Weekender spoke with Oki Sato from nendo studio to find out more about the design philosophy behind the revamped mall.
For anyone who’s spent any amount of time in Japan, setting foot in the revamped Siam Discovery shopping mall in Bangkok is a bit of a surreal experience. One would be forgiven for thinking that you’d just crash-landed in one of Tokyo’s chic and ultramodern department stores. Glimmering chandeliers, open spaces, futuristic interiors and merchandise meticulously laid out in a museum style, welcome the shopper to this new temple of retail temptation.
It comes as no surprise to learn a Japanese creative, Oki Sato, the chief designer and founder of nendo studio, was behind the reimagining of this mall which took one year and some 4 billion baht (approximately 11.6 billion yen) to complete. Sato is the winner of numerous “Designer of the Year” awards and nendo designs can be found in the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Centre Pompidou in Paris. The redesign of Siam Discovery marks both his first project in Thailand and his largest to date.
Located in the Siam Square and surrounded by other shopping malls like Siam Center (Thai designer flagship stores), Siam Paragon (international brands) and MBK (bargain hunting), Siam Discovery is owned and operated by Siam Piwat, widely regarded as the country’s most forward-thinking retail group.
First built in 1973, the center was long overdue for a refurbishment, especially given the fierce competition from other shopping malls in the vicinity and given the advent of e-commerce. Reopening its doors for a spectacular relaunch on May 26, local residents and tourists alike have been flocking to see the revamped Siam Discovery, which has been hailed for being on the forefront of the “new” shopping.
Walking around the new gleaming mall, one of the most notable features is the lack of separate stores in large parts of the complex. The design resulted in a hybrid between a shopping center and department store. Rather than categorizing merchandise by brand, the shopping experience is organized around the theme of “lifestyle labs”, encouraging visitors to discover and enjoy a mixture of tastes and lifestyles, finding something unexpected and enticing them to make impulse purchases. Sato explained that they designed motifs at 13 different locations around the sales floors that include laboratory equipment such as beakers, flasks, and test-tubes, and diagrams of molecular structures, nucleotide DNA sequences, microscopes and amoeba, smoke and bubbles to reflect this.
“My aim was to design a space for people to comfortably spend their time during their offline shopping experience,” Sato said. “Online shopping works best for customers with a specific purpose in mind.”
The studio also blended the finishes on the floors and ceilings in the common areas and retail spaces in a graduated way to give an impression that different materials have been mixed together, in a bid to create a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere.
So shoppers don’t get too confused, the familiar division with different floors dedicated to menswear, womenswear, streetwear, technology & gadgets and home décor items remains. On one of the upper floors we spotted a drone shop as well as Toy Station, a store full of games, toys and figures from popular movies, video games and comics. You’ll also come across art spaces and exhibitions, like the Photo-Mosaic Interactive Exhibition where your personal Instagram photos are projected across a giant LED screen, literally giving you a larger-than-life experience. All in all, the eight-storey mall contains more than 5,000 international and local brands, including famous Japanese names like Loft, World of Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, Yoshio Kubo and Discord by Yoji Yamamoto.
Initially only contracted to design the fourth and fifth floors of the shopping mall, Sato was soon asked to redesign all five floors after impressing Siam Piwat CEO Chadatip Chutrakul with his concept ideas. His revolutionary retail design has captivated the media too, with writers and photographers from international design magazines flying in to photograph the new mall.
To do the design, however, Sato faced a number of challenges. The existing structure was deep with a narrow frontage that resulted in a poor flow of visitors in the front. To deal with this challenge, the existing circular atriums dotted throughout the building were extended and joined up to create an elongated canyon-like space of over 58 meters to draw visitors into the back of the building. In addition, a wall consisting of a stack of 202 frame-shaped boxes with video monitors, digital signage and displays of merchandise inside them was installed along one side of the atrium, acting as a directory for the whole store. The wall also created the effect of drawing visitors to the upper floors since it extends up from the first to the fourth floor.
For the exterior design, it was decided to open up the outside as much as possible by clearing away as much from the walls as structural constraints permitted. However, since in Bangkok it’s important to alleviate the intense heat of the sun, a double-skinned facade was created and decorated with a pattern that reflects the “stacked box” installation in the atrium.
Finally, Sato created a character called “Discovery Man” as a symbol and mascot for the retail complex. “We wanted to make a character that expressed intellectual curiosity and creativity, so his head is a cube like those used throughout the design of the building and the top is slightly open as if something is always popping in and out,” he explained. The character serves as a guide in the complex, and as one of the opening events 30 artists from Thailand and across the rest of Asia were chosen to paint and customize them to decorate the space.
Given Siam Discovery’s newfound popularity, Oki Sato’s approach is clearly resonating with both the older generation as well as the younger, social media-savvy generation who can be notoriously difficult to pry away from their devices unless it’s a chance to go out and catch a few Pokemon characters.