The Vikasa Yoga Retreat sits on a hillside on the Thai island of Ko Samui, a cluster of gabled bungalows rising on stilts above lush greenery, overlooking a turquoise sea. But when Vikasa’s founder Kosta Miachin decided to open a studio in the capital of Bangkok, one of Asia’s most dynamic urban centers, he knew he couldn’t simply transport the retreat’s rustic aesthetic to the heart of the metropolis. The new facility would have to be both meditative and modern, its peaceful interior also a reflection of the vivid pulse of the city outside.
Located in the slick neighborhood of Sukhumvit, surrounded by apartment towers and cutting-edge projects by firms like Finland’s ALA Architects and Thailand’s Department of Architecture, the 5,000-square-foot Vikasa on 24 occupies the second floor of a concrete, steel, and glass building—a conventional urban structure built originally as a showroom for the luxury apartment block that rises behind it.
“The client wanted something nontraditional, immersive, and holistic,” says Australian architect Patrick Keane, founder and director of Enter Projects Asia, the multinational firm Miachin hired to design the center. A Princeton University School of Architecture graduate, Keane has been interested in the use of rattan as a building material since his earliest projects in Thailand, where he has practiced for the last six years. So, treating the button-down structure as a vessel to be explored, the architect introduced a series of sinuous rattan tubes that snake through the interior, occasionally ballooning overhead like clouds. This nexus of oversize biomorphic pipes, which he describes as “a material guide to the space,” seems alive, more sentient being than architecture. During the day, they connect the various parts of the studio like a complex system of veins and arteries; at night, lit from within by LEDs, they become neural pathways, channeling energy from one end of the facility to the other and visible to passersby on the street below.
Keane and his team used software like Maya, a graphics application popular for special effects in movies, and Rhino, a favorite in automobile manufacturing, to generate a range of possible forms and configurations. Essentially, they looked at the space as a rigid glass box filled with gas into which they pumped a fluid material that could assume any shape. “We started by looking at the Klein bottle,” Keane continues, referencing the mind-bending geometric object that’s like a 3D Möbius strip, its exterior turning inward and swallowing itself. “The idea of an external surface becoming an interior, that’s what you’re looking for in yoga. The work you do on your body transforms your soul and the work you’re doing inside manifests in your way of being in the world.”
The first of the rattan tubes begins as a bulbous, synapse-shape lantern looming above the open entry stairwell. The pipe then crosses the reception-area ceiling before dropping down to create a curving, weightless front desk and bench. Two large yoga studios sit on either side of reception, each cocooned in a wood shell with a palm-leaf thatch exterior. Their interiors are lit by rattan tubes that loop and float overhead like enormous Isamu Noguchi light sculptures before exiting through the walls, only to expand dramatically and, in deft imitation of a Klein bottle, curve back on themselves to form bowerlike wicker enclosures that serve as small private yoga studios.
Though the design emerged through high-tech digital manipulations, the materials throughout come directly from the craft traditions of the Thai countryside. The curved walls and ceiling of the large yoga studios, for instance, are clad in shiplap-style panels of teak marine plywood manufactured by one of the many boatbuilders populating Thailand’s 1,750-mile coastline. In the locker rooms, the straightforward functionality of honed-slate flooring and gray cement walls is softened by custom teak benches handcrafted by Ian Sykes, a Bangkok-based English carpenter. “We really became a design-and-build contractor working on this project,” Keane reports. “We’re building up a permanent team of artisans here.”
That process has not been easy. Finding crafts-people who could translate the complicated tube designs into reality proved especially difficult. “There’s a tendency now for people to buy plastic imitation rattan, which is cutting artisans out of the industry,” Keane says. Indeed, it was only upon encountering Supinya Colin, the French-Thai director of a small company handmaking mostly synthetic-rattan furniture who was willing to work with the natural material, that it became possible to pull off the project through descending orders of technology: Designing the convoluted forms on computers, printing to-scale models, and finally executing them by hand with Colin’s master craftsmen.
Though Keane acquired his CAD credentials in the West, including 12 years working in New York, he has been able to take digital-age design a step further in Thailand. Projects like the yoga studio allow the technology to be absorbed and indigenized through the use of traditional materials and craft implementation. More than just an optimistic expression of a region in transformation, or a showy demonstration of what powerful software can make possible, Vikasa on 24 regards the past, present, and future as points that exist not on a timeline, but rather on the surface of a Klein bottle: fluid and continuous, one forever leading to another, a neural pathway built from an ancient material, shot through with light.
Project Sources: East Marine Asia: Paneling (Large Studio). Harman Kardon Through Rs Components Co.: Ceiling Speakers. Nonthaburi Wholesale: Thatching (Studio Exterior). Fine Wood Blind Company: Custom Blinds. Thailand Locker: Lockers (Locker Room). Häfele: Sink, Sink Fittings. Northern Lights Enterprise Co.: Wall Tile. Throughout Signify Though Homepro Thailand: LEDs. Pandomo Bangkok Co.: Cement Walls, Floor. Thai Stone Trade: Stone Supplier.