A young girl in Bangkok wades through the traffic outside her row house to the parking lot across, to play with the only living creature nearby; scrappy plants struggling to break out from under the pavement through the cracks. She breaks the pavement further, making the cracks begin to allow the teetering plants some room to breathe and grow. Decades later, the girl, Kotchakorn Voraakhom, a landscape architect with a long list of laurels to her credit, cracks open the concrete jungle that her city, Bangkok, has become, and allows for the struggling verdure to break free from under years of stifling concrete.

Kotchakorn Voraakhom is the founder of Landprocess, Porous City Network, and Kounkuey Design Initiative. A TED Fellow, an Echoing Green Climate Fellow, an Asia Foundation Development Fellow, chairwoman of Landscape Without Borders of the International Federation of Landscape Architects, Asia-Pacific Region, and featured in TIME magazine’s ‘2019 TIME 100 Next’ list. In 2011 one of the most damaging floods wiped 46 million USD off of Thailand, displacing thousands of people and their homes, including Voraakhom’s. In the projects below we see how she helps communities with contextual climate change, and to live with water, rather than fear it, drawing from the amphibious nature of Thais through history.

1. Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park

Marking the 100th anniversary of Chulalongkorn University, a competition awarded an inclined park design including wetlands, detention lawns, a retention pond, and the biggest green roof in Thailand. After nearly 30 years, developing an 11-acre prime property as a public park, and not commercial, invites interaction through aeration bikes, playgrounds, amphitheaters, gardens, and meditation areas.

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2. Thammasat University Urban Rooftop Farm

Urbanizing terrace farming and activating rooftop dead space, the TURF project lets rainwater slowly zig-zag down the slope while being harvested for Asia’s largest organic rooftop farm. The culmination of the water into retention tanks of about 3 million gallons (1 crore liters) used during dry spells.

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Thammasat University Urban Rooftop Farm ©TED talks

3. Pathumwananurak Park

Situated, right next to a mall, in the Urban Heat Island of central Bangkok, is a 16-acre tribute to King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Inspired by the Thai number 9, which is the shape of the lawn, the park has a lake and sidewalks to soak water and reduce heat.

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4. Sookwana Healing Garden

In the interest of the environment, Voraakhom transformed a helipad atop the Ramathibodi Hospital into a zero waste, zero stormwater discharge, a rooftop haven. Exhibition, healing garden, amphitheater, and food and farming make up the circular-shaped Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Garden.

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5. EGAT Learning Center

Energy can only be transferred. What better way of expressing this than to have a roof garden with elements depicting the yin-yang of energy on the building that teaches environmentally charged electricity generation.

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6. Bangkok Hospital Chiang Rai

The master planning and landscape architecture of this 16000 sqm hospital were completed in July 2018. What is clear from the design, is the deliberate attempt to include the outside and create a holistic calming environment required for a hospital.

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7. Siam Green Sky Urban Agriculture Learning Center

Another thoughtful step towards renewal and regeneration transforms the waste spaces into intelligent and useful marvels. Graffiti on the walls, and farming on the roof. Yet again Voraakhom’s Landprocess references Thai agricultural wisdom with terrace plantations in the urban fabric. To top it off, this farm recycles organic waste from the building below, creating a full circle.

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8. Siam Square One

Adding to the existing famous horizontal open shopping mall in Bangkok is this vertically open shopping mall promoting many pockets of landscaping and interaction spaces necessary to be grounded to the earth while growing upwards. The landscaping that prompted natural lighting gave birth to summer, rainy, and winter courts.

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9. Spring Tower

Completed in December 2019, an award-winning, high profile business center built to LEED Gold Standards with 20% green spaces, closely connected to public transport, reduced water consumption and stormwater output, promoting recyclable materials.

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10. Suan Luang Square

An excellent example of adaptive reuse as sustainable development, this project recognized the Thai vernacular past and sustained the area’s cultural identity by retaining structures of old shop-houses and using the color red to honor the earlier Chinese inhabitants. Every element in the square, like the collapsible gates, and bicycle wheels reminisce about the automobile and bicycle repair shops of the past.

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11. Sena Fest

A community mall in central Bangkok which seems like a jungle inside with a central shaded atrium and columns covered with green looking like trees made to bring nature inside an urban meeting space for the local community.

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12. World Expo 2015 Thailand

Thailand’s contribution to Italy’s World Expo, the pavilion that takes the visitors through the journey of agriculture and farming in Thailand, “Venice of Asia”. Depicting the farmer’s hat and reflecting the different stages of agriculture and the crucial role of water, the building’s walls also mimic the Thai temple walls.

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13. Chonprathan Rangsarit Temple

Meditation is best done in the middle of nature, and that is exactly what this temple has accomplished with a bamboo shaded compound where Buddhists offer food to the monks and listen to sermons. Solving the problem of zoning management and car parking, the 45000 sqm park allows for many community activities for the monks.

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14. Thammasat Smart city

Set to take shape in 2034, Voraakhom developed the master plan to include a community center and promote the missing meaning of Thammasat, Buddhist Teaching. Infrastructure and transit development, focusing on connection to the train station to the city, involved public hearings of the staff and students of Thammasat.

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15. Siriraj Hospice Center

Located in Nonthaburi, the Masterplan for the 92000 sq m campus of the country’s first palliative care center for terminally ill patients is a zoned landscape relating to the five Buddha elements. True to her ideologies, Voraakhom addresses the site’s frequent flooding with a retention pond in the middle of the landscape for rainwater.

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Sahil Tanveer
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