Vicharee “Taew” Vichit-Vadakan is an uncommon thinker. After returning from the US, where she worked in retail consulting for major brands including Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, she opened Bangkok’s first true community-oriented commercial space, The Commons Thonglor
. With her second project now open in Sala Daeng
, she talks with us about building for the community and giving back.
How did this project come together?
We were approached by the landowner. He had previously rented out the land to a restaurant [Treecreeper] that was closing down. The plot was a nice size. It’s 3,000 sq meters, so a little bit smaller than Thonglor. But I love this street—it has so many creative, dynamic businesses—and when I saw the property, I fell in love with the beautiful banyan tree out front.
What do you think about the current state of development in Bangkok?
Big mixed-used projects are popping up everywhere now. What’s missing are smaller places built for the community, with programming that comes first. A lot of big projects build first and then think about what to put in—we come up with programming before we even think about the design.
How can projects like The Commons help the city? There’s little to no urban planning here.
Not just that—there aren’t a lot of community spaces, either. When I came back to Thailand from the US, I had two small kids, and I didn’t know where to take them. There were no public libraries, no community centers, no playgrounds that were really usable. If you just moved here and were trying to meet new people, it was hard to do that. You could go to a mall, but that’s not necessarily where you want to spend your time with small kids. That’s the frustration.
How is the community around Sala Daeng changing?
There will be a lot of new businesses coming into the area [in the coming years]. If we have programming that’s authentic and good for the neighborhood, it helps everyone. Take Guss Damn Good
, for example. Their first location is on this soi, and we invited them to join The Commons. At first glance, it would make no sense for them to open another location just a few steps down, but they decided to offer a slightly different concept and product, because they love this neighborhood [and] saw it as an opportunity to further strengthen Sala Daeng
“What’s missing are smaller places built for the community”
Can you tell us about the design process?
We worked with the architectural firm DEPT again. They studied the neighborhood and found that the first railway in Thailand went from Pak Nam to Hua Lamphong, with a little station here with a red roof—in Thai, “sala daeng.” If you look at this soi (Sala Daeng Soi 1), the street sign says “Gotche.” They found out that he was the train conductor at the time. They took all of that as inspiration.
How did sustainability factor into it?
We wanted to use less energy and not have everything enclosed and blasting AC. But we also understood that, for Thai people to sit outdoors, we had to make it comfortable. So a lot of thought went into the air flow, the wind direction and putting fans in the right areas to increase ventilation.
We’re not LEED-certified or anything like that, but we try to be environmentally-friendly with our initiatives. We have a community fridge and encourage our food vendors to put their surplus ingredients that would otherwise go to waste into it. Thai SOS
collects the food and brings it to orphanages and halfway homes. And we don’t sell plastic water bottles. We have drinking water stations, and the donation money from them goes back to the community
Tell us more about those initiatives.
Every month, we work with the district to give that donation money to someone in the community who’s in need. In Thonglor, we met a 76-year-old lady living totally alone—no family, no kids—trying to survive on B700 a month. She could hardly find food to eat. She was walking around trying to find a job—she even stopped at construction sites and asked for work. No one would give her one, though, because she’s 76 and looks frail. But she’s healthy and wanted to work, so we offered her a job at The Commons. Now, if you go there, you’ll see her selling our products. She has so many great stories to tell.
What can we expect in Sala Daeng?
We’ve only invited a third of our tenants from Thonglor. Another third are more established brands—not chains, but ones that have locations somewhere else, like Boon Tong Kee
and Draft Land. The other third are new players that didn’t have any outlets. Like the dim sum place, Yumcha. The chef is coming from Hong Kong. He came and cooked for us, and it was amazing. There’s a yogurt bar called Lykke—it was born out of two women who started making yogurt at home.
What’s The Platform all about?
I’ve met so many talented, interesting people who don’t necessarily want to invest millions into opening their own business. They just want to teach. And these businesses all have different peak times. Musicians at night, art teachers during the day, fitness instructors in the morning or after work. So I thought, why not take the idea of a vacation timeshare but adapt it to the space? There’s one big hall, a smaller studio, a kitchen area that’s fully equipped so chefs can host private dinners, a grass lawn at the top for kids’ activities. The programs will change, so you can come often, try new things, meet new people. We’re trying to make it so that you can buy credits and use them for any activity.