Iconsiam is an award winning cultural destination in Bangkok’s Thonburi district, having just won three prestigious gold awards from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), including in the “New Development” category. Sooksiam, a popular attraction within Iconsiam, also won a Gold Award. At last count, Iconsiam was attracting 150,000 visitors a day less than one year after having opened its doors.
Benoy, a world-leading design and architecture firm, collaborated in designing the retail interiors of the $1.6 billion mixed-use development which features a large mall.
The team at Benoy attributes the appeal of Bangkok’s newest attraction to the project’s careful integration of the traditions of Bangkok’s 252-year-old waterfront. “Striking the perfect balance between the Thai local vernacular and a contemporary design was crucial to the project’s success,” said Benoy senior associate director Amelia Robinson, who led the firm’s work on the project.
Creating a Destination Across the Chaophraya River
Built along a stretch of the Chaophraya river which has long formed the heart of Bangkok’s commerce, the 750,000 square metre (eight million square foot) Iconsiam is Thailand’s largest completed commercial property development, and includes the country’s tallest building, a 314-metre tall tower that houses the Mandarin Oriental Residences.
Sited across the river from the city’s busiest shopping and tourist spots on a plot that was once the site of rice warehouses, the initial challenge faced by Benoy’s team was how to entice people away from the crowded shopping destinations on the east side of the Chaophraya.
“For this reason it was crucial to create a must-see destination, a new icon for Bangkok which would draw people across the river for the experience,” said Robinson.
Striking a Balance Between Traditional and Contemporary Design
Benoy’s primary client on Iconsiam, developer Siam Piwat, set the design team the goal of creating a world-class contemporary destination that pushed the boundaries of next-generation modern design, while, at the same time, paying homage to traditional Thai culture.
To understand the traditions that would eventually inform the project’s design motifs, Robinson and the rest of the Benoy design team travelled to Bangkok to immerse themselves in the history, art and design traditions of the country and its people.
They visited temples, palaces, markets and museums, as well as spending time on the Chaophraya, to develop an understanding of the significance of the waterway that has historically driven the commerce and culture of the Southeast Asian capital, and its importance to everyday life.
“This interaction with the local community gave us an insight into the rich and layered history and culture of Thailand and gave an excellent foundation before embarking on the design,” Robinson said.
The finished development is inspired by both the Chaophraya and the symbolic lotus flower, with the liquid forms of the river reflected in the pleated glass exterior by Urban Architects, which faces the historic waterway.
Creating a Place for Everyone
Equally important to integrating traditional Thai ways into the project was ensuring that Iconsiam included elements that would serve a broad segment of the local community, residents and visitors. The result is that the complex blends local and international themes into its range of retail, entertainment and leisure spaces.
“One of the things that makes this project so successful is that there are so many different spaces to experience, including the contemporary IconSiam shopping mall, the luxury retail centre IconLuxe, the rice-inspired Alangkarn restaurant hub, and IconCraft, which sells locally sourced products,” said Robinson.
As is the case with Jewel Changi in Singapore, where Benoy led the interior design of the retail component and which is on track to attract as many as 50 million visitors in its first year, Iconsiam’s design seems to resonate with locals and visitors, with footfall of the retail element expected to rise by as much as a further 20 percent by the end of this year.
Commercial Creativity as a Core Design Philosophy
This technique of creating commercially successful, innovative environments, which Benoy calls “commercial creativity”, is what links schemes like Iconsiam with other projects by the firm such as the Shanghai shopping mall iAPM and the retail complex at Singapore’s Jewel Changi.
Benoy’s managing director of global design, Simon Bee, elaborates the concept of commercial creativity further by stating that all three projects stem from the same “ambition to create something unique and to deliver a contextual experience which is relevant to its home, and in scale with the urban contribution it is seeking to make. Jewel animates the growing fabric of an airport city, Iconsiam activates a grand river frontage, and iAPM creates a powerful mixed use hub at a key city intersection.”
At Iconsiam that commercial creativity has meant putting to work a collection of more than 1,000 individual shops as the heart of a new riverfront community.
For Jewel Changi, which has gained recognition for its indoor waterfall that forms the core of Safdie Architects’ unique forest valley, Benoy’s interior retail design has helped to transform how people and planners think about the relationship between airports and the communities that they serve.
The landmark projects in Bangkok and Singapore form what the firm sees as part of a natural progression of designing some of Asia’s best-known retail projects including Sun Hung Kai’s Parc Central in Guangzhou, which won a gold award for “Design and Development Excellence for New Developments” from the ICSC in 2017.
At the end of the day, claims Bee, “the success of these schemes is partly about how memorable they are and how they leave a mark on the visitor. In that way they all add to the brand of their home cities and leave a lasting civic contribution.”