This is a story about a space.
Eighteen years ago on the top floor of a shopping complex on Sukhumvit Road, a remarkable series of rooms opened its doors to an un-expecting public, the physical embodiment of the nation’s ‘Creative Economy’. Since then, the Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC) has served as the de facto base camp for Bangkok’s community of students, freelancers, digital creators and independent entrepreneurs. Yesterday, this founding branch of the government’s design-centric resource centre quietly closed its doors for the last time, leaving a creative void in the heart of the city, unlikely to be filled anytime soon.
It may be hard to imagine, but there was a time when Bangkok was not quite the creative hub it so obviously appears to be now. Back in the early 2000s, phrases like co-working, digital nomads and remote office were practically unheard of in the public sphere, let alone understood. But in 2004, the Thai government under the Thaksin administration, established the Office of Knowledge Management and Development, a forward thinking and ambitious initiative that would eventually lead to the opening of TCDC on November 15th, 2005. Politics and later controversies aside, TCDC would tap into the digital Zeitgeist of the time and become the single most significant incubator space for an entire generation of ‘Creatives’, whose impact will long outlive the physical space it occupied.
I remember the first time I walked into TCDC, making my way up a series of soul numbing escalators through the luxury brand and eatery-drenched environs of Emporium, in what was then and still is, one of Bangkok’s most high-end shopping centres. Perhaps because of the retail journey that I had to go through to get to the top floor, the space that finally greeted me felt all the more unexpected — a cavernous, visually stunning, elongated, multi-roomed library, filled with natural light. For anyone who had even the faintest grasp of design, TCDC immediately spoke to them, as it did to me. Exposed ceilings (blackened for effect) contrasted on one side with double-height windows running the entire length of the space, providing unobstructed views of the city and Benjasiri Park below, while on the other side, shelf after shelf filled with thousands of thoughtfully curated books and magazines on topics such as advertising, design and branding. Row after row of white communal long tables filled the library, along with glass enclosed study pods and meeting rooms interspersed throughout. In the rear of the space was a specialised facility called Material Connexion, a world-class materials resource for furniture and architectural design. To round off the centre, there was an independently run cafe whimsically called Kiosk, and an equally whimsically named information desk called Guru. It was a visual and physical oasis for the creativity-starved Bangkokians of the day. High-end fixtures, study-inducive lighting and designer furniture was not just on display, but meant to be used and experienced in a communal way that connected people not only to each other, but to the co-working environment of the future. For anyone who did not yet work in a creative agency or a multinational tech firm, TCDC was a revelation.
In its initial years, TCDC supported this creative community with ambitious symposiums, talks, cross-cultural exhibitions and digitally-driven networking events that attracted leading luminaries from around the world and connecting them with local talent in the areas of design, architecture, branding, startups, media (both digital and print) as well as academia. For a while, there as a palpable buzz and an undeniable ‘scene’ that populated TCDC — well dressed creative types in their subtly expensive yet stylish smart-casual wear, white sneakers and canvas loafers became de rigueur, designer glasses with and without prescription abounded, often dripping in Apple technology in one hand, while clutching brandname Tote bags in the other, often visibly revealing the latest editions of magazines such as Monocle, Kinfolk, Visionarie and AD, to name a few. But there were also students, gamers, independent workers and housewives and mild mannered quiet-types as well as noticeable groups of people who would regularly utilise the facility as it was it was intended — as a space to promote connection, creativity and sharing.
Eventually, despite its progressive programs (or perhaps because of it), the political controversy surrounding TCDC’s Bangkok focused agenda at the expense of its national funding, saw TCDC become mired in the party politics of the day, resulting in the subsequent clearing house of the initial minds and talent behind its origins — adversely affecting its social and creative footprint. Although TCDC as an entity has since expanded into numerous new branches throughout the city, and into the provinces (both large and small), none of the new locations have managed to successfully replicate the particular formula of space, location and design that made the Emporium branch so successful.
In recent years, TCDC became a creative shadow of itself, but the space at Emporium remained remarkably unchanged and as popular as ever, a true testament to its founding design principles. Creativity is elusive and can be born out of many circumstances and environments — some ideal, some less so. But every now and then, a place like the original TCDC comes along and stands as a model for what a well designed communal space can and should be. Accessible, well thought out, and well laid out —where form meets function on an equal footing. I do not know how many countless creative ideas, thoughts, or even little noticed projects were hatched, possibly scraped, or eventually completed within the confines of TCDC — I can only attest to my own — for the idea behind the The Footpath Files and every story written so far for it, happened at TCDC — where, for a time, in a space truly of its time, creativity unfolded over and over again.
TCDC – Emporium
622 Sukhumvit Road, Khlong Tan, Khlong Toei, Bangkok 10110
TCDC’s Emporium branch permanently closed as of January 15th, 2023. All other existing branches of TCDC remain open.
2 responses to “Bangkok’s Original TCDC, Where Creativity Once Unfolded, Finally Folds Up”
The Footpath Files
Stories from the Streets of Bangkok
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