BANGKOK — Flames erupted over the Chao Phraya River again when one of the nation’s top architects pointed out that recently unveiled plans for a structure anchoring a controversial river redevelopment project were identical to that of a famous British architect.
In fact, architect Duangrit Bunnag said the design for the signature landmark Viman Phra In (Paradise of Indra), a monumental structure which will house a museum, came from a 3D model of architect Norman Foster’s work available for free download online.
On Tuesday, he asked the international architecture community to bring the story to Foster’s attention and offered his help to bring legal action against the university-hired boardwalk design team.
“The use of a model open for the public to download for free is common, but as a small part not the main design,” said the prominent architect, who has been a vocal opponent of the junta-driven project to develop concrete walkways along the river. “The 120 million baht design cost of this project was paid using our taxes.”
The issue was first brought to public attention Sunday by activist group Friends of the River, which has organized against a project they say was poorly conceived, destructive to riverside communities – and just ugly.
The junta has said it wants to build a monumental tourist attraction that will be an object of pride for the nation.
Members of ‘Friends’ said the design by the firm contracted by King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang and Khon Kaen University, looked like Foster’s design for the Crystal Island, a Moscow project described as the world’s largest structure.
Design team A-Seven denied plagiarizing Foster; in fact, a representative insisted they have never even seen his work. They said the design was inspired only by a Thai-style chedi.
Design team head Watchara Chongsuwat went one further in a Matichon interview, asking why people didn’t consider Foster the copycat as chedis are – in his words – Thai architecture.
Initiated by the junta, the project began as concrete walkways for seven kilometers along both sides of the river. Contractors subsequently added more structures, such as the sprawling Viman Phra In, as well as redevelopment plans for the surrounding land.
Opponents slammed the design team’s work and said the seven months allowed by the junta was not enough time for the feasibility study and that public hearings were far from inclusive.
The team also presented a screen capture showing their design in a rendering program. But Duangrit said it proved nothing more than they imported the model.
“They can download the model and adjust it in the program, adding more detail. But that doesn’t prove they designed it,” Duangrit said. “For the most simplest point, their design still looks just like Norman Foster’s building.”
Crystal Island by Foster and Partners was first proposed in 2007 but was put on hold after the 2008 financial crisis.
The architect, who has campaigned against the river project since it was announced last year, said plagiarism violates the Thai Architect Council’s regulations. He said the council has the responsibility to investigate. Should they be found guilty, it can revoke their license.
“My worry is that this is a project from the government, and if their license is revoked, the contract will be scrapped.”
The design team announced Monday that it will present its plans to City Hall on Sept. 26. Construction is expected to begin in early 2017 and completed mid-2018.