This quote is relevant to describe the architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, a successful landscape architect and one of her kind. Growing up in the native precinct of Bangkok, Voraakhom’s house was located next to a busy road with streaming vehicles flooding the lanes 24×7. Her childhood memory of playtime was in an adjacent concrete parking lot. During her playtime, the architect was always fascinated by the green grass coming out of the concrete cracks. These cracks and the greens were what ignited a sense of curiosity and awe in the mind of a budding artist. And later, it came to define her as one of the most successful and innovative landscape architects of her kind.
‘Our childhood defines us’.
Voraakhom had observed the yearly floods and the disasters since her early years. She saw the 2011 floods in Thailand where her own family went homeless. These occurrences affected her mind-set and she wanted a change for her family and her community. This made her rethink the entire spectrum of modern infrastructure. She started questioning and analyzing why the cities reacted the way they did during disasters. She concluded that it is the concrete which has made us vulnerable to climatic disasters. She craved having more of those cracks which had the grass coming out of it. Unlike many of us who complain about the conflicts and ignore it once it has passed, Voraakhom decided to initiate a change. She founded her own firm Landprocess.
Six years ago, she started her project for the CU Centenary Park. As Bangkok is a flat city, it is prone to water clogging due to a lack of space for water retention. The city’s infrastructure has been affected by the very same reason. Along with this, the city has one of the lowest public green spaces per capita in entire Asia. The CU Centenary park has been a key project in defining the contemporary city of Bangkok. This 11 acres’ park amidst the concrete jungle acts as a centric green space. The intention of this park was not to give an aesthetic appeal to the city or to add to its beautification, it was to cater to climate change. The park is tilted by 3 degrees to allow the water to flow downwards. It has a Green roof that houses a museum and other recreational spaces. The roof is the highest point within the park and allows the user to have views of the cityscape from an elevated green perspective. The roof also has a rainwater tank underneath, which can water the plants in the park for up to a month. The park also has wetlands which help in filtering the rainwater. Voraakhom has added a unique feature in this park for the retention plants. These plants have water bikes that are open to the public and can be used as a recreational activity.
The architect intends to add a communal spirit amongst the people and at the same time wants to give the children a childhood they will always remember. Her childhood influences are seen as counterparts to deal with urban issues. This park has been a landmark since its start. Voraakhom has developed it with some intriguing concepts as well. The pathways in the park are created in relevance to the concept of a Raintree, with its wide-spreading shade that adds to the ecology of the surroundings. These pathways have enlarged vehicular roads which are now being made pedestrian from 12 meters to 30 meters. A first of its kind in Bangkok, the wetlands and retention parks are derived from the concept of ‘Monkey’s cheek’. The Monarch King Bhumibol had once said that a monkey can hold food in his cheeks unless and until he’s hungry, the same way Thailand can hold water until the city can put this water to use, thus, the wetlands and retention plants.
Voraakhom has also worked on the Ramathibodhi Hospital roof, which is a green roof with a healing garden. This roof had a former helipad that was rethought and reused. She has also worked on a 36 acres park at the Thammasat University in Bhutantanang. The park has urban farming which will be the biggest of its kind in entire Asia with 7000 square meters of coverage. The topography of the roof helps to slow down the run-off and grow vegetables. The Siriraj Hospice center is another project which is done by Voraakhom in the healthcare sector to provide patients access to nature and healing through it. Kotchakorn believes that the ideology of government hospitals being centric to efficiency must be altered as there’s a need to rethink these spaces by providing a sense of healing to the patients along with a cure.
Voraakhom is the founder of the Porous City Community that helps the communities who are Thai but don’t have an official right to build on the land, due to which they resort to building on the ocean. This community helps in negotiating with the government to sanction these fishing villages. The architect has been influenced by her childhood experiences and the amphibious nature of Thai Culture. Her ideas of looking at green technology in relevance to the surrounding context have made her envision spaces with a humane thought. She has taken major influences from the traditional water management and agricultural methods which she applies to her contemporary designs. Her nature and approach towards looking at a design problem have made her stand out. Her sense of observance towards the bare basics and orienting a solution that needn’t be mechanized is what makes Voraakhom one of the most sought after landscape architect’s in her field.
Apart from being the founder of her firm Landprocess, the architect has also founded the Koungkuey Design Initiative (KDI), which is an international partnership that works with communities to rebuild their public spaces through voluntary processes. She has also designed the 2015 Thailand Pavilion in Milan. She is also a consultant for the Redevelopment Bangkok 250 project. She has designed many landscape projects and has been an active member of community participation.
As quoted by Voraakhom she believes in the power of ‘Tang Jai’ which means firmly setting your heart to your goals. Kotchakorn Voraakhom continues to be an inspiration for change by turning her visions into ‘green’ reality!