New Gen Designers Refashion Thainess at ‘Code Niyom’

Color ribbons and Nang Kwak goddess were used as the event’s mascots on June 14.
Color ribbons and Nang Kwak goddess were used as the event’s mascots on June 14.

BANGKOK — A new generation of Thai designers showcased reinvented everyday objects at a recent exhibition, giving a modern twist on Thai traditions,

Lamps inspired by nang yai shadow plays, toys inspired by ngan wat temple fairs, and bags inspired by Lanna tung flags filled “Code Niyom” – an exhibition of design student theses from King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok that was held on June 14-16 at the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center.

The brief for the student projects was relatively simple: efficiently integrate Thai aesthetics into daily life. But as the legendary Steve Jobs said, “simple can be harder than complex.”

The name “Code Niyom” itself suggests something extraordinary. “Code” sounds like the Thai word koht, or “freakin’” in English, while niyom means popular – the agenda was trendy revisions of tradition that could become smash-hits.

Thirty-seven prototypes were shown ranging from furniture, decorations, toys, fashion to gifts.

Supatra Kaewsod, an exhibiting student, went about integrating Thai heritage into high-rise living aesthetics by adapting “dragon jars” – pottery once ubiquitously used to store rainwater – into modern bathroom furniture.

“I wanted to design a set of bathroom furniture that kept the characteristics and functions of dragon jars,” Supatra said.

Supatra motioned to a mirror, inspired by the reflection that one sees when peering into a dragon jar. “This mirror captures the perspective of looking into a dragon jar from above,” she said. Other items in the set include a wash basin, a toilet roll holder, and a bin. 

Another student, Sahaprat Chantarasena, produced Hmong-inspired sneakers: strips of Hmong-patterned clothes were sewn onto black sneakers, with futuristic reflectors based on the hill-tribe’s silver accessories.

“There’s been a lot of hype around sneakers, so I wanted to incorporate Hmong styles to make them more fashionable,” Sahaprat said. “This adds value to their tradition.”

Meanwhile Vitchapol Buphavesa designed furniture with the aim of sparking reflection about social issues in urban Thailand. Evoking the unevenly developed metropolis, he created chairs based on bus-stop signs and street barricades, and a table based on manhole covers. A chair with an uneven and uncomfortable seat was inspired by bumpy Bangkok pavements.

“I wanted to design pieces as sarcastic street furniture,” Vitchapol explained. “They would be placed on roadsides to make the authorities see that the problem is persistent and needed to be fixed.”

The prototypes were not on sale, but students are open to investment opportunities.

Supatra with her bathroom furniture.
Sahaprat with his Hmong-inspired sneakers.
Sahaprat with his Hmong-inspired sneakers.
Vitchapol with his street furniture.
Vitchapol with his street furniture.
Toys inspired from Mekong Giant Catfish (left), traditional children plays (center), and Himavanta folklore creatures (right).
Toys inspired from Mekong Giant Catfish (left), traditional children plays (center), and Himavanta folklore creatures (right).
Pongpitch and his Ayutthaya knives.
Pongpitch and his Ayutthaya knives.

“Code Niyom” was held at the Bangkok Arts and Design Center, right across the MBK Center. The event was held from June 14 to 16, 2019.