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Film Institute by Boonserm Premthada, Thailand

Premthada’s Film Institute broadcasts itself in rural Thailand. With an air of Eladio Dieste, adept brickwork directs the design and prompts an inventive way of looking at interactive space

In the rural depths of Nakorn Prathom province in Thailand, Boonserm Premthada and his design team, Bangkok Project Studio, worked with over half a million handmade bricks to create a remarkable labyrinth. Seen from a distance, the building is reminiscent of an ancient Thai stupa with its recessed walls forming 12 corners around the lower base. But it is in fact a new building for the Kantana Film and Animation Institute, an undergraduate school, where students arrive after achieving some success with their plays, films and TV programmes. Kantana expands and develops their skills through learning from experience.At the same time, the school recounts a narrative about architectural creation, derived in different, almost cinematic ways.

Project architect Premthada explains his ideas. ‘The difference between films and architecture is imagination and reality. Films can be created by special computerised effects, whereas architecture is made and set on land. Films can only be viewed, but architecture can be experienced. The purpose of films is to entertain and educate, while architecture is intended to serve humankind. At Kantana, everywhere can be a studio;there is no proscribed means of using space.’

Roughly 45km north-west from Thailand’s capital Bangkok, a rural site has been transformed from a paddy field into a place of learning. Soil has been crafted and compacted into more than 600,000 bricks, articulating the beauty of the everyday, where simple materials − bricks, concrete and steel − are elevated into a piece of striking architecture.

The single-storey building is divided into four main areas, including administration, lecture room and library, together with a canteen and studio. Metaphorically, the administration resembles the brain, reflecting its role in planning, and the lecture rooms are the source of imagination. The library represents a collection of knowledge and the studio is designed for experimental activities. Each section is attached to four directional walkways to cultivate relationships between people and the building.

Walking around the labyrinth, the experiential impact of the massive brick walls, with their repetitions of surface, size and composition, is immediately apparent. The windows and the carved-out spaces are all fairly similar, so it is sometimes difficult to locate yourself within the brick maze. Premthada observes the ‘three-dimensional mirror reflections’ that result from disrupting memory with this repetition of images, and is convinced this disorientation will activate a sense of curiosity and discovery among users.

During the construction process, Premthada conducted some experiments on his building, demolishing various sections of the walls and removing parts of the site to mix things up, giving a new dimension to the relationship between terrain and architecture. His view is that sometimes destruction can be creative and flaws can be beautiful. It’s also about the balance of old and new, between maintaining tradition and remodelling. Some parts of the building are designed to be conspicuously different, expressed in the long brick wall that, slightly surreally, wraps around four different buildings.

Light and shadow naturally penetrate and animate the building. In temperate western cultures and climates, light is usually welcomed through windows or roofs, but in the tropical East, shading is a priority to temper the sun’s excess. The building is designed to block sunlight, create shadows and show how architecture mediates between humans and the natural environment. Shade also conjures an intimate atmosphere of focus and quietude in the working and learning spaces, cultivating a sense of otherworldliness and mystery, like a painting seen under moonlight.

In some ways, the Kantana Institute channelled the processes and ideas of film-making through architecture, exploring disruptive memory images, counter-intuition (embracing the dark), surrealism and Premthada’s notion of ‘creative destruction’. And though the architect has never claimed that his building is particularly ecologically conscious, the spaces are wonderfully equable, tempered by natural ventilation and the cooling mass of the thick, ribbed walls.

The jury especially admired the way the plan broke down and humanised a large institution, creating a sociable network of enclaves and courtyards, to nurture and stimulate student interaction. Premthada’s inventive use of brick, a traditional, everyday material, to articulate a distinctive architectural language was also noted. And as a confidently handled example of a large and complex project by a young architect, it clearly stood out as a winner.

Architect Boonserm Premthada

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