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Urban Design Theory - Pamela Caspani and Andrew Nicoll

INTRODUCTION TO STUDY AREA Bangkok, Thailand is well-known as an Asian metropolis, and spreads 70 km east to west and 80 km north to south. The study area is located 2 km east of the centre of old Bangkok city, and is centred on the crossing of two canals at the Charoenpol Bridge near the Bobae Markets.


Also running north-south of the study area at both scales is a highway on the west of the canal. From this, the vehicular user can travel off the highway and into the block, though they meet with a labyrinth of roads, laneways and alleyways. At a larger scale (refer Diagram 4), this phenomenon is multiplied and repeated numerous times. This structure can be described and compared between the two scales according to Christopher Alexander’s (1965) ‘A City Is Not A Tree’. As seen in Diagram 8, at 1:2000 this district of Bangkok is a ‘tree’ structure, with main axes of movement (i.e. the canal and the main streets) and many sub levels of movement (i.e. the back streets and the laneways). By contrast and as can be seen in Diagram 9, at 1:10000 the region is a combination of a semi lattice and ‘tree’ structure. Many of the neighbourhoods within the one sq km have multiple paths and networks that link into the larger transportation network of Bangkok.


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SPACE From the building figure ground in Diagram 3 it is apparent that the centre of the study area (i.e. the canal intersection) is not built over, but that the space is encroached upon by four quadrants of built form. Another way of looking at this is that the canals create an urban edge between the four quadrants. However, bridges allow for connection across the canals. There are a total of 7 pedestrian bridges crossing the north-south canal indicating a high level of east-west permeability. The north-south connections offer pedestrian permeability to a lesser extent but also includes vehicular and rail connections.

Diagram 1: Streetview Accessibility and Areas of Focus 1:10000

8 5


4 3 2 1

Jane Jacobs’ (1961) ‘The Life and Death of Great American Cities’ theory relates successful urban design to mix grain size, short blocks, mix uses and density. Diagram 2 not only shows the functional mix (spread mainly between residential, mixed use and commercial), but also shows there is diverse mixture of uses.

Image 1: Bobae Clothing and Wholesale Market


Diagram 2: Functional Mix 1:10000

The many laneways around the Bobae Clothing and Wholesale Market indicate the areas’ pedestrian permeability through informal roads not accessible via Google Maps. Diagram 4 also indicates active frontages and blank frontages. Some Street View examples of these are denoted on the diagram and shown below.

As evidenced in Diagrams 1-4, the blocks are short and vary in size. There appears also to be a relationship between function and block size e.g. residential (particularly informal settlements) have short and small blocks while public/government uses (with much larger building footprints) have longer and larger blocks.

Image 2: Mahanak District- Mix of Food and Retail

As evidenced in Diagram 6, many of the laneways and roads around the centre of the study area have active edges, particularly where shops meet the street at ground level and where street vendors set up their stalls on the street (refer Image 3). However, not all active frontages are mixed use function; this is because many streets in the Established Residential Area are connected to bridges across the river. Streets which serve nonpublic purposes (private) such as the Government zone, tend to have inactive street frontages (refer Image 7). The use of markets brings further vitality to these streets through regular interaction between people and the street (refer Image 1). From Kevin Lynchs’ (1981) ‘Good City Form’ theory the street vendors and market stall operators have intermittent control of the space they set up within. From Peter Hall’s (1966) ‘The World Cities’ theory to achieve this, the market stall operators use a magnitude of unfixed elements; including umbrellas, carts, clothes racks and signage (refer Image 3 and 5) From Quentin Stevens (2007) ‘The Ludic City’ theory, the opportunity for triangulation is enhanced by the hustle and bustle on the street or the urban drama.

7 Diagram 3: Figure Ground 1:2000

Public/Institution Government Open Space

Comparing this functional mix between scales in Diagrams 5 and 6, it is evident that at 1:2000 the study area seems mostly mixed use with some residential. However, at 1:10000 there is a far greater mixture of functions.


Diagram 1 indicates the limits of the desktop analysis using only Google Maps; with the analysis limited to a Google Earth aerial perspective and Google Street View of main roads and some laneways/service lanes. Diagram 1 also identifies 7 key distinct districts within the study area to be discussed, and these include: 1. Bobae Clothing and Wholesale Market 2. Mahanak Muslim Community District 3. Phuchong Park 4. Bobae Tower 5. Bobae Fruit Market 6. Train Line Informal Settlement 7. Established Residential Area Transportation in the study is divided into three categories; including vehicular (road), water (canals), and pedestrian (walkways). The analysis is limited to a vehicular perspective.

Legend- Diagram 2 Residential Mixed Use (Com+Res) Commercial

Diagram 4: Figure Ground and Frontages 1:10000. Numbers relate to Images

Image 3: Highway Street Shops and Vendors on Road

Legend- Diagram 3, 4 Built Form Figure Ground Active Frontages Blank Frontages

Image 4: Bridge Across Canal, a Place for Interaction

DENSITY Diagrams 5 and 6 shows functional mix throughout the study area across scales. Diagram 5 shows that residential uses typically have a smaller footprint than mixed use and as such can fit more into the same area. Diagram 6 shows this generally to be the case in the larger area, but that also the larger footprint functions typically are government functions. Public/institution uses appear more spread out with space in between, indicating a less dense urban environment. Diagram 6 suggests residential and mixeduse, which take up most of the site, are the most dense areas.

30% 70%


1:2000 1:10000 Diagram 7: Functional Comparison Between Scales Legend- Diagrams 5, 6, 7 Residential Mixed Use (Com+Res) Commercial Public/Institution

Government Open Space Active Frontages Blank Frontages

CONCLUSION Bangkok and the larger study area is an intense area. It includes a diverse mix of functions, building heights and density, and this successfully creates an environment full of vitality on the street. It has its ‘fronts’ and ‘backs’; active edges and blank frontages. It has private and insular feeling areas, and public and open feeling areas. Other than purpose built buildings, typically the streets provide the action. However, as evidenced from the density, so do areas not accessible by road. Diagram 5: Function and Frontages Relationship 1:2000

Diagram 6: Function andFrontages Relationship 1:10000

There is a strong correlation between functional uses and building heights. Comparing Diagram 6 and 9 suggests that residential uses are generally lower-rise (i.e. 1 to 5 storeys) whereas government and commercial uses are generally high-rise (i.e.3 to >8 storeys). The coverage of the established residential area indicates that the 3 and 4 storey apartments are packed in. This suggests it is denser than the train line informal settlement that is only 1 and 2 storey with less coverage.

The smaller study area represents a snapshot of the goings on, but misleads in terms of the greater diversity in the vicinity. The building heights for example at the smaller scale suggests an area of medium height, however at the larger scale we can see it is more varied, allowing for alternative functions. The smaller study area also misleads in terms of structure i.e. it appears to be a ‘tree’ structure area but in fact it is a ‘tree’ in a larger semi-lattice structure. Interestingly, the study area showed the functions in Bangkok correlate with the building heights and density. 10%

Open space is only evident at the larger site scale (refer Diagram 6) and this is minimal (i.e. approx. 5% of total area). As evident from Street View however, there is quite a dense streetlife. The success of this streetlife supports Rob Krier’s (2003) ‘Typological and Morphological Elements of the Concept of Urban Space’ theory that activities of a cultural nature (e.g. markets) are appropriate for public spaces. However, where a square is not present in this district of Bangkok, people are forced to use the linear streets to sell their goods and interact with one another. The street has become the marketplace, the cultural and economic activity centre.

10% 10%


10% 20% 10%

5% 5% 5% 5%


10% 20%

10% 15%

1:2000 1:10000 Diagram 10: Height Comparison Between Scales Legend- Diagrams 8, 9, 10 >8 Storeys 7 Storeys 6 Storeys 5 Storeys 4 Storeys Diagram 8: Building Heights and Coverage 1:2000

Image 5: Bobae Fruit Market- Mixed Use Active Frontages



Diagram 7 shows the difference between the functional mix when viewing the district at the two scales. It is important to view a larger area of the study in order to gain a better understanding and overview of the district as a whole. The same applies for Diagram 10 comparing scales for the building heights as discussed below. Diagram 8 and 9 shows building heights throughout the study area across scales. Diagram 8 shows a mix between 2 to 5 storey buildings, with mostly 3 storey followed by 4 storey buildings and high coverage (approx. 90%). Diagram 9 shows a stark contrast to this, with a large mix of building heights evident. Predominantly the 1 sq km site is 3 storeys (approx. 25%) and with a lower overall coverage (approx. 80%). Diagram 9 generally shows that lowrise buildings are more densely packed in, while high-rise (i.e. >8 storeys) are more spread apart and have less immediately around them.

5%5% 5%

Image 6: Near Bobae Tower, Minimum Active Frontages

3 Storeys 2 Storeys 1 Storeys Blocks/Figure Ground

Diagram 9: Building Heights and Coverage 1:10000

Image 7: Residential Area, Blank Frontages, Street Movement

Image 8: Informal Settlements, Blank Frontages

Bangkok Multi-Scale Google Analysis  

This is a week-long project undertaken with a classmate Andy Nicoll for an exhibition at the University of Melbourne. The graphical layout w...

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