Sala Daeng's multi-story, multi-purpose art hub.
Not many office buildings boast of a steakhouse or ice-cream parlor on their ground floors, let alone their own indie cinema, exhibition space or rooftop bar with lush park views. But then Woof Pack is not your regular office building. When it came to creating a space for their branding consultancy firm, Thai-British entrepreneur Jay Spencer and his wife, Jareyadee, were determined to do things differently.
Taking out a lengthy lease on a five-story building near the corner of Sala Daeng Soi 1 and Rama 4 Road, Jay and Jareyadee set out to renovate the place floor by floor. Built in the late ‘80s, the building had sat mostly vacant for 15 years after the Tom Yum Kung financial crisis.
“We wanted to create a community of design and creative types who would gravitate towards each other,” Jay says. Alongside his consultancy firm, Woof Pack, the building is home to offices from heavy-hitters like Red Bull (marketing), Whitespace (design) and Z Communications (PR), independent cinema Bangkok Screening Room, an exhibition space and a slew of hip eateries, from Guss Damn Good’s experimental ice creams to Happy Endings’ modern Vietnamese cuisine.
“The second floor [home to cinema and exhibition space] is like the filling in the sandwich, where we attract foot traffic that ultimately serves all the other tenants,” Jay explains. The cinema screens a mix of international cult classics and local indie flicks, while the whitewashed exhibition space hosts everything from edgy photo shows to Mad Magazine retrospectives.
“Some people call us a gallery, but I wouldn’t go that far,” he continues. “We provide a canvas for people. Anyone could paint the walls white, install the right lighting. This might sound weird, but interspersing art with commercial ventures in one space helps people feel more comfortable. We’re not an uptight art space; we’re versatile.”
At present, Woof Pack hosts around six exhibitions per year, and many times that in corporate events. “We’ve had exhibitions where we’ve sold 70-90 pieces; [Spanish illustrator] Joan Cornella brought in 10,000 people in three weeks. It’s our way of supporting the art scene here, even if the corporate events are where we see the big return. We’ve had fashion shows, Netflix castings, [Australian skincare brand] Aesop took over the space with a laboratory.”
Jay and Jareyadee certainly did their location homework. Sitting on the fringes of Bangkok’s financial district, tree-lined Sala Daeng Soi 1 is a hive of activity on weekdays. “We sent students out to survey office workers within a 350-meter radius of the building, and they came back with a number of around 16,500. That’s a lot of people. We have around 100 or so people working just in our building, but we also wanted to be an anchor for everyone working around here.”
Woof Pack forges community by allotting space out front for street-food vendors to sell their goods in a sanitary environment (“they’ve been here longer than us”). “I hate the word gentrification. But traveling to Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney, we found these pockets of the city where by applying a little creativity, ingenuity and TLC to old properties, people were creating these vibrant communities. You need to make a sensible argument for maintaining these old structures. Second-generation kids might have cool plans, but their parents just say no.”
He says Woof Pack is currently at full occupancy, abides by a low-carbon footprint and is an example of using a space to its capacity. The crowning glory is penciled in for July 2019 when a rooftop bar dubbed Ohho will pair treetop views of Lumphini Park with beer and wine at prices which, according to Jay, will “keep people coming back.”