Not simply another city shopping mall, but an exciting communal space designed by a team of young Thai architects.
Photos supplied by the Department of Architecture
The Commons is the chic shopping mall on Thonglor Soi 17. Consider it the architectural opposite to all other shopping malls in the Thai capital. Why? Well, most malls are planned as a closed space, packed with international chains and bland food halls, while The Commons is an open-air space where creativity can be expressed.
The Commons is the work of the architectural team behind the Department of Architecture. They have designed a new concept; an open space that also becomes a community mall, where owners are“food lovers and people passionate about their production,” says a member of the architectural team. “Vendors and suppliers spoke to us and we were given total freedom to create the place.”
One of the owners of The Commons, Vicharat Vichit-Vadakan, tells me, “We were facing daunting difficulties to give shape to this place. First, we didn’t get any support from financial institutions as they wondered how we could be profitable without having anchor brands such asStarbucks or McDonald’s. We then collected money from friends and people who really trusted us. It took five years to achieve our dream, but it has been and still is, a wonderful adventure,” she says.
The mall had to be within an open space, dedicated to the Thonglor local community. The challenge was to attract locals to shop and explore outside, an idea that few Bangkokians enjoy due to the heat and humidity outside. The Department of Architecture worked out the volume, and opened all possible spaces to let air circulate. They created an open space across various levels where even the underground level would be as important for visitors as the first and second floors.
The appeal of The Commons is its sleek design set around a large open space, created for gatherings and shaped mostly by a large staircase that redistributes visitors’ flow. Minimalist style is ‘de rigueur’ with its raw concrete structure, enhanced by woods and metals.
The Commons starts with ‘The Ground’, consisting of steps and ramps integrated with platforms, seatings, planting and small kiosks. The area is well-shaded under the large concrete roof covering the third and the fourth floor structure, protecting visitors from the elements, but also providing enough ventilation to have a sense of snug and cosiness.
Space has been of utmost importance, “particularly open, non-commercial spaces deliberately set to give the public a sense of comfort and good feeling,” is how Vichara describes it.
The top floor is an airy semi-outdoor space with gardens and a terrace offering sweeping views to the neighbourhoods of Thonglor and Ekkamai. Creating these open spaces on the top floor with vistas over local areas was made on purpose to provide a solution to the general challenge in a mall of attracting customers to upper levels.
The Ground with its steps and intermediate levels were an invitation to go naturally to the second floor. From the second floor, the impressive staircase and the discovery of open spaces encourage visitors to explore the upper levels. The openings in the third and the fourth floor give a sense of continuity to all spaces. Ventilation, fans and shutters have been used as pieces of decoration, providing a further touch to sophistication.
After over two years in existence, The Commons has turned into one of the most popular places to meet in the Thonglor community. At the same time, the mall has played a social role, organising regular events such as art weekends and culinary activities.
“We are so pleased about the result that we want to bring The Commons concept to new areas. We will soon be present in the Saladaeng/Silom area with our second Commons. It will be different in its essence with our Thonglor Commons, but the fundamentals we used will be the same. And I can already tell that we are not asking for any loans from banks,” says Vichara.
The Commons is located on 335 Thonglor Soi 17 in Khlong Toei Nuea. Open from 8am-1am everyday. Closest public transport is Thonglor BTS station.