Founder of leading architecture firm A49, whose massive projects now span the region and the Middle East, Nithi Sthapitanonda, 64, tells us why he choose to start his own business and how Bangkok can hope to fix its many urbanism issues.

Being an architect wasn’t a very popular career choice 40 years ago. All I knew was that architects designed houses.

I really liked to draw things when I was a kid. That’s why my teacher suggested I study architecture in college.

I got into both Chulalongkorn and Silpakorn universities but I chose Chula because I knew some seniors there and I liked playing rugby. I played for Chula’s rugby team for three years. Nowadays people don’t watch it anymore, but rugby was popular back then.

I left the managing director position at an architecture firm because I wanted to open my own company. I didn’t just want to be an employee. If you want to do something your way, you’ve got to do it on your own.

I wasn’t worried about starting my own business because I was a top manager before and I’d made it through hard times. I knew I could start off small and make it grow later. I made it through a few recessions. I know how to handle a bad economy.

I had to be really careful with customers. You can’t just accept every job someone offers you. If your customers are corrupt, your business won’t survive either.

A career like mine doesn’t really have an elevated position. I just want to give it my best. When people accept my work, that’s success. Society is the judge.

Bringing the firm into the international market is a necessity. Now foreigners are starting businesses in Thailand. If we don’t compete with them, we’ll be left behind.

I began publishing books to represent Thai architecture when I saw architecture books representing Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. There were no books on Thai architecture. That was embarrassing. I wanted to show that Thais can design for the world, too.

We don’t have much stunning architecture because we are not a wealthy country. Thais build houses and buildings to live in. We don’t really care about luxury. We don’t invest much money in architecture like Singapore. We still have so many people living in slums.

We’re going to have more people living in slums if the government doesn’t create a plan to help them. They must show people that you don’t have to move to the city to live a good life.

It takes time to improve the lives of people in slums. Maybe we should start with education. When people are educated they might change to improve their own lives.

Bangkok is an extraordinary city. It’s where the high-end and low-end meet. The rich and the poor live together: wealthy people dine in fancy restaurants, poorer folks eat at cheaper places, but the taste of their food is not really that different. You don’t find this in other parts of the world.

Architecture can improve society if you get rid of corruption. But Thailand has suffered so much corruption from every government.

There is so much poverty and filth and so many traffic jams. Bangkok to me is not that beautiful a city, compared to where I’ve been in Europe or the US.

But Bangkok has character. My foreign friends have said that every corner of the city is different, and that makes it interesting. That’s what’s charming about Bangkok. And the cost of living is very cheap, too.

We must not forget that our country has 76 more cities aside from Bangkok. Lately we’ve seen a few more cities became self-sufficient, such as Chiang Mai, Khorat, Udonthani, Khon Kaen. People who’ve grown up and gone to college there don’t necessarily want to move to Bangkok, so they find work there instead. They’d rather stay where they are because they know that those places can still expand and improve.

I would take care of the illegal signs and establish laws for controlling street vendors, if I were Bangkok’s governor. If you drive along the streets nowadays you’ll see rows and rows of advertising canvases, covering the stalls of street vendors. We have to find a way to manage them and, at the same time, make sure that those street vendors can still make a living.

I’m a simple person. I don’t need any luxury. If I had a sports car, a private jet, or a yacht, I would have to find someone to take care of them for me, and that’s nothing but a burden.

Happiness doesn’t always have to be something grand. You have to find out where your happiness is.


Leave a Comment