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The best of Bangkok

SiamCenter_WonderRoomThere’s plenty of retail in Bangkok. Stretched along the busy Sukhumvit Road alone, there are so many huge malls, you wonder where the customers come from.

However, like many cities around the world these days, there is a lot of sameness – how many H&M’s and Louis Vuittons does a city need? But there’s an evolution taking place here, originating in hip areas like Thong Lo and embraced by forward-thinking shopping centre landlords like Siam Piwat. Here are just five examples.

  1. Siam Discovery

The new star in Bangkok’s universe of retail is a hybrid. Neither mall nor department store, Siam Discovery is the best of both. Designed by Japanese designer Nendo, it’s an “exploratorium”, offering a wide range of experiences and styles. Each level is named a Lab, starting on ground with Her Lab, then His Lab on first, followed by Street Lab, Digital Lab, Creative Lab and Play Lab.

In fact, the emphasis is on Play throughout – very little conventional retail can be seen. Owner Siam Piwat and Nendo have created a series of retail experiences that are fun, joyful and thought-provoking. It’s not just about the merchandise; it’s the stories that are spun around the merchandise that make it fun.

Typical is the dining concept of My Kitchen on one of the upper levels. A table-mounted tablet ordering system allows different people at any one table to order from one of five different food concepts and split the bill accordingly. It’s a nice way of thinking that unites communal eating and choice.

  1. Siam Centre

The sister mall of Siam Discovery, Siam Centre is a more conventional fashion-based shopping centre, housing many of the usual youth-oriented brands and the huge Food Republic glass-covered food court at the top.

However, inspired by New York’s Soho, what has been created is an Ideaopolis, a platform for art, fashion, technology and lifestyle. There’s a mixture of high and low technology, from the 500 LED screens of all shapes and sizes throughout the centre to low-budget highly creative boutiques. By opening up the centre to local Thai designers and retailers, often on a six-month lease basis, they have created a truly unique retail fashion offer that’s a true destination.

  1. Terminal 21 Mall

It’s an idea that sounds awful and tacky, but it works. This is a nine-storey themed mall – an eighties-looking concept that was actually opened in 2011. Different floors are themed on international cities.

Rome, naturally enough, is reserved for the luxury brands and decked out with marble sculptures. Harajuku-themed Tokyo on the second level is devoted to womenswear and London on the third floor has menswear with a London transport theme.

Each of these apparel floors has the usual international fashion stores but, like Siam Centre, also features a maze of smaller mini stores housing local Thai designers.

The pièce de résistance is the two San Francisco floors at the top, which are devoted to food and carry the most elaborate theming, from The Golden Gate Bridge replica (complete with miniature cars) to the eat-in cable car replica balanced precariously above a seven story atrium.

It’s executed with passion, it’s a unique customer experience and above all, it’s great fun.

     4. The Commons

Nestled into the trendy Thong Lo neighbourhood, The Commons is advertised first of all as a community, then a shopping centre. It’s certainly not the typical air-conditioned box. Open air and internal spaces connect and flow into each other. It’s positioned as a gathering ground for like-minded specialised producers and divided into The Market, the Village, the Play Yard and the Top Yard.

The Market is a foodie’s playground featuring artisan bakeries, craft beer and quirky food concepts like an egg lover’s restaurant. The Village offers small specialty retail concepts in a garden atmosphere. The Play Yard has a fitness studio for adults and day care for children, while the Top Yard is the home of the communal Commons Kitchen and gourmet coffee shop, Roast.

Everything is linked by a naturally ventilated four level atrium and is envisioned as “a place where you can spend quality time in the neighborhood
while being a little closer to nature.”

      5. The Khun Sales and Information Suite, Thong Lo

Also in Thong Lo area, just down the street from The Commons, this is not the type of developer sales suite you see every day. It’s there to pre-sell the Khun apartment building, a collaboration between international design tribe YOO and the notorious French designer, Philippe Starck. Photography is off-limits inside, but a floor-to-ceiling LED display features not just the usual computer imagery of the completed building and images of the impressive sub- penthouse level pool, but mainly footage of the engagingly modest M. Starck.

In a world of international retail that’s in danger of being swamped by sameness it’s heartening to see some real innovation in Bangkok, a challenging of accepted norms, a focus on community and most of all, a sense of fun being employed.

Gary McCartney is the owner of McCartney Design.


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