High-tech library, co-working space and museum rolled into one, the Bank of Thailand’s new Learning Center — recently opened to commemorate its 75th anniversary — is shaping up to be Bangkok’s latest riverside destination. Situated right by the Chao Phraya, with a picturesque view of the river, the centre is located across from the Bank of Thailand offices under the Rama VIII bridge, and sees a 50-year-old maximum-security note-printing facility transformed into a spacious and serene public library.
With exposed tile-brick walls and oppressive steel bank vaults clashing with the smart, modern furnishings of the library and its open glass wall, with a view of the river, the centre is an amalgamation of past and present, a modern relic of yesteryear steeped with history and technology alike.
“This building is considered a significant monument when it comes to the financial history of Thailand, as the country’s first money-printing facility,” said Prapakorn Wannakanok, director of the BoT’s Financial Literacy Department.
According to the director, construction of the building began in 1963, and was completed in 1969. It was designed and built by M.L. Santhaya Israsena and Dr Ratchata Kanchanawanit, respectively among the foremost architects and engineers of the time.
Thailand’s first paper-money manufacturing plant, the facility served its purpose until it was shuttered in 2007, when the growing economy caused demand for paper money to increase significantly, necessitating a new facility in Nakhon Pathom province.
“It wasn’t until some time later in 2013 that the BoT board decided to renovate the building for public use,” said Prapakorn.
“We wanted to create a place where people can come and learn about the role of the BoT as well as other types of financial knowledge and banking. We were able to finally open the new learning centre to the public on the eve of the BoT’s 75th anniversary, last year on Dec 8.”
From an isolated, maximum-security facility to an open public space, the former note-printing factory has had to undergo dramatic changes throughout its four-year renovation. While much of the structural foundation of the building remains sound and preserved, most of the oppressive outer façade has been removed, so as to give the new centre a more open and welcoming atmosphere completely at odds with its original purpose.
Exhibits at the centre’s museum.
“As a highly-restricted area, the note-printing facility used to have high, enclosed walls, without any kind of windows or slits on the side at all,” noted Prapakorn.
“We’ve had to conduct extensive study and research into well-known learning centres around the world in order to determine a design that would allow people to make the best use of our resources. Our research has determined that wide, open spaces are more conducive to learning and creative thinking, and that has become one of the main tenets of the centre’s design.”
Adhering to a desire to meet the demands of modern lifestyles, Prapakorn says that the library is also highly digitised, with resources — mostly focused around the various fields of economics and finance — found in both physical and digital form. The centre is also part of the Online Computer Learning Center (OCLC), a knowledge-sharing network of learning centres around the world, including the libraries of such famous universities as MIT and Stanford. This means that visitors can even access digital resources — books, reports, etc — shared by those OCLC members at the BoT’s centre as well.
A photograph of the building before its renovation.
“We also have several auditorium-style meeting rooms, capable of holding 80-90 people. Use of the auditorium rooms is a little more regulated, however, as we want to reserve the room for activities that are related to economics and finance,” said Prapakorn.
“There is also the ‘Idea Box’ area, which is essentially our co-working space. We have three eight-person rooms and four more four-person rooms. Our intention for this area is to create a place where people can come and share their knowledge with each other and the BoT alike. We don’t have any restrictions as to what kind of activities are conducted in this area, but we would like them to have a focus on creation and sharing.”
Access to the library and its spaces is free, though access to certain resources may require membership. While the details of the membership programme are still being finalised, Prapakorn says that the fee for members should be no more than 1,500 baht per year, and will come with access to the OCLC resources and the co-working spaces, as well as book-loaning and museum access.
As part of the tenets of the Bank of Thailand, one of the main objectives behind the centre will be the dissemination of financial and economic knowledge. While the library teaches visitors about the realities of modern-day finance and economics, visitors can also learn about the history of economics, its evolution and its significance to everyday life in the museum.
“The museum is divided into three main exhibits,” explained Prapakorn.
“In the first exhibit, situated in the old money-printing room, you can still see the metal struts running along the ceiling. These struts, preserved from the original structure, used to support a heavy crane that was used to lift and move around the printers, several of which are on display with multimedia aids that show you the mechanical workings of the machines themselves.
“The second one tells of the history of the financial institution in Thailand, with rows of display cabinets housing currency items used since before the establishment of Thailand, as well as the various designs of paper money used throughout the country’s history, from its conception all the way to modern times. The exhibit also houses one of two remaining Government Bond gold bars, given to bond-buyers in the 1940s.
“The third is a more modern exhibit meant to show the role and history of the BoT, with various interactive exhibits used to demonstrate the BoT’s functions. Our hope for this museum is that it will not only appeal to those interested in economics, but also history. The museum uses money in its various forms to tell the story of Thailand’s history, and that’s an angle that’s never been done before elsewhere in the country.”
While the mention of finance or economics alone is enough to make many people lose interest, Prapakorn hopes that the Learning Centre can offer the public an easier time learning about these principals, and how they apply to the daily lives of everyone in society.
“We would like to welcome all members of the public to come and enjoy our beautiful centre, where they can learn and get inspired by knowledge, all with a beautiful view of the Chao Phraya River. The BoT is an old institution that has had significant impacts on our country and its history, and we welcome all to come learn more and be proud of how far we’ve all come.”
Video by Jetjaras Na Ranong and Kanin Srimaneekulroj
The Bank of Thailand Learning Centre is open every day from 9.30am. The Library and Co-working Space areas close at 8pm, while the museum closes at 4pm.
Entry to the museum is free (for the first six months of the year). There are six guided tours through the exhibits every morning at 9.30am, 10am and 10.30am, and in the afternoon at 1.30pm, 2pm and 2.30pm.
A parking structure is provided for visitors bringing their own cars or motorcycles, with a 20 baht per hour fee. Getting a stamp from the museum, library or café area will give you 4-hours free parking.
– The Bank of Thailand Learning Centre is open every day from 9.30am. The Library and Co-working Space areas close at 8pm, while the museum closes at 4pm.
– Entry to the museum is free (for the first six months of the year). There are six guided tours through the exhibits every morning at 9.30am, 10am and 10.30am, and in the afternoon at 1.30pm, 2pm and 2.30pm.
– A parking structure is provided for visitors bringing their own cars or motorcycles, with a 20 baht per hour fee. Getting a stamp from the museum, library or café area will give you 4-hours free parking.
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