles from Chevening the home of the UK Foreign Secretary and name of the UK scholarships to Thailand now tripled, began fundraising to improve the house and develop it as a museum. Churchill taking great pride in his bricklaying work for the extensive garden walls.

But shouldn’t Chevening scholarships also lay the foundation of Creative Industries such as architecture between UK and Thailand.
The dynamic Andrew Glass head of British Council Thailand and Khun Jai are heading up the arts projects have unleashed a veritable tsunami of both arts and crafts eg weaving and printing and education links and conferences deftly ensuring Thailand within the British Council organisation is peerless.

Khun Achalee is right to point out that Chinese shophouses in Bangkok's Yaowarat are overdue a revival and renaissance.

Then as she says, she could hold her high, and enjoy the quality of architecture in Bangkok, and take pride in her town.

Tim Garbutt is director of Sincerity Advertising and PR agency, director of Surin Village School Charity with the first school built in Isaan and plans to build 1,000 schools each year, and is standing for MP in 2020 for better UK-Thailand and ASEAN activity. He gets vertigo.

Misc points:

* July Updates:

* Working on a misc issues: Magellan Anniversary - Spain and LatAm, Almeria Universities links and Kent-Thai orchids

* Also Solomon Islands cruise ships

* Benelux strategy: Panasonic and Phillips - DNA bathroom mirror

* One Essex court and Inns fraud: Grabiner, Glick, Hollingworth, Leavor etc

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