Serenity is perhaps the most elusive quality in today’s world, certainly in the West it appears to have been discarded in favour of the pursuit of technology and efficiency. According to the architect Luis Barragán “Serenity is the great and true antidote against anguish and fear, and today, more than ever, it is the architect’s duty to make of it a permanent guest in the home, no matter how sumptuous or how humble.”
For Design Anthology's Issue 8, I reflected upon on how architect Ong ard Satrabandhu so gracefully offers a sense of serenity in his work, especially at Rachamankha, a hotel in Chiang Mai which also houses his residence and offices. It was wonderful to have a dialogue with him about his process and thinking. Some extracts from the article are below.
Serenity, that sense of sacred calm, is found and felt in individual ways, and what triggers that can differ from person to person but all of us are affected by our environments. Travelers often hope that on the journey there will be a moment to find at least a sliver of it, a hope piqued by hotels and spas offering sweet promises that their spaces will be the ones to deliver this. Hospitality from the guest perspective and in the hotel industry in general, is often misinterpreted as services or a particular set of offerings that seem to make up for spatial deficits – just look at the criteria we use for rating or feedback of the guest experience. Thinking about the traveler’s quest for serenity, I realise that the first time I truly experienced it in a hotel was at Rachamankha in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s not the amenities, connectivity or services; it is the authenticity of the space.
Being a guest at Ong-ard’s hotels is a singular experience. The profound role of the architecture, of the space itself contributes in every possible way to a sense of well-being as a guest. I have come to understand the feeling of serenity in his spaces as two-part: the first is the immediate suspension of time, which feels like a clearing of the slate, mentally. This allows for the second part to unfold: a deep, almost unconscious sensory engagement, so one can really receive time. This feeling made me want to discover from its architect what it is about the design and planning of these spaces that creates this feeling.
His ability to expertly compose the space, bridging past and present, new and old, traditional and radical, allows guests to feel that they are in their rightful place. “My intention was to design both hotels as though they just grew naturally from a few buildings by artisans in the village or town to become what is now, without intervention of architects.”
Surprisingly what I found was that it is the sense of the past that made me feel so at home in the present, the absence of visual distraction and the repetition of elements in the planning that brings both curiosity and ease. Exactly what Ong-ard describes as aiming to “make guests feel the pleasures of solitude.”
Creating balance and a harmony of parts is distinctive to Ong-ard’s work, a result of using the language of vernacular and classical architecture that is virtually extinct today. In merging these two approaches, one instinctive and organic, the other precise and methodical, a universal language of architecture is found.