by Jerry ElengicalJan 09, 2023
Is it a café or a garden? Or is it both? A cascading pavilion of concrete marked by a circular stepped platform nestles within it a semi-indoor café that looks out to its verdant surroundings. Located in Amphawa, a Thai district situated southwest of Bangkok and popular for its floating markets, the hospitality-landscape project is designed by Bangkok-based Looklen Architects. Known as the Pomelo Amphawa Café, the space sits hidden in a lychee garden, amidst lush farmlands and facing the Mekong River.
The 630sqm café takes reference from the taithun, a semi-outdoor area that is often seen in traditional Thai houses taking up the ground floor space. Against the fluid morphology of the amphitheatre-like outer enclosure, the café has a rigid form, defined by a rectangular layout. The café interiors feature a glass encasement and skylights that filter views of the outdoors in. The space is oriented towards the Mekong River on the north for two reasons: one it captures stunning views of the river for visitors to relish, and secondly, it presents an ideal direction to avoid direct exposure of the interiors to sunlight.
The circular form of the architecture, with no demarcation of the front and back, creates open access from all directions of the site. Keeping the circular platform as the base, Looklen Architects lifted it to create a large semi-outdoor space underneath. The platform was further pushed down to create an encircling amphitheatre, and into it a rectangular space was inserted centrally, dedicated as the café. The concrete steps of the amphitheatre have been punctured to accommodate existing trees of the site and netting for rest and outdoor gazing. The steps are also dotted by wooden steps as well as planter and gravel encasements that refine the cascading setup as a place for people to tinker around. Visitors playfully hike the steps to find for themselves the best spot for a view of the river, friends enjoy a moment lounging on the netting, while people are often seen chatting, perched on the highest point of the platform with their legs dangling in the air.
The jagged underside of the roof makes space for a semi-shaded area spread right outside the indoor café. Featuring casual seating for those who want to sit closer to the landscape, it doubles as an extension of the café. The polished concrete floor of this area lies along a peripheral gravel path treading before the grassy landscape of the lychee garden.
“The material is mainly concrete to represent the shape, volume, and the dynamic of the building which has both curve line and straight lines of steps where visitors can walk and climb around,” says the design team at Looklen Architects. A closer attention is given to making sure the new space remains in synergy with the idyllic nature of the site, where context remains key to the program, and that the meeting of architecture and public space doesn’t take away the charm of what already exists.
“In the evening and night, the upper part of the amphitheater can be fully used for public events that face toward the river scenery. This design language allows the architecture to be active day-and-night,” adds the design team. “The result of the architectural design creates an all-day accessible public space and an iconic landmark that sits harmoniously with its surrounding landscape.”
The project is part of the Pomelo Amphawa masterplan that constitutes of five buildings on the enclosing land. All structures are weaved along manicured gardens and existing trees, and oriented in a way that people inhabiting the spaces remain cognisant of the stunning yet fragile greenscape that surrounds them. A key inspiration of the project came from the modest sensibilities of Thai houses where architecture packs in more with less, and landscape remains one with the built form. A café that could have been a two-storied inward-looking building, disconnected from its place, the Pomelo Amphawa Café stands out for doing more for the site than it did for the client.