Bangkok gets a ‘walk of fame’
The new pedestrian walkway at the Pathumwan intersection is as lovely as it is accessible to all
PATHUM MEANS “lotus” in Thai, and the new skywalk at Bangkok’s Pathumwan intersection is designed to resemble a vast lotus pond, a peaceful heaven above the clouds of exhaust fumes rising from the traffic sweeping along the road.
The elevated walkway – it still needs a name – encompasses 3,000 square metres and connects Siam Discovery, Siam Square, MBK, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and the National Stadium.
Siam Synergy – an alliance of entrepreneurs in the downtown Siam area – funded the Bt350-million project, which replaces a much narrower pedestrian bridge that people found less than “user-friendly”.
Seen from above, the new skywalk resembles a lotus pond, a deliberate allusion to the placename Pathumwan – pathum means “lotus”.
The new skywalk, which the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration now owns, emerged from the concept of “universal design”, meaning it’s handy and helpful for everyone, not just shoppers. The needs of the elderly and disabled are attended to with ramps and stair lifts.
“This is a friendly-design skywalk, the first of its kind in Bangkok,” Nation TV host Krisana Lalai, who’s been using a wheelchair for 20 years, said on a recent broadcast of his show “Khui Kan Yam Chao”.
“The old pedestrian overpass was not designed for the disabled, the elderly or tourists hauling large pieces of luggage,” said Krisana, who’s also president of the Friendly Design for All Foundation.
“This one has the sloped ramps and lifts. The drain covers are aesthetically pleasing as well as functional and safe – no wide gaps to swallow my wheels.”
The floor tiles and drain covers, also mimicking lotus leaves, are designed for help rather than hinder pedestrians.
Chadatip Chutrakul, chief executive at Siam Piwat, a partner in Siam Synergy, told Krisana on the show that he was the main inspiration for the skywalk.
“Three years ago I saw you struggling to cross the intersection from the side where Siam Paragon, Siam Centre and Siam Discovery are. You were doing a survey of friendly-design construction and found the stairs too narrow. That’s when I decided to build a new walkway that would be accessible to all.”
Extra width, ramps and special lifts make the walkway fully accommodating for the elderly and disabled.
Siam business has been booming and the area is always crowded. A joint BMA-Bangkok Mass Transit System study found that the old walkway at the intersection was too narrow to handle an expected 5-per-cent-per-year jump in pedestrian traffic, let alone an annual rise in visitor volume of nearly 10 per cent.
“More than 100,000 pedestrians are in the area every day,” Chadatip pointed out.
“The new skywalk not only improves safety and convenience for everyone, it’s intended as a large public area and an art space and was designed with aesthetics in mind. Seen from above, it looks like lotus leaves floating on a pond. The Pathumwan area used to have the largest lotus pond in Bangkok.”
The bustling commercial intersection was once a vast lake of lotuses.
Urban Architects Co took its cues from elevated walkways elsewhere in the world that double as public leisure areas and have become tourist attractions in their own right. The High Line in New York City, Seoul’s Skygarden and the Promenade Plantee in Paris served as examples.
The Bangkok skywalk is carpeted with green, non-slip rubber tiles imported from Spain, each one shaped like a lotus leaf. They’re water-resistant, durable, easy to maintain and attractive.
The drain covers are just as beautifully designed and also mimic lotus leaves.
Then there are around 90 structures of anti-corrosion stainless steel in the shape of lotus pads – art installations that happen to provide shade too.
Peerapong “P7” Limthamrong paid tribute to city lights in his decoration for an aesthetic shady structure on the walkway.
The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre invited 13 street artists to paint some of them. One of the best known of these, Peerapong “P7” Limthamrong, sprayed a structure in vivid abstract forms reminiscent of the city’s colourful nightlights.
“I improvised on the spot, without any prior sketching, just based on the colours in Siam Square,” said P7, who lives nearby. “I brought a load of different colours and let my imagination loose.”
Artist/designer Channarong Klugiadis adds his own creative flair.
Channarong Klugiad, the designer at clothing-brand Dee Sweet Drug, decorated two of the structures with cartoon-type pictures and text with a black marking pen. The results bring to mind the clean lines and simple imagery of Keith Haring.
“I painted at night with no particular plan,” he said. “I tried to depict what comes to mind when you think about the Siam area – pop, fashion and shopping. There’s also an eye inside a triangle, which signifies all the inspiration that Siam has given me in art, fashion and design.
“It’s a great idea to use public places like this, which aren’t usually given over to art, to share artistic messages with a diverse audience.”
You’re going to need a selfie when you see street artist Jeck BKK’s selfportrait as swimmer.
A street artist who sticks to the name Jeck BKK has rendered a cartoon-ish graffiti self-portrait. He’s seen swimming in a lotus pond.
“I’m a predator hunting down my dreams and happiness,” he explained. “And you can see a temple silhouette reflected on the surface of the water, suggesting tranquillity and calm at the end of the journey.”
Maythee Noijinda added a frog with a gold coin in its mouth, symbolic of the area’s prosperity.
Maythee Noijinda from the alt-pop band Monderndog has done a cute frog in reflective spray paint, also swimming in a lotus pond.
“I like bringing glimpses of greenery and freshness to this chaotic society, so this is supposed to represent an oasis within the metropolis,” he said. “The Pathumwan intersection is a business hub, and the frog holding a gold coin in its mouth symbolises prosperity, according to Chinese belief.”
TRK melds graffiti and classical Thai motifs in his piece.
A stylised graffiti tiger incorporating traditional Thai motifs is the signature image of artist TRK, and here he’s abstractly merged the tiger with an elephant and a bird.
“My mother’s side of the family is skilled at painting murals,” he said, “but I’m into rap.
“I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with tigers, but every time I paint, a tiger forms subconsciously. In this work, the tiger represents me, and the elephant symbolises Bangkok, so you have a story about living in peace with other animal species in the big city.”
WHAT TO CALL IT?
The skywalk needs a name. If you’ve got an idea, Siam Synergy is hosting a contest with the winner to receive Bt100,000.
Get your suggestions in by September 4 to www.Siam-Synergy.com.