STUDIO FOCUS: Bangkok. Ten minutes with Associate Director Davide De Visdomini

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the world economy and continues to shape the outlook for our international studios. Associate Director Davide De Visdomini takes us through how the Bangkok studio has responded to changed market requirements and how the team has coped with lockdowns and the huge hit to the Thai tourist industry, emerging with several exciting new projects in the pipeline.

Thailand is heavily dependent on tourism

The Cove, Koh Pha Ngan

Since Covid, we’ve seen an 85% reduction in visitors to Thailand, predominantly down to the restrictions on international travel. This was an abrupt end to income for a lot of businesses. Tourism is a serious contributor to the health of our economy and is a significant component of the GDP.

Formerly bustling resort destinations like Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi, Chiang Mai and Pattaya are even now quite deserted. Phuket’s visitor numbers are improving now due to its “Sandbox” scheme which allows vaccinated people to fly in and quarantine on the island.

It’s become apparent that we need to do more to attract domestic tourism. One island, Koh Pha Ngan, where we have several projects, including The Cove, has suffered less as it attracts a lot of visitors from Bangkok and beyond, including ‘digital nomads’ who can work remotely.

Lockdowns and adjusting to a new way of working

Bangkok Studio January 2022

This first lockdown happened just two days after I joined Chapman Taylor. There were very few Covid cases in Thailand at the time, but like the rest of the world, we wanted to react quickly to contain its spread. We worked from home from March 2020 for about four months. Thankfully, we already had the structure in place for remote working, via the Cloud system and virtual desktops. From a technical point of view, the switch was almost effortless.

But many of our projects were put on hold. Hospitality, for any business operating in this region, is always important. We used the opportunity to do some marketing, such as talks and presentations, to promote our areas of expertise.

We then worked back in the studio from August 2020 until April 2021. That was when Covid really started to hit Thailand. We were locked down again from April until October 2021. After such a long period, you do start to see the limits of remote working. For instant decision-making, being physically together is advantageous. It’s harder to perceive people’s emotions too when you’re not with them. You can feel less intuitive. Initially, we had lots of formal phone calls, every morning, but after a while we got into our stride and we ended up scheduling more formal calls relating to project-specific activities, then a less formal team call once a week which gave us a chance to discuss things like the Covid situation, returning to the workplace and share big picture ideas.

We now have a system of flexible working, combining the office and home, which feels like a good balance.

Diversification in our client base

Riedel Wine Bar and Cellar, Bangkok

We have both architecture and interior design teams in the studio, often running different projects.

Historically, in the South East Asian region, we’ve been quite strong in masterplanning, hospitality, mixed-use and more recently Smart City design. Compared to a lot of other firms, we started working on Smart City design quite early and we have a client base here in Bangkok, as well as in Vietnam and India. We are building this expertise and it has put us in a good position. There’s a lot of investment in digital technologies here in Thailand as it is seen by the Government as one of the key points to diversify its economy; there are some big projects in the pipeline.

In interior design, we built up a reputation in the hospitality, retail and workplace sectors thanks to some very successful projects such as the Riedel Wine Bar (which in 2018 won the Overall Retail (Small Format) Award at the ICSC VIVA Global Awards), the Thailand HQ for an American IT multinational and the collaboration with the Mandarin Oriental, for its hotel and shops. This work allowed us to find our niche and compete in a market where all the world's biggest players are present. We've been involved in key projects in the region, such as the biggest mixed-use development Bangkok has seen in decades.

Mandarin Oriental hotel and shops work

Outside of Thailand, we work on bigger-scale projects in collaboration with our other Chapman Taylor studios, such as Shanghai, Delhi and London. These include the VIP Lounges for 3 Indian airports, a shopping mall also in India and the HQ of the biggest retail developer in Saudi Arabia.

In the future, we want to continue to focus on our masterplanning as we are becoming well known for our expertise in this area. We have several exciting large-scale projects that we will be able to reveal details of soon.

Plus, hospitality is still key for us both in terms of architecture and interiors. There is a lot of competition in this region, but we think our work speaks for itself.

Healthcare design

Renovation of Bumrungrad International Hospital

Another area of growth for us is the growing field of ‘Hospitality Healthcare’. We’re working on the renovation of the best hospital in Thailand, and one of the best in the world. We see people travelling from the Middle East, China and Australia to Bumrungrad International Hospital to receive treatment and care in a five-star environment. It’s a first-class service with state-of-the-art facilities and experienced doctors, most of them with accreditations at the world’s leading medical institutions. Right now, we’re working on several areas of the hospital, some are still at the design stage and others are scheduled to be completed as early as March 2022.

Post-pandemic strategy

The British Club, Bangkok (Phase 1)

The British Club, Bangkok (Planned Phase 2)

Diversification is so important, to not focus on just one sector. It’s good to be recognised as experts in more than one area, for us that would be healthcare, Smart Cities and masterplanning.

For our designers, it’s good to have a wide range of projects to work on, small to large. Sometimes an insight that has been gained on a small project can really help a larger one, and vice versa.

We’re also enjoying increased collaboration with other Chapman Taylor studios – London, Delhi, Middle East, China. This is leading to new projects and we’re thrilled that the market in Thailand is starting to be re-activated. Enquiries about masterplans, private villas and retail projects are starting up again, projects like this mixed-use tower, Nam Quang Landmark, in Ho Chi Minh City. The second phase of our asset enhancement project at the British Club in Bangkok is progressing too. We're looking at the future full of optimism.

Davide De Visdomini

Associate Director, Bangkok

Davide has over 15 years of experience working in architecture and interior design in Italy, Finland, China and Thailand. He has led many key projects in Europe and Asia, including large-scale residential, hospitality, mixed-use and luxury resorts for international clients. His strength lies in a deep understanding of local cultures and user experiences, using these to integrate the needs of clients with each local context.

Davide oversees the design of our projects in South East Asia, including both architectural and interior design, and he manages delivery for our clients alongside our different specialist teams.

Areas of expertise:

Hospitality / Residential / Mixed-Use / Workplace

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