Custom Designed Courtyards
An audience with Thailand’s landscape architect and founder of P Landscape Co., Ltd. Wannaporn ‘Pui’ Phornprapha.
The Harvard-trained landscape architect who heads Thailand’s most prolific and successful firm in the field, P Landscape, shares her insights on designing at the highest level, blending structure with nature and the monumental task of Chao Phraya Estate.
When we meet for a chat the firm’s chic and pared-back headquarters in Sukhumvit Soi 39, we were mesmerised by a low-rise functional space with exquisite flourishes; such as hand-painted doors, giant murals and detailed, highly curated ornaments. One that caught our eyes were the planters hanging off golden chains like the Sword of Damocles draping across the office reception. Pui is low-key and humble charm personified.
She presides over a firm created in 1997, which has since blossomed into an association of over 120 creative talented individuals including landscape architects, designers, horticulturalists, and artists, specialising in high-end resort, hotel and residential projects, both in the Southeast Asian region and internationally. These include projects in China, India, the Middle East, Maldives, and the Fiji Islands, for brands including Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Mandarin Oriental, JW Marriot, Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt Erawan, Rosewood, Oberoi, W Hotels and Banyan Tree.
A glance at the list of current and completed projects is a dizzying trawl through a who’s who of luxury hospitality and real estate, and you begin to understand why Pui does not give too many interviews – she’s just too busy doing her job. On the firm’s website the philosophy of design is articulated thus: “At PLA, we believe that landscape architecture is an art which surpasses the physical and functional aspects of a site. It integrates creativity, culture, and local heritage whilst also enhancing the sit’s existing environment and ecology. The landscape is a medium which enables a connection between people and nature.”
When it comes to her role providing landscape architecture for Four Seasons Private Residences Bangkok at Chao Phraya River and Capella Hotel Bangkok, how was that connection between people and nature to be made?
Pui, backed by her team members, launches into a soft-spoken but rapid fire delivery: “As with all our projects, consideration of the site is very important: we try to incorporate the site and existing culture of each location. Our designs are contemporary but we incorporate the sense of place and character of the location, from the details of design, hardscape, swimming pools and use of plants to the elements surrounding the site to create a unique mood.
“Luxury doesn’t always mean using the most expensive materials. The key is refinement and intelligent use of custom-made design. At Four Seasons Private Residences Bangkok, it’s all about creating a feeling of exclusivity and privacy. Our selection of plants were carefully chosen in order to interpret and celebrate the culture of the site and surroundings as well as its rich history, using oriental coloured plants and flowers with beautiful scents to portray novelty, intimacy and charm.
“There are specific plants that grow along the Chao Phraya River, and we have kept as many of the existing trees on the site as possible, they are unique and an iconic symbol of the property and the river itself.”
That alone proved to be a big challenge. “There was a magnificent Bodhi tree that had grown into the fence so incorporating that was difficult, but we managed to find a solution”, Pui said.
“We wanted to make a collection of tropical plants which gives an Oriental feel. Plants that are indigenous, for example the Diamond Palm, which is very beautiful and can only be found in Thailand. For flowering plants, they will be ones with very Oriental colours that give off a very sweet scent, such as magnolias and gardenias”.
“We control the colours to be very subtle, incorporating pastel shades with some splashes of bold colour for accents. Working with trees and plants is not like working with building materials – they are a living entity, and you need to understand the essential nature of each plant, how much sun or shade they will require to thrive, and the quality of the soil, requiring widespread testing and adjustments on site”.
Pui said in-depth discussions with Country Group Development CEO Ben Taechaubol had been crucial to ensure the landscape architecture for the project matched his vision of enduring quality and meaningful luxury on the River of Kings.
"We listened to Khun Ben’s feedback and ideas very closely" she said. “He’s a very passionate developer and strives for excellence in this project. The site is very special, I think – it’s very rare to find a location on the river with such a large river frontage (350m). It was very important for us to consider the river when we approached this project, our design had to link with the view on the opposite side of the river and the site’s immediate surroundings. We frame views and space to create an experience, wanting to create a journey in relation to it for both residents and hotel guests”.
“From the entrance to the site, on historic Charoen Krung Road, to the river reveals, we talked about green space, lushness, an Oriental look that manages to remain contemporary. We considered the gardens underneath the canopy of trees, and a series of courtyards which unfold to reveal different views and perspectives of the river”.
PLA took a subtle and nuanced contemporary approach to Thai cultural influences, taking its cue for the leady courtyards and lush explosions of scent and heady Oriental colours from the gardens and spaces of sumptuous mansions which once lined the river – as well as other great Asian rivers – during Bangkok’s heyday as ‘Venice of the East’.
“We have gone for a very restrained and subtle approach in terms of the hardscape materials, as the colour is already present in the trees and plants and flowers”.
Whilst a landscape architect must always work as part of a team and collaborate with lead architects, concept designers and master planners of the site, working with large teams across multiple disciplines proved to be challenging.
“We are working with Hamiltons International very closely, as well as a team from BAMO on interiors, and local architects from Dhevanand.”
“The other big challenge was designing a landscape that engaged with the river while remaining at a safe distance above the high water mark. In a couple of places, as little as 1m might separate guests or resident walking in the gardens from the river in spate”.
It has been a labour of love and an ongoing work in progress for her team “currently we are done with the drawings, we started the concept many years ago, now we are working on detailed design and have almost finished the construction design”.
Apart from her storied career and highly sought after expertise in landscape design, Pui is also an architect in her own right. “I believe it has been a great benefit to have a multidisciplinary training and team”, she says. “Landscape is a synthesis of the architecture, the views, the master plan, the culture and history of a site”. She pauses, and for a second the humble veneer crumbles, replaced by a flash of the fervent, visionary genius she undoubtedly is.
“I believe”, she says, slowly and with deliberation, enunciating each syllable perfectly, “in the integration of everything”.
Structural construction success at Four Seasons Private Residences
Four Seasons Private Residences shine at Siam Property Showcase.