Heritage spanning a century on busy Sathorn Road
Over the past number of decades, Sathorn Road has become a prestigious address for large corporations, hotels, and international embassies. But amidst all the towering condos and office skyscrapers there are still a few European-style villas to be admired, as well as a couple of modern structures offering striking design elements.
Sathorn Road used to be a street lined with the opulent villas of local entrepreneurs involved in trading. The street was originally built to link the Phra Nakhon area to Thonburi, and prosperity came due to the digging of a canal allowing boats to go to the Chao Phraya River. The Sathorn Road of today is now synonymous with luxury and status, and in just the last 20 years this wide boulevard, bisected somewhat by the large pedestrian bridge crossing near the Chong Nonsi BTS skytrain station—has seen a boom in corporate real estate development.
Sathorn’s skyline silhouette is indeed determined by some striking contemporary buildings—a tradition started by the construction of the former Alliance Française Thailand headquarters, which was built in 1966 as a cluster of low-rise pavilions surrounded by a garden. The structure, located at the top end of Sathorn near Rama IV, accommodated virtually all Francophile cultural activities until 2014 when the AFT moved to Wireless Road. In the same vicinity was another typical 70s era complex, the former Australian Embassy. Conceived in 1975, it opened its doors in 1979 and only closed down last year. However, the new owner of the property promises to keep the structure (and its distinctive yellow tiles) intact when it is transformed into a new eco-friendly luxury condominium.
Among the best known of Sathorn’s skyscrapers is the Robot Building, constructed in 1986 by Thailand’s star architect Sumet Jumsai na Ayudhya, who got inspiration from a Japanese robot toy. Further up the road is the impressive Banyan Tree Hotel with its semi-circular top—resembling a giant eye. It remains, to this day, one of the highest hotel towers in town, offering sweeping views all over the city from its restaurant and bar located 60 storeys above the street below.
However, the oldest hotel along Sathorn Road is The Sukhothai Bangkok, which opened in 1991. Its modern design is the work of Kerry Hills Architects, and the property reinterprets and reflects Thai architecture. Long colonnades open onto a pond, courtyards are rhythmed by white columns, and the corridors remind one of temple galleries. In short, the elegance of this hotel is timeless. By contrast, some more modern hotels are setting the trends in contemporary architecture. At the corner of North Sathorn and Rama IV roads the So Sofitel overlooks nearby Lumpini Park. While the building—constructed by the architect firm OBA in 2012—does not look so striking from the outside, the luxury property has been conceived by a team of five designers who have followed the earth’s elemental principles in their design. Floors are themed after water, earth, fire, metal, and wood.
Another distinctive hotel property is the W Hotel at the corner of North Sathorn and Narathiwas roads. Like the So Sofitel the W looks rather uninspired from the outside, with its plain glass façade, but inside visitors will be confronted by captivating artworks from famed Thai designers and artists. The property also blends into its grounds an existing villa from the early 20th century which now resides at the foot of this modern minimalist tower. The former ‘Sathorn Mansion’, now rechristened as The House on Sathorn restaurant, has been admirably restored—giving an opportunity to visitors to get a glimpse of what could have, in the past, been the opulent residence of a Chinese-Thai nobleman.
The House of Sathorn is probably the most beautiful example of this thoroughfare’s past splendour. Built in 1914, the mansion reflected the taste of the time for Italian-inspired, neo-renaissance architecture, with its balconies, verandas and classical columns. It also served as a hotel in the 1920s, and then as the residence for the Ambassador to the Soviet Union (later Russia) from 1948 to 1999. The superb restoration has brought the building into the 21st century as a chic bar and eatery, which also serves as a space for private events.
Aside from The House on Sathorn there are less than half a dozen villas that have survived from the pioneering days of this street. One of them is now the Myanmar Embassy, but it is unfortunately not visible from street level (however you can see a bit of it from the windows of the BTS Skytrain which passes nearby). Another beautiful mansion, which has been restored to its former glory, is the former Bombay Burmah Trading Company, which today hosts the Blue Elephant Restaurant. The property has been refurbished in traditional Thai and Southeast Asian style, and a steady stream of diners are treated to a menu of exquisite royal Thai cuisine.
There are also two churches along Sathorn Road. The Christ Church Bangkok, at the foot of Convent Road, was built in 1905 for the British protestant community in simple neo-gothic style, and looks similar to many small parish British churches across Southeast Asia. Queen Elizabeth II even visited it in 1972. Further down, and on the opposite side of Sathorn—within the compound of Saint Louis Hospital—lies the Saint Louis Catholic Church. Built in revival art deco-style in 1957, it serves as a spiritual sanctuary and a nice example of beautiful yet simple wooden architecture.
INFORMATION: Sathorn Road is easily accessible by public transport via the MRT (Lumphini station), the BTS Skytrain (Chong Nonsi and Surasak stations); and the BRT (Chong Nonsi station).
By Luc Citrinot