‘It won’t burn down’: Architect defends Suvarnabhumi design

“I wanted a design that immediately gives travellers the feeling they’ve arrived in Thailand,” says architect Duangrit Bunnag.

Architect Duangrit Bunnag has responded to critics who claim his wood-heavy design for the new terminal at Suvarnabhumi Airport poses a fire risk.

Tropical forests inspired the blueprint for the 35-billion-baht building and the aim is to give travellers a feeling of Thailand’s uniqueness, the 52-year-old architect said in an interview. He rejected concerns from the Engineering Institute of Thailand that the structure could be a fire hazard.

“Airports tend to have similar features — they’re white, cold and metallic,” Mr Duangrit said. “I wanted a design that immediately gives travellers the feeling they’ve arrived in Thailand. It will be a metal structure covered with wood. Different treatments can be applied to the timber to ensure fire resistance.”

Airports of Thailand Plc announced last month that it was awarding the design contract to a bid by the DBALP Consortium, consisting of Duangrit Bunnag Architect Ltd and Japan’s Nikken Sekkei Ltd.

DBALP was the runner-up in the original selection process but the winner, SA Group, comprising SPAN Consultants and Sign-Tech Engineering Consultant, was disqualified for failing to meet all the requirements for sumbission of the cost quotation.

SA Group has challenged the selection and authorities are reviewing the decision of the AoT bid committee.

AoT expects to increase annual passenger capacity by 30 million by building a second terminal at Suvarnabhumi, which is now strained beyond capacity. Construction is due to start next year and finish by 2021.

Mr Duangrit’s design features sweeping arches and giant columns clad in wood. He also proposed an enclosed tropical-forest landscape spanning about 16,000 square metres between two buildings of the terminal. Passengers would be able to see but not to enter the landscape, a symbol for ecological protection.

“The difficulty in designing the terminal is how to make it memorable to travellers from around the world,” Mr Duangrit said. “How do I make it look different from all the other airports?”

Many have said the design is very similar to the Yasuhara Wooden Bridge Museum by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, but Mr Duangrit has denied accusations of plagiarism.

“I didn’t copy anyone else’s work. Those who follow my work will know that I created a similar image in my previous designs, such as for a hotel in Sri Lanka,” Mr Duangrit told The Standard, a local news portal, last month.

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