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THE CULTURAL COURTYARD

General Information

Project Name: The Cultural Courtyard
Architecture Firm: Bangkok Project Studio
Website: https://www.facebook.com/BangkokProjectStudio
Contact e-mail: bangkokprojectstudio@gmail.com
Firm Location: Bangkok, Thailand.

Completion Year: 2020
Gross Built Area: 8130 sq.m
Project location: Surin Province, Thailand.

Lead Architects: Boonserm Premthada
Lead Architects e-mail: bangkokprojectstudio@gmail.com

Media Provider

Photo credits: Spaceshift Studio
Photographer’s website: http://spaceshiftstudio.com
Photographer’s e-mail: spaceshiftstudio@gmail.com
Video link:

Additional Credits

Design Team: Boonserm Premthada, Nathan Mehl
Engineer : Preecha Suvaparpkul
Clients: Surin Provincial Administration Organisation
Engineering & Construction: Evotech Co, Ltd.
Consultants: Surin Provincial Administration Organisation

The Cultural Courtyard

Kui people are an ethnic group in Surin, north-eastern Thailand. For many centuries, members of a Kui family have always included both humans and elephants. A Kui house features the space for humans, and the space for elephants—right under the same roof.

Once fertile, the forest of Surin was extensively destroyed for commercial purposes in the last half-century. The Kui and their elephants, who had relied solely on the forest, suffered extreme droughts, shortages of food and medicinal plants the forest once provided. The two wandered the streets of tourist towns begging for food. Some worked in elephant camps, many with unsuitable living conditions and routine.

Elephant World is a governmental project to bring the Kui and their elephants back to their homeland and to ensure the suitable living conditions for the elephants. The project includes the Kui village, an elephant hospital, the pre-existing temple and graveyard for both humans and elephants, and a museum telling stories of the community’s age-old culture.

Dubbed ‘the Cultural Courtyard’, the 70x100 m sloping roof spans a large ground where cultural events and religious ceremonies from birth to death of humans and elephants could take place. The 1.5-metre thick roof is open in the centre and punctured at various points to ventilate the space. The roof is low-lying, in harmony with the surrounding village. But once inside the generous height of the roof and the expanse of the cultural courtyard reveals itself.

Six mounds make up the landscape beneath the roof on 3 sides, leaving the fourth side open for users the size of elephants. Sloping from 4 to 1.2 metres, the mounds evoke the rolling soil⁠ in which elephants romp around to cool the body temperature and protect from insects.

The site is an arid plateau located 4 kilometres from the river. But the 200 elephants living here require more than 8,000 cubic metres of water per month. A rainwater collection pond was dug next to the site of the Playground. The resulting 8,500 cubic metres of soil is transformed into the 6 mounds forming the amphitheatre-like courtyard.

Strengthening the mounds are basalt rocks sourced 40 minutes from the site. When basalt is mined to the groundwater level, the water wells up, forming a water reservoir. The construction of the Playground, consequently, creates another water reservoir in the neighbouring district.

Six rows of concrete benches scatter on the mounds, forming seating for 800 visitors. Also dotting the landscape are 42 concrete pots where trees will be planted and grow through the roof openings, providing shading and food for the elephants.

At the Playground, the process of making architecture gives rise to sustainable coexistence. With new water sources resulting from the construction, moisture has returned to the barren land. The Kui can now care for the newly-planted trees, maintain the water sources and revive the forest. The bond between the two is the catalyst towards a sustainable future. In this future, they will live under the same roof again, just like their ancestors did.

Elephant World locates on the barren site that used to be a reserved forest, then destroyed in recent decades. Instead of clearing more trees to make way for buildings, the project situates on the abandoned land.

It aims to rejuvenate the forest, reviving the nature for a sustainable future of both humans and elephants.

The 70x100m. sloping roof spans a large ground where cultural events and religious ceremonies from birth to death of humans and elephants could take place.

A traditional Kui house features both the space for humans, and the space for elephants. This cultural courtyard embodies the same concept of the two species living under the same roof.

From the outside, the building appears plain. The roof is Low-Lying, in harmony with the surrounding village.

But once inside the generous height of the roof and the expanse of the cultural courtyard reveals itself.

The 1.5-metre thick roof is open in the centre and punctured at various points to ventilate the space.

Wooden slats placed at regular spacings clad the bottom of the roof, highlighting the roof openings and help ventilating the space.

(Images taken during construction)

The roof openings of many sizes manipulate the wind direction . Wind is harnessed to ventilate the building and reduce the heat absorbed by the roof tiles.

Six mounds make up the landscape beneath the roof on 3 sides, leaving the fourth side open for users the size of elephants.

The mounds evoke the rolling soil in which elephants romp around to cool the body temperature and protect from insects.

Approaching the building, the inside is hidden from view. The steepness of the mounds creates a unique transition from the outside to the inside.

The mound rises, and the roof slopes down to meet one another. There are no solid walls, allowing for continuous ventilation. Architectural and landscape elements combined to give the feeling of being inside and outside at the same time.

Overlooking the new water reservoir-the construction process helps restore water to the barren land and revive the forest for both humans and elephants.

Strengthening the mounds are basalt rocks sourced 40 minutes from the site. When basalt is mined to the groundwater level, the water wells up. Consequently, the construction creates another water reservoir in the neighbouring district.

Rows of concrete benches scatter on the mounds, forming seating for 800 visitors-or for the local villagers to rest under the shade during the day.

Building a 'new nature'
A) Building the mounds means digging a new rainwater collection pond;
B) A seedling in a plant box will grow through the roof opening, providing shades and food;
C) Mining basalt for the building helps create another groundwater source nearby.