Exclusive interview with the father of modern Thai architecture


Lek “Mathar” Bunnag, one of Asia’s most respected design visionaries, recently returned from Venice Architecture Biennale where he was selected to represent Thailand

Having designed several renowned hotels, resorts and villas, including the multi-award winning Four Seasons in Chiang Mai, Ritz Carlton Reserve in Phulay Bay and The Oberoi in Mauritius, Lek Bunnag, himself a Thailand National Artists Award winner, has now turned his attention to Phuket, where he has embarked on a journey to create a legacy statement on sustainable luxury.

The project is MontAzure Luxury Villas, which will be part of a mixed-use development spanning 72 hectares of beachfront and mountainside land on Phuket’s central west coast at Kamala. It is arguably the last available site on Phuket of this scale and natural beauty and therefore offers an opportunity for the developers to ‘get it right’ and offer a project that is sustainable and community-minded.

This fits well with Bunnag’s philosophy of “enhancing and ensuring a safeguard for cultural heritage and the local environment” and is perhaps the most challenging assignment to date for the man known as the “father of modern Thai architecture”.

What was your key message at The Biennale?

The theme was ‘Unmistakably Thai’–Spirituality is our foundation.

Which countries’ presentations impressed you most?

All flowers have their own beauty–they are always waiting to give us a gift. I had no preference–but of course, the Thailand pavilion was very impressive.

What was your overall impression of the architectural trends and approaches on display in Italy this year?

I would prefer to see a return to serenity and joy and the timeless quality in architecture where architecture, landscape, interior and all arts are one.

What are the key changes you have noticed in architecture in recent years?

Architecture should express the spirit of the time. Therefore, creativity changes are part of the natural process. Image alone is not enough; architecture needs content to make it last–evolving from timely to timeless.

Is Phuket still a good location for your style of architecture?

Oh yes, because I love its cosmic force, the horizon, stars, moon, the sun, the reflection, the breeze, the sky.

What appealed to you about MontAzure development?

The best resort is where the sea, mountain and cultural heritage come together in harmony in one place, MontAzure is one such perfect place. Our design density between architecture and landscape is our luxury–I cannot think of any development on Phuket that is able to achieve this proportion. At MontAzure you will get to see a rare beauty where architecture and cosmic force come together.

Why are culture and tradition still important in modern architecture?

Our architectural world is heading toward globalisation, toward sameness with a lack of expression of personality. In Thailand, we are very lucky that our Great Grand Mother is still alive. She has been a constant since the start of our nation. She has been an inspiration for all our beauty, whether it’s interiors, architecture or urban design, from Lanna, Sukhothai, Ayudthaya until today. She stimulates our unique and unmistakable characteristics that make us different in the world. This intrinsic quality is what we need to preserve. We must ensure that she will not become extinct. That is why I am convinced and insist that ‘she’ – Thai spirituality– must be enhanced and preserved.

What is your biggest challenge when working on a residential project?

Yesterday has passed. Yesterday’s beauty has gone. Here and now is our moment and creativity is the challenge. Creativity means to bring newness in to the world, new image, new space, new form; yet to preserve and enhance the well being of our cultural heritage.

What do you enjoy most about the design process?

I enjoy working with our clients and consultants. We are a modest but strong team with a commitment to quality. We pay attention to detail. My real enjoyment is to see a refined and handsome prince emerging.