Neil McDonough

The changing face of Bangkok

How property developers are playing their part

Like all cities around the world, and particularly all major large cities, Bangkok is totally dynamic and constantly in a state of construction and demolition. Like a giant Sim-City metropolis, Bangkok is constantly reinventing itself to keep up with the demands of progress, both in Thailand and internationally.

As someone who comes from an old-world country, the United Kingdom, I'm still impressed and astounded by the pace of development that occurs in a city like Bangkok. Yes we live here all the time and so sometimes we even get frustrated that the city is not being developed fast enough to keep up with the rate of social and economic change that the modern world demands, and I would agree with you to a point, especially in regards to public sector development, but more about that later on. However in the private sector the changes are close to breathtaking.

As mentioned, I come from the UK, where it is normal for our cities and towns to have regularly used buildings that are hundreds of years old. In fact such buildings often have a preservation order on them so that not only can they not be pulled-down, but also their exteriors or interiors cannot be altered. In fact I remember visiting Chester, a quite historic city and an old economic hub of the Roman Empire, having dozens and dozens of buildings 1000 years old or older. The cathedral, the Roman walls, and even an early shopping mall called the Rows which dates back to the 1300's over 700 years ago! These buildings have been rescued from dereliction and are in regular us today and even house thriving businesses.

Of course this makes for an attractive and very interesting city, but of course the downside is that it reduces and even halts progress, which is not really a problem Bangkok faces.

Like many SE Asian cities, apart from religious monuments such as temples and a few other buildings, there is a virtual free-for-all on development, and very little in the way of protection and preservation. Does this detract from the city in the form of character and beauty? That of course is a matter open to debate.

So with very little rules and regulations on building codes, a Bangkok developer can almost do what they want and therefore build what they want assuming they have the money to do so. The result is that we see some very interesting styles, dramatic buildings and of course huge buildings. Bangkok for example boasts not only the largest shopping mall in SE Asia in Central World in Chit Lom, but also the second largest at the next door station in The Paragon at Siam.

And this is even more so with regards to condos and apartments in Bangkok. With the opening of the new BTS stations from On Nut to Bearing in August 2011 has come an almost never ending stream of new condos and apartments build next to the 5 new BTS stations opened. Condos such as S & S Condo
which consists of 2 huge towers with over 800 condominium units housed inside. But of course this building is far from rare and buildings of this size are becoming regular and can even contain added features such as shopping malls, supermarkets and even bowling alleys.

The design of these residential buildings has also changed and with it the aesthetics. Going back 40-50 years ago much of Bangkok was made up of wooden buildings and the initial use of concrete to replace the wooden structures was often unsuitable to the climate. Heavy thick concrete walls with small windows may have been suitable designs for Europe or North America, where a lot of the early architects and architectural influences came from. Such designs are perfect for keeping out cold wet weather and keeping in warm expensive air. But Bangkok has none of those problems, in fact quite the opposite.

Therefore in recent years, especially since the late 1990's there has been an increasing movement to design and build structures with lots of glass, and as little amount of thick concrete as possible. You may notice then that condos such as the Athenee Residence has floor to ceiling glass windows in many of the rooms, typical of the style many architects are aiming for.

Of course not all Bangkok residents think that the progress is fast enough and when it comes to public transport it is clear that Bangkok run by the BMA is not yet at the stage it could be or should be. London for example has 8 million inhabitants, but a metro system with approx 270 stations on it. Bangkok has a population of between 12-15m (depending on which statistics you read), but only approx 50 stations on the metro system.

However the London Underground is 150 years old, it has had time to develop and expand, Bangkok first opened up the BTS back in 1999, so the 50 stations on the metro system have all been opened in under 15 years, less than 10% of the time. And just looking at the last 8 years since we opened EasyHomes, the metro system has expanded quite considerably since we first launched this search map of the BTS/MRT we have added the airport link and 11 more stations. I can only imagine what this map will look like in 8 years time with the Purple, Red, Pink and Yellow lines under construction.

Neil McDonough is a Director of EasyHomes Property Services Co., Ltd. which specializes in renting and selling Bangkok residential and commercial property to expats. You can contact him directly with any questions or queries relating to Thai real estate


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