On my last day in Bangkok we took the boat from the hotel to Rattanakosin Island. The banks are lined with informally built dwellings, a long line-up of unique spaces, textures and homes.
In our second week we had finally visited the communities and understood better what a huge improvement the program had made available for peoples lives. We could also finally see the physical outcomes (transformation?) of the Baan Mangkong (BM) program. In Bang Khen district a number of communities are part of BM building various versions at various stages, ranging from an almost entirely re-blocked community to one that had just started building and featuring single, semi-detached, row houses and a 4-storey apartment version of BM (one of only three program-wide).
We learned that the main involvement of the architect (or the one most positively perceived by the community) had been the help with and visualisation of the very complex process of reblocking and finalising the plot layout. With the exception of the “high-rise” the subsequent construction process was done based on a house type chosen from CODIs typologies and with the community builder but without further involvement of an architect, due to CODI architects overseeing a huge number of projects.
There seemed to be a gap between the impressive scale and quality of the networks and community mobilisation on one hand and the scale and quality of physical outcomes on the other. Another gap seemed to appear between the nature of community cohesion, interaction and organisation and the nature of communal or public space or interface of public and private spaces.
The boat ride was the same as one that we had done a week earlier with the difference that I had now been to the communities. While the achievements of the program are incredible the imagination of a citywide BM scenario with all of these homes, terraces and passages upgraded or replaced by new BM homes as we had seen them wasn’t convincing at all.
Couldn’t: a better design product be a catalyst for transformation and enhance the process, the involvement of an architect improve the climatic properties and reduce construction cost, more tailored solutions help to avoid community members dropping out of the program or not joining, more extensive professional advice create solutions that evolve the current structures and combine with new ideas to make a new transformed third based on site and place in the city?