Thai architect Boonserm Premthada has a knack for highlighting the poetry of lesser known places by creating beautiful designs that add value to the everyday of communities that really need it. His latest project, The Artisans Ayutthaya: The Women Restaurant, a short ride north of Bangkok, is a testament to his inspirational approach. Together with his firm, Bangkok Project Studio, the team behind visionary works such as Elephant World (a worthy 2021 Wallpaper* Design Awards winner), Premthada composed a Thai restaurant building that promotes sustainable architecture, community values, age-old local traditions and good food, all rolled into one – within five wood-framed triangular buildings made of glass blocks.
The historic City of Ayutthaya (founded in the 14th century) was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam, and as such, flourished for centuries. Today, as Thailand’s capital and focus has shifted elsewhere, the traditional cuisine and craft of Ayutthaya are preserved through this new restaurant in a small village of Ban Run District in Thailand's Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya province.
‘One curiosity of this place is that most of the residents are unmarried or widowed women,' says Premthada. ‘Their daily activity is to give alms to monks in the early morning at a small run-down village temple. They try their best to earn money to repair the temple. Each of them cooks a few specialties in large pots and packs the food in smaller individual bags to offer to the monks and exchange among themselves. This is where the project began.'
Inspired by the food culture in the area and the strength of this community’s bonds, the scheme was a commission by a local, Soraya Visitsopa, who is also the owner behind a previous work by Bangkok Project Studio. Wine Ayutthaya was built nearby in 2017, using cost-effective, humble methods. Striking to look at and functional, the wine bar is an impactful piece of architecture that helps change the lives of its employees and users, acting as a tourist magnet and supporting the revitalisation of the local economy. The Artisans Ayutthaya: The Women Restaurant was conceived with similar goals in mind, and opens this month.
The Artisans Ayutthaya – a Thai restaurant that empowers
‘These modest single and widowed women aged 55 to 94, who cook delicious dishes but never call themselves chefs, join hands with their culinary skills to create the local cuisine for visitors, and hope that they will return just like children or grandchildren who come home for food prepared by their mothers, aunts and grandmothers,' says the architect.
The community’s culinary traditions played a key role in the design development. The cuisine itself is homely and uses simple, nutritious and unfussy natural ingredients – such as prawns – that come mostly from the nearby Chao Phraya River. In the same way, a simple palette dominates the Thai restaurant building, elevating leftover and commonly found materials with an eye-catching and pragmatic design. The crockery and earthenware used in the business are also locally sourced, made by just one 60-year-old craftswoman.
‘Ayutthaya food is a hidden food. Some dishes have more than 400 years of history. The food is made by women but people seem to forget about them,' says Premthada. ‘In the same way, the five triangles of the building arrangement create hidden spaces. Additionally, I chose glass blocks from a leftover stock. It’s a material that seems worthless in the eyes of the public as these blocks are mainly used to build toilets. But my goal was to bring what is hidden to the spotlight again. Whether it is the forgotten women, the hidden dishes or the leftover glass blocks, I want everything to be alive once more.'
The complex is finely crafted and generous, each building measuring about 8m x 8m x 11.31m, with a combined area of 310 sq m, bordering the riverbank. Each of the buildings has a different function, spanning kitchen facilities, offices, various dining areas, toilets and a multi-purpose hall. The glass bricks are matched with timber and PVC panels instead of glass sheets, to reduce weight and costs. Sling ropes are crossed over the doors and windows to negotiate the strong winds blowing in from the river.
Now, the family of structures shimmers throughout the day and glows as a cultural beacon at night, thanks to this architecture team’s efforts. ‘The most exciting part of the project is that it allows the elderly ladies to be reborn through doing what they love, which is cooking this food,' Premthada concludes. ‘It is a way to pass down the traditional recipes to younger generations and ensure that these recipes survive the travails of time.'
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Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).
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