AR_EA Commended with Merit
Sanitas Studio - founded in 2010 by Bangkok-based landscape architect Sanitas Pradittasnee - works between landscape architecture and fine art, inspired by social context and intense cultural research. As well as producing landscape designs for residential projects, the studio also participates in art exhibitions and events, both internationally and domestically.
While its works are fairly few and small in size, it is this disciplinary flexibility that allows Sanitas Studio to create designs that bridge thinking - in particular between landscape and architecture.
A striking early example of this is the project Equilibrium, in which 17 monumental ceramic pots appeared on Songdo Beach in South Korea. On closer inspection, these pots were giant PVC inflatables that would sway and tumble when touched, belying their initial appearance. Sanitas considered this a depiction of two principles displayed in equilibrium: that of the presumed fragility of these giant pots and their actual physicality as soft, bouncy playthings.
It is in this same spirit of playful reinvention that Sanitas Studio approached the mysterious installation Khao Mo in Bangkok. The project was formulated as a response to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre’s (BACC) proposal Resort: An Art Exhibition for Landscape of Rest, curated by Pichaya Suphavanij. Resort sought to explore overlooked narratives of space and time - those neglected by an increasingly rapid pace of life - and to create spaces that considered ‘rest’ as more than simply a physical experience.
Sanitas Studio has shown a preoccupation with mirrors before in the landscaping for Wyne Sukhumvit, a high-rise on Sukhumvit Road in which mirrors stretch from the ground and up the facade of the project’s four-storey car park. In Khao Mo - Sanitas Studio’s response to the BACC Resort brief - mirrors are even more central. Mirrors are everything, in fact. Architecture is here quite literally, as IM Pei once famously declared, ‘the mirror of life’.
As in Equilibrium, the installation drew upon traditional practices unique to its context. It took its name from a form of Thai art that originated in the Ayutthaya period - rather than replicating natural elements such as mountains, rocks, trees, and water, Sanitas’s installation inverts this idea: it is not a replication of natural elements but a reflection of them.
‘Khao Mo literally translates as ‘small hill’, and refers to miniature model mountains - often constructed of stone - that were used to decorate Chinese temples and royal gardens’
Occupying a site roughly 7m2 in size, mirror cubes - each formed of a mosaic-like composition of smaller tiles - were stacked to a height of 3.2 metres around two central piles of soil. Forming a loose enclosure, the ring of stacked boxes is both a sculptural object to move around and an experience to move through and dwell in.
Inside these walls, the two piles of soil are, in Close Encounters fashion, granted a mysterious reverence, but to uncover their meaning we must go further into the history of Khao Mo as an art form. Khao Mo literally translates as ‘small hill’, and refers to miniature model mountains - often constructed of stone - that were used to decorate Chinese temples and royal gardens. As Sanitas states: ‘The concept of Chinese gardens is to replicate the universe in the form of a garden in order to create joy and pleasantness. The large stones are clouds in the middle of the garden, as if they represent the paradise of that model garden.’
Stripped of any decadence, the dirt mounds in Sanitas’s project are in themselves sculptural objects and in places the soil has been brushed aside to reveal a mirrored core.
Sixteen artists responded to BACC’s proposal. This work was first exhibited with the other projects at the cultural centre. Sitting on a wooden floor and surrounded by white walls, the installation all but disappeared. It was not until Khao Mo was moved into a public park early in 2014 that it really came into its own, reflecting surrounding structures, foliage, the sky and passers-by.
The park that Khao Mo now calls home sits between Chulalongkorn University and Siam Square, a popular shopping and entertainment district in Bangkok and an apt location to incite reflections on the idea of rest. As part of its ever-changing life in this urban context, Sanitas is continually uploading photographs and videos of the project.
Fragmenting its surroundings into a pixellated construct reminiscent of Minecraft, the installation itself again sees Sanitas capturing two principles - that of the static, unmoving cubes and the piles of soil within, and the ephemeral scenes that reflect on their surface. It is this same blurring of clarity evoked by the project’s design that Sanitas hopes will alter the visitor’s experience of the space.
Khao Mo may not raise the same immediately architectural concerns as its fellow premiated Emerging Architecture entrants, but, like Supermachine’s 10 Cal Tower - the winner of this year’s awards - it shows the impact that small-scale exploration of a powerful spatial idea can have when considered both as a thorough response to local context and as an intriguing and enjoyable piece of public art. It is an installation that immediately provokes a consideration of interior and exterior, and the relationship with an urban fabric, the sort of concerns that may inspire an interest in architecture in any passer-by.
Architect: Sanitas Studio