Bangkok’s historic Central Post Office takes on a cultural brief
I wrote several Joe’s Bangkok columns while seated in the library of the Thailand Creative and Design Center (TCDC) atop the Emporium shopping mall, along with countless stories for other publications—going back to 2008, when I paid for my first annual membership. Founded in 2005, the TCDC was a comfortable and convenient co-working space for days when I needed a change of scene from office or home. At B1,200 per year, it was also much less expensive than commercial co-working spaces around town.
Hence, I was disappointed when the centre closed last year so that it could be relocated to the Central Post Office building at 1160 Charoen Krung Road. Nearly six months lapsed before the new location opened in April. I finally had a chance to try out the new TCDC last month.
Was it worth the wait? Other than the relative inconvenience of getting there—BTS to Saphan Taksin station and a 1.1-kilometre walk or taxi ride to the old PO building, compared to BTS to Phrom Phong and a stroll across the Emporium-linked bridge—I’d say yes, absolutely.
To begin with, the 80-year-old Central Post Office is an impressive piece of architecture in its own right. Considered the city’s best surviving example of Khana Ratsadon (People’s Party) architectural style, the building luckily avoided the fate of the Supreme Court at Sanam Luang, which was demolished two years ago.
Thai architects Jittasen Apphaiwong and Sarot Sukkayang built the grand Art Deco structure in 1940 on the former grounds of the British delegation. A large central hall is flanked by two lesser wings, each of them fronted by six columns representing the Khana Ratsadon’s six ideological principles: power of the people, national security, economic welfare, equality, the protection of rights and liberties, and public education for all citizens. Two huge, red-hued Garuda sculptures envelop the top corners of the facade. Local myth says that when allies bombed Japanese-occupied Bangkok during WWII, the Garudas took flight and protected the post office from destruction, superhero-style.
Today the post office itself has been relocated to a small corner of the building, while the main hall is reserved for private functions. The new TCDC occupies the left wing of the building. New English signage for the building reads ‘The Grand Postal Building’, an exaggerated translation of the Thai signage, which is better translated as “central post office building”.
Helmed by well-known Thai architects Amata Luphaiboon and Twitee Vajrabhaya Teparkum, the architectural transformation turned the empty wing into a vast five-story venue covering nearly 10,000 sq.m. The downstairs lobby doubles as an exhibition space for centre design projects, while the 2nd floor houses the Material & Design Innovation Centre, which promotes innovation and creativity through a database of over 8,000 materials used worldwide for all manner of design projects, divided into polymer, glass, ceramics, carbon-based, cement-based, metal, natural material, and process.
The 3rd floor features meeting rooms, 3D printing services, and FabCafe, a reasonably priced café, while the fourth floor contains the main resource centre library. The main co-working space is surrounded by shelves containing more than 55,000 books covering art history, interior design, architecture, fashion, textiles, graphic design, photography, film, and other fields related to design, along with over 5,800 DVD films, documentaries, and TCDC’s workshops and lectures for playback on iPod and iPad.
The rooftop garden/smoking area on the 5th floor affords cityscape views as well as a closer perspective of the two large guardian Garudas, which were sculpted by Corrado Ferocci (Thai name: Silpa Bhirasri), an Italian-born sculptor who is considered the father of modern art in Thailand and was instrumental in the founding of today’s Silpakorn University. A separate cubicle on the roof houses a small café called The Box.
Lighting and space allocation is well handled throughout the new facility, and despite the challenges in getting here, the centre seems to be very well attended. Access to most of the floors now requires a membership QR code, downloadable to your smartphone, rather than a plastic bar-coded card.
The Central Post Office conversion is so far the most prominent government initiative in what is being hailed as Bangkok’s first ‘creative district’, a term coined by TCDC director Apisit Laistrooglai. In the private sector, a steady stream of art galleries, studios, cafes, restaurants, and bars are opening in restored Chinese-Thai shophouses on and off the Charoen Krung Road, particularly in the Talat Noi neighbourhood. The creative district concept is also linked to architect Duangrit Bunnag’s Jam Factory on the opposite bank of the Chao Phraya River, which has transformed an old factory cluster into Bunnag’s design office, two restaurants, a book store and cafe, a furniture showroom, and an art gallery.
The creative district idea will thrive, I think, only if the next phase involves the conversion of old shophouses and workshops into modern residences.
NOTE: A one-day pass costs B100, or you can enjoy unlimited access for just B1,200 per year.