Trading Bangkok’s urban jungle for a familial, forested haven

The Forestias, a leafy new master-planned community in Greater Bangkok, germinates maverick ideas of intergenerational living and sustainability for a wide range of demographics

Thailand’s largest private sector property development project also happens to be one of its greenest.

The Forestias, a USD3.8-billion development by leading Thai property developer Magnolia Quality Development Corporation (MQDC), is a foil for the concrete jungle that is central Bangkok. The project, grazing the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) at Bang Na-Trat KM 7, is garlanded with 168 rai of green space, including a literal wild forest.

The Forestias originated more than 10 years ago as a utopian vision to bridge the generational divide between family tradition and city life. The homes at The Forestias are the endgames of numerous studies by Research & Innovation for Sustainability Centre (RISC), MQDC’s in-house R&D hub.

Over the years, the researchers uncovered demographic trends that ultimately categorised property seekers into Establishers, Enablers, Colonisers, Peacemakers, and Unleashers.

“Each group has distinct preferences and requirements for community engagement and social connections,” says Kittiphun Ouiyamaphun, president of MQDC and project director for The Forestias. “Understanding these mindsets allows The Forestias to tailor its amenities and programs to cater to the diverse needs of residents.”

As a result, the residential developments at The Forestias appeal to a variety of market segments and age groups. The site hosts an ageing-in-place community, The Aspen Tree; low-rise residential blocks for multi-generation families, Mulberry Grove Condominiums; high-rise condominium buildings for smaller family units, Whizdom; and clusterhome residences, Mulberry Grove Villas. IHG Hotels & Resorts also lent its star power to the project with Six Senses-branded detached houses.

This year, The Forestias introduced another condominium tower, The Forestias Signature, for families with teenagers.

The Forestias is a town where multiple generations live within easy reach of each other, thanks to award-winning residential components like The Aspen Tree, pictured (computer-generated imagery)

After acquiring the 398-rai site in 2016, MQDC set out to assemble a trellis of a team, comprising over 600 companies and 4,000 individuals, for The Forestias. British architecture firm Foster + Partners master-planned the site as an “infinitely extendable diagram of buildings and social spaces” akin to the layout of a traditional Thai house.

By studying Thais’ relationship to classical living spaces, Foster + Partners reintroduced elements lost to modernity. The architects huddled some of the villas to form compounds, each housing multiple families and recalling stilted vernacular houses that share a central courtyard. In buildings, they employed passive design strategies, inspired by houses of yore with their flexible, perforated walls that optimise ventilation.

Even the Forest Pavilion, the sales gallery and future learning centre, was designed to echo the large overhangs of traditional homes.

“When we look at the modern houses in Thailand today, people have various issues with them due to their unsuitability as the forms are adopted from other cultures,” says Sunphol Sorakul, partner and director of F&P (Thailand), the local entity of Foster + Partners. “Similarly, the city has been adopted from automobile culture, eliminating communal places and changing the scale and boundaries. It also removes our connection to nature.”

With a 48,000-square-metre forest as their centrepiece, the master planners allocated the commercial components to the site’s narrow northern side close to a major highway. The residential projects, in turn, live in the larger, quieter southern zone away from main roads. Elevated walkways connect all components, lessening car dependence.

Following preparatory infrastructure works, construction commenced in 2019. The construction site was marked a low emission zone (LEZ), restricting polluting vehicles to preserve air quality. Dissociating from the environmental hazards of quarrying, contractors mostly utilised stones sourced from villagers who routinely remove them from agricultural land.

Around 168 rai of greenery carpets The Forestias, adding to much-needed green area in Greater Bangkok (computer-generated imagery)

MQDC sourced low-impact, non-toxic building materials, including FSC-certified wood like timber glulam and compressed bamboo, and implemented upcycling techniques for the project. The road asphalt incorporated discarded ocean waste while piles were repurposed as aggregates. The level of responsible sourcing extends to the ethical treatment of animals, with the team opting for cruelty-free building materials.

Fifty-six percent of the site was set aside as green space. TK Studio, the landscape design practice behind the Metro Forest in Bangkok, worked its green thumb on the project alongside collaborators like theme park specialist ITEC Entertainment.

Naturally, this cacophony of voices presented itself in differences of opinion.

Once the plants grew to a certain height and density, we knew that the client could see and feel what we were trying to convince them to do. They were quite happy with the result

“Lots of people at the start of the project had different kinds of forest ideas,” says Tawatchai Kobkaikit, managing director of TK Studio. “Some people wanted to do a bamboo forest like in Japan. Some wanted to do the look of a pine forest, where trees are separately spaced with not many lower storeys. But at the end, everyone agreed that a tropical forest with dense vegetation would be more appropriate for the location.”

A tropical forest would also be the least energy-guzzling, lowest-maintenance choice. The nature of the forest would allow TK Studio to implement the Miyawaki method, which favours the planting of species endemic to the area. If humans went away, a Miyawaki forest would regenerate itself.

Stewarded by forest ecologist Anong Chanamool, TK Studio delved into an extensive curation process for the kinds of flora that would go into the forest. Deliberately seeded very close to each other, the plants would mature to create a dense canopy, shrouding the forest floor from sunlight and thereby preventing the growth of parasitic plants.

Innovative walkways, including a canopy walk through the forest, comprise some of the pedestrian-friendly infrastructures that make The Forestias an interconnected, walkable community

TK Studio was nervous about how the technique would be received by MQDC. “We planted most trees, shrubs, and groundcovers from saplings,” says Tawatchai. “It was difficult to see how the forest would grow on the first day, especially whether the forest would be green enough when the project opens. We only needed time to help us grow all the plants.

“Once the plants grew to a certain height and density, we knew that the client could see and feel what we were trying to convince them to do. They were quite happy with the result.”

The landscaping team enmeshed the woods with skywalks, including a 1.6-kilometre-long canopy walk whence residents can admire the treetops and budding skyline of The Forestias. Five waterfall features generate humidity craved by plants while treated wastewater from the buildings flow to ponds along the forest, which can absorb 30,000 cubic metres of stormwater runoff. The wetland areas also house many species of animals.

Humans are barred from setting foot on the Deep Forest, a 3.75-rai area exclusive to animals. The landscaping team created, for good measure, a route for wildlife crossing between the Deep Forest and the ponds. Trees were also planted along the main road, acting as corridors for animals to move to places unbothered by people. A green roof, spanning over 1,500 square metres, has been erected for birds and insects.

Defined by shady overhangs and green roofs, The Forest pavilion’s large-span structure channels the southern wind, with radiant cooling solutions for low-impact comfort

The shrewd landscaping decisions serve to improve health and wellness outcomes for the highest form of animal there is, of course. The Forestias represents 9 sqm of green space per human being, exceeding the minimum EIA requirement of 1 sqm per person. Bangkok overall only offers 6.9 sqm of green space per capita.

“The green spaces of The Forestias can act as a stepping stone that plays a part in enhancing biodiversity in Bangkok,” says Kittiphun.

When The Forestias was conceived, the lack of green spaces was one of many challenges undermining the development of Thailand. In 2012, the country began a period of steady decline in its levels of happiness, as measured by the Galluppowered World Happiness Report, that would last through the onset of the pandemic.

MQDC hopes to put the Land of Smiles back on track when The Forestias completes its first residential components.

“The essence of The Forestias development lies in its dedication to fostering happiness through strong relationships,” says Kittiphun. “By meticulously distributing our products, we ensure that residents have addresses that not only meet their needs but also provide a convenient, safe, and inclusive environment where they can come together, connect, and spend quality time.”

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