Top: Krirakrit Worawetkulsage via Creative Migration / Courtesy
BANGKOK — A 120-year-old home that once belonged to a noted Siamese reformer is opening its doors to the public as a nexus for art, culture, social innovation and more.
Since last week, anyone is welcome to walk into Bangkok 1899, an architecturally rich residence where they can sip drinks concocted from edible plants picked from the garden on their way to educational workshops, music performances and art installations.
The two-story mansion is a local adaptation of the European Renaissance Revival built in 1899. It was designed by Mario Tamagno, the Italian architect also behind the beauty of the the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, Hua Lamphong Railway Station and Neilson Hays Library.
Its original owner was Sanan Devahastin na Ayudhya, who’s known by his noble title Chao Phraya Thammasakmontri. He is well-known as the former Education Minister who proposed the idea of establishing Chulalongkorn University – Thailand’s first. In terms of recreation, the man brought football to Thailand and was also an author who composed the iconic cheerleading song “Grao Gila” that proclaims “sports, sports are magic medicine.”
Since then, it passed on to new generations. After being left unoccupied over a decade, it has found new life as Bangkok 1899, a “cultural and civic hub” established by Creative Migration, an international arts organization based in Los Angeles and Bangkok. It has received major support by The Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Motor Co. Fund.
Inspired by creative spaces and arts hubs around the world such as The Swedish Institute in Paris, Islington Mill in Manchester and The Land Foundation in Chiang Mai – Creative Migration founder Susannah Tantemsapya said she wants Bangkok 1899 to be a “light-hearted atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.”
“Our open space encourages individuals to pursue the lost art of leisure, unburdened by consumerism. Our hope is that the public can come together, experience art, have discussions and discover new avenues of creativity,” Tantemsapya said.
But a challenge remains to reaching that public. Since this is the first time in over a century it has opened to the public, many neighbors still cannot believe they’re allowed to walk through the gates.
A neighbor across the street calls the house a “palace,” Tantemsapya told Khaosod English.
“How do we get people to feel that this place is theirs too?” said Tantemsapya. “How do we make our mission and programming accessible when it can easily be viewed as high culture, more of an upper-class pursuit? This process will unfold over time, and I’m certain that we will learn valuable lessons on how to engage with the public-at-large.”
On Feb. 16, which marked the soft opening of Bangkok 1899, New Zealand’s Shayne P. Carter played pinch harmonics on his electric guitar alongside Thai musicians – Piyanart “Pump” Jotikasthira of Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band, ToomTurn Molam Group and transmedia artist Arnont Nongyao.
Carter was Bangkok 1899’s first artist-in-residence.
The goal is, in exchange, that Arnont will travel to Carter’s hometown in Dunedin, New Zealand.
“There is an amazing experimental music scene down there and it’s a perfect fit for Arnont. Also, Shayne is already planning to return this winter to continue working with all his collaborators. I would say that the first residency was a big success,” said Tantemsapya.
“Over the past several years, I have witnessed the burgeoning landscape for arts and culture, especially in the contemporary scene. There is more international recognition, and I would like for our artist residency to contribute to the global conversation,” Tantemsapya said.
The building’s attic, which is now empty, will be turned into a space for a unique light installation by London-based contemporary Thai artist Tuck Muntarbhorn, according to Tantemsapya.
‘Social Impact Cafe’
Nestled in the back of the building is a “social impact cafe” where zero waste and sustainability are valued.
Run by Sakson “Saks” Rouypirom and Diloklarp “Him” Janthachotbutr, Na Cafe serves locally sourced beverages. Its coffee drinks are made of beans in Nan and Chiang Rai provinces. The cold-pressed juice are made mostly from fruits and vegetables planted in the garden.
In a lawn next to the cafe is a mango and papaya trees, and a small urban farm of spinach, chili, coriander, basil and many more.
“We use all parts of the fruits and vegetables to juice, cook, ferment, and make cordials,” said Saks, who is also founder of Sati (“mindfulness” in Thai), non-profit platform focused on healthcare and education for children.
Apart from serving drinks, Na Cafe will also engage refugees and street children by training them in culinary skills, “Everything from barista training to cooking classes,” Saks said. “Giving them jobs is better than giving them money.”
“Our goal is to make [Na Cafe] a space for people from all communities and walks of life to come and meet and interact and enjoy.”
Na Cafe opens 10am to 7pm, Tuesday through Sunday.
‘Home of NGOs’
Behind Bangkok 1899 is the former Satri Chulanag School, which belongs to foundation named for the home’s original owner. Abandoned nearly 20 years, the three-story schoolhouse will soon become a multi-purpose space for several non-profit organizations.
Referred to as a “home for many NGOs,” the Ford Resource and Engagement Center will be used to headquarter food security organization Scholars of Sustenance. The space provides a much-larger kitchen and washing facilities so the food waste crusaders can collect and process excess food more efficiently before it is donated to communities in need.
On a recent visit, Head of Partnerships for the center and Scholars of Sustenance, Abigail Smith, showed a terraced, vertical farm where edible plants will grow.
Using the shared facilities, the SOS will host workshops and public events. Smith said her organization expects to bring “worthwhile” educational workshops such as those on nutrition, food awareness and even home composting.
The center is funded by Ford Fund, a philanthropic project of the Ford Motor Co.
The center will also house what’s billed as Bangkok’s first green NGO co-working space. Nature Inc. will offer office and meeting space for three environmental organizations: the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand, Love Wildlife Foundation and Big Trees.
“Nature Inc. does not only give us all a professional office space, it brings us together to address challenges, share advice, and brainstorm new ideas,” said Nancy Gibson, executive director of BCST and founder of Love Wildlife Foundation.
FREC is being under construction. It’s expected to open in April.
Bangkok 1899 is located on Nakhon Sawan Road in old town’s Nang Loeng neighborhood.