Lampyris House

The Lampyris House is a striking modern residence located on sloping high ground adjacent to Wat Mongkutkiriwan and close to the boundary of Khao Yai National Park some 120 km northeast of Bangkok. It is the weekend retreat of Kamolwan and Prasert Fungwanich. The location in a secluded area is very quiet and intensely dark at night. At the heart of the residence is a magnificent tall ‘swimming pool hall’, with a kaleidoscopic array of rectangular windows.

The architects of the house are Ponlawat Buasri and Songsuda Adhibai of S+PBA Co.Ltd. Ponlawaat Busara is a graduate of Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok (1991), where his ‘Linkage’ design was selected by Tadao Ando and Jeffrey Kipness as winner of the Association of Siam Architects under Royal Patronage Experimental Architecture Competition. His partner in the firm, Songsuda Adhibai, graduated from King Mongkut Institute of Technology Ladkrabang in Bangkok and gained a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Colorado at Denver in 2000. Both serve on the faculty of the School of Architecture at King Mongkut University of Technology at Thonburi.

The couple set up their practise in Bangkok in 2005, having gained recognition both nationally and internationally. They were named one of the finalists in the 2002 Grand Egyptian Museum competition sponsored by UNESCO and the International Union of Architects, and one of five finalists in a 2004 competition for the design of a World Performing Arts Village in Limerick sponsored by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland. More recent notable successes include first place in a competition for the Sport Center at Thailand Science Park, Pathumthani, in 2007. One year later, they were awarded first place in a competition for the ‘Garden of Innovation’ Laboratory at the Science Park.

Ponlawat expounds on the firm’s philosophy: ‘Our office has grown in Bangkok, a hybrid city that has hundreds of problems for creating good architecture. Our working method attempts to find an innovative design solution for each project.’ A third partner in the practise is Taylor Rhodes Lowe, a Literature graduate of the University of California at San Diego and an M.Arch. graduate of the School of Art Institute of Chicago, who articulates the theoretical underpinnings of the fi rm’s design methodology. His critical writing has earned him both the Berkhadt Prize and the Schiff Prize. He currently teaches in the International Program in the Faculty of Architecture at Chulalongkorn University.

The Lampyris House is constructed of concrete and glass and is raised on piloti. ‘To create rooms with a single view was not the best design solution for this site,’ Ponlawat explains. ‘Thus, at the start we decided to raise the building up in the air. Each “room” is constructed on rectangular columns and floats at treetop level.’

The house is a multilevel dwelling descending the slope. An audio-visual space, living space, kitchen/dining room and bedrooms are located in a constellation at different levels around the swimming pool hall and a landscaped courtyard. The external form of the house is generated by a ‘diagram’ with the primary functions of the dwelling joined, like a space station, by 1.3-meter-wide glazed corridors and stairs, which allow the house occupants to experience a constantly changing environment when they move from room to room. The master bedroom overlooking the swimming pool hall has distant views from an external roof deck. Ponlawat describes it thus: ‘The Lampyris House … fosters endless activity. We decentered the programme into an accentric system with connected nodes of activity ... it is a constellation of polygonal buildings.’

The entrance hall at the highest point of the site generates the main circulation route, which is a loop to connect rooms at different levels together and returns to the point of origin. The separation of the architectural mass meant the construction required only two trees to be cut down. Opening windows in opposite external walls induces natural ventilation.

The outside of the house is painted a deep purple, while the interior is pristine white. The evocative name of the residence refers to a small insect that glows in the dark northern forests. Similarly, the ‘purple exterior dissolves into the night sky’ and emits light from numerous separate windows, but during the day the windows frame multiple views of the surrounding mountains and a large pond in the foreground. The intention is to reforest the site, which had previously been cleared for agriculture.

For a visitor, the functions of spaces are often ambiguous. ‘The house’, architect Ponlawat concludes, ‘is about journeys not destinations. Anyplace can be anything. You can sit anywhere and have multiple experiences. Activities are not assigned to specific spaces but at places along the way.’

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