The Other Residene

The Other Residence is a cubist composition located on the edge of Khao Yai National Park. Surrounded by high mountains in the relative isolation of a broad valley, the house has a ‘U’-shaped plan backing onto a steep forested hillside to the north and enclosing a timber-decked courtyard with a lap pool and a mature tree that shades an outdoor dining area. There is a dynamic contrast between the precise horizontal lines of the architecture and the natural landscape in which it is set.

The owners are Dr Jens Niedzielski and Paramee Thongcharoen. Both are directors of an international brand consultant and advertising agency with headquarters in Bangkok. Paramee Thongcharoen, a Thai, studied Business Management at California Technical University and later graduated with a Masters in Interior Design from the University of California at Los Angeles, but she has always worked in advertising. She lived for many years in Los Angeles before returning to Bangkok via Germany where she met Jens Niedzielski, who is of German origin, in Dusseldorf, while she was working for BMW. They have another residence in central Bangkok, but they enjoy escaping to Khao Yai at every possible opportunity. ‘The capital is a quality place to work,’ says Jens, ‘but not to live. This house is an antidote to life in Bangkok.’

The architect of the residence is Duangrit Bunnag. He is a close friend of the couple, who were looking for a specific ‘style’ of architecture. Jens describes the house as ‘in the spirit of the Bauhaus of the 1920s’, which is exactly what he appreciates, along with the work of Tadao Ando and ‘architectural masterpieces’ in Southern California. They knew Bunnag’s work well and considered him the best man for the job.

The house took three years to build. It is constructed in lightweight concrete for thermal mass, but neither the architect nor the contractor had used this method of construction before and learned by doing. There was wide variation in concrete quality, and on one occasion the contractor attempted to pour a whole floor in the rainy season. Consequently, there was lots of tearing down and rebuilding before a satisfactory finish was achieved.

Jens is technically inclined he explains in great detail how they specified a ‘well-built’ house. Consequently, the pump room and electrical system are purposefully overspecified to cope with any emergency. The house is designed to cope with extremes of climate, for temperatures can be 9 degrees at night rising to 35 degrees during the day. His wife Paramee speaks more of emotional attachment to the house of Thai cultural traditions. But both were united in their requirement that the house should be ‘a home away from home’, not a vacation home but a family residence.

They lived on site during the construction in a small dwelling that is now occupied by Paramee’s parents, and their new residence was completed when their daughter was three weeks old. The accommodation includes a bedroom for their teenage son, a movie and audio room and a games room. The master bedroom suite is cantilevered six meters over the house entrance, which is otherwise somewhat uncelebrated. The couple designed the kitchen themselves using Siemen’s components. It is a double-height space in an open plan that connects to the dining and living area. While the house is predominantly white, there are brilliant splashes of magenta on selected walls. The planar geometry generates beautiful effects of light and shade.

The couple muse upon the response of other people to their house. They observe that it is sometimes mistaken for a clubhouse or a school. ‘Most Thais are conservative and would not build a house like this. Indeed, to many a flat roof is “unfinished”. As in other cultures, the so-called “mainstream” has a very stereotypical image of a house.’ Perhaps it is travel and education that changes perception of what a house can be. It is also true that a house is ‘a portrait of its owner(s)’.

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