Green-minded projects add colour to Phra Khanong
As Kermit the Frog—that pillar of existentialist thought—once put it, “It’s not easy bein’ green.” Sure, he might have been lamenting his swampy shade, but still the adage rings true. When it comes to nature and greenery in Bangkok, most of the city’s native flora and fauna were long ago razed and replaced by glass towers. So it’s probably no surprise to read that with only 3 sq.m of green per capita, our metropolis has the 2nd least amount of green space among major Asian cities. And while green space has gone down, energy demand has soared to record-high levels. No, being green hasn’t been so easy. But lately property developers have begun to see positive connotations in low-impact, community-minded projects. Nowhere is this more evident than Phra Khanong.
Between the Ram Intra Expressway and the Phra Khanong Canal, a once-rundown tract of land is being built up and shaped into a new community. Called T77, the Sansiri-led project will include two condominiums (The Base Park East and West), three housing complexes (Hasu Haus, Garden Square, Mori Haus), a lifestyle mall, and, in 2017, Bangkok Prep Secondary School. While some of the living spaces have already climbed to over 80 per cent occupancy, its first community centre and lifestyle mall—Habito—is just now opening its doors.
In planning the construction of Habito, project developer Sansiri sought out the assistance of Winkreative, an agency chaired by Tyler Brûlé, Editor-in-Chief of design bible Monocle. So naturally the venue’s design integrates smart, eco-friendly elements, such as a breezy open floor plan, reducing the need for air-conditioning. The entire space is filled with greenery, as well, the air punctuated by the soft smell of the frangipani trees and flowering bushes.
For now, the project boasts 15 restaurants, among them a Chefman Express, David’s Bakery, and Muiné, a southern Vietnamese specialist that makes a mean banh mi. More restaurants and cafés will follow, including a 24-hour Tom n Tom’s, but Habito is a community centre, not just a shopping or dining destination. To that end it has a dental clinic, a branch of SCB, a huge RSM Muay Thai gym offering a variety of workout plans beyond Thai boxing, and—its flagship venue—Hubba-To, a partnership with pioneering co-working space Hubba.
Hubba-To has been labelled a “co-creative” space (meaning: it’s not only a place to go to when you get tired of working in your pyjamas at home). The cavernous, naturally lit space incorporates a cooking room, an oven for making ceramics, a darkroom for developing film, and possibly even a recording studio, thanks to interest from Jay Montonn’s Asiola project. Open as of this writing, it’s the most impressive shared creative space in the city, and it might just be a bellwether for the way working environments will be regarded in the near future.
Closer to BTS Phra Khanong, an office building has set out to reframe the balance of art, nature, and work in our world of cold concrete. The much-hyped Naiipa Art Complex comes from architect Chanasit (Dew) Cholasuek and Sabhat (Kaey) Rakitawan, who owns the property. Challenged to build around extant trees, the team consulted preservationists and came up with a sustainable design of the city has never before seen: wood walkways wrap around tree trunks, hovering above a brilliant green lawn, while glass walls let light in open rooms, inspiring creative thought not commonly harvested in four-walled office spaces.
These two new projects are part of Phra Khanong’s on-going transformation (and with a couple of conspicuous empty lots remaining—one on Sukhumvit 69, the other on the corner of Rama IV Road—expect even more developments soon). The arrival of Beat Hotel, Rebel Art Space, and Hof Art Space helped this former backwater earn a reputation as a cutting-edge creative district. In 2014, Japanese-focussed Goja Gallery joined the crowd, lending its street art vibe to the pot. Then, more recently, Tars Gallery entered the fold, showcasing mixed media in an intimate, white-walled shophouse. By day, these venues make the community a colourful place to gallery-hop. By night, it becomes something else entirely.
Phra Khanong has become a top dining spot, much of it centred on the W District’s open-air beer garden. Foremost among the many great venues are brand-new Banh Mi Crispy (yes, Phra Khanong has two places to go for banh mi—visit here for a version with crispy pork); Sod Sai Fish & Chips, a dish that has been sorely lacking at the quality and B120 price point it’s sold for here; and Jacobo Astray’s tapas joint Broken Eggs, where you can get a proper paella on Fridays and its French-fried namesake huevos rotos (“broken eggs”) whenever.
Beyond the beer garden, the bar scene is small, but growing. Pick up a Japanese beer at Goja, or visit proto-Tokyo dive bar Koryoriya-te for umeshu, shōchu, or Japanese whisky and beer. Having to order from a chalkboard menu written in Japanese may seem troubling, but fear not, purists: classic Nippon bar snacks, such as potato salad, are available.
After bar-hopping, stay at one of the city’s most charming rentals on Airbnb, The Mustang Nero, a beautifully renovated commercial building filled out with plants and shrubs. And when you wake up, sweat out the night’s revelries at Training Ground, the cavernous crossfit gym, feeling good about going local and being green.