This is a translated article from a Thai article,  (ป้อมปราการแห่งสนามเป้า (ธนาคารทหารไทย สาขาสนามเป้า)-The Fortress of Sanam Pao (Sanam Pao branch of Thai Military Bank (TMB)) by AriAround’s interview with Chachawal Pringpuangkeo, the great mind behind Design 103 International as he opened up to us that he took inspiration from the word ‘Ministry of Defense.’

Text & Photo By Napat Charitbutra / Translated by Your Neighbor Ari

The 80s Modern

I must admit that I was worried when I heard about a large mixed-use development project being built nearby; I was afraid that this old-fashioned, white building, like many other modern-era buildings in Bangkok, wouldn’t survive the wrecking ball.

My parents can recall that when they were teens, the construction site of this building was hidden from public view by a patchwork of tin sheets. The Thai Military Bank, Sanam Pao Branch was built in 1975. It was originally designed with a raw concrete finish, then later was later painted white. The building has been in use for 47 years. This was back in the days of the old Thai Military Bank logo before being rebranded to the TMB that we know today (which was recently merged with Thanachart Bank and is now called TTB).

อาคารธนาคารทหารไทย สาขาสนามเป้า sanam pao, 1 of the first 34 branches of Thai Military Bank TMB in Thailand

Sanam Pao , 1 of the first 34 branches of TMB in Thailand

Back in 1975 when this building was built, the Thai Military Bank was handling a crisis of a lack of trust from the Thai people. At this time political turmoil in the cabinet allowed government bureaucrats to withdraw large amounts of money from the bank, and there was bad publicity from the infamous 14th October Student Massacre. This forced the Thai Military Bank to put more emphasis on the ordinary people rather than the ‘big money bags’ like before.

The young prefer Krungthep Bank, and the old prefer Siam Commercial Bank, and the working class have never even heard of Thai Military Bank

From the public relations of Thai Military Bank ltd. (1984) 

All of this led to an enormous public image overhaul, of which the slogan “Thai Military Bank: bank for the people” was created. As the Bank’s revenue started to improve gradually, the bank expanded until it had 34 new branches nationwide in 1976. In 1975, the Sanam Pao branch opened for business and became one of the first 34 branches.

สถาปัตยกรรม ดีไซน์ 103 จำกัด Design 103 International

The Fortress of Sanam Pao

The concept sounds comical, but this is what Chachawal Pringpuangkeo. the founder of architectural firm Design 103 Ltd. (now Design 103 International), had in mind when he opened up to AriAround.

Sanam Pao is where the military base is located and this is a military bank. The keyword I came up with was the Ministry of Defense. The word ‘Defense’ was there so it had to be a fortress

Chachawal Pringpuangkeo

Around 50 years ago, in 1973, Chachawal Pringpuangkeo, a young blood architect who worked with foreign architectural firms like Louis Berger, was introduced by Colonel Kris Sivara, the commander in chief of the army and the chairman of Thai Military Bank to Sukhum Nawapan, the bank manager. “I told him about your concept and he liked it right away”.

ดีไซน์ 103 ออกแบบธนาคารทหารไทย ดีไซน์ 103 ออกแบบธนาคารทหารไทย ดีไซน์ 103 ออกแบบธนาคารทหารไทย

Design 103 Ltd. designed more than one branch of TMB but no other branch looks like the one in Sanam Pao. “The key word Defense is solid. You can see the idea in there”. Pringpuangkeo said.

That explains the fortification-like appearance of this stand-alone bank building. He told AriAround that on the site back in 1974, there was nothing. “Nothing but rice fields, it was way out of town around here”. If you take a look at the windows, they are holed up deep inside the building like a bunker, the same idea goes to explain the flat roof.

The main requirement that the designer was given from the bank was safety. Put simply, no one should be able to break into the bank. “It’s quite straightforward. It’s much harder to break through a flat-roof than a traditional tile roof”. Pringpuangkeo continued to explain the rough surface finishing; it is made of wooden concrete mold. Once the wooden mold was removed, they’d give it some knocks with a hammer on the concrete surface to create a rough, fortification look.

Corrugated Concrete

Apart from the functional explanation, raw corrugated concrete was part of an architectural movement in this era. A senior architect told AriAround that about 40 years ago, the raw concrete surface was a very challenging task, but many architects were always up for the challenge.

This was influenced by architectural masters like Le Corbusier (1887-1965), Walter Gropius (1883-1969), and Paul Rudolph (1918-1997). “Back then, any emerging Thai architect freshly graduated abroad would love to test their skill in their hometown”. The senior architect shared with us further that smooth raw concrete surfaces were hard to achieve. It’s easy to end up with unpolished or stained-looking walls after the project is done. The smart resolution to avoid this is the corrugated surface. A good example of this is the Building of Chulalongkorn University Alumni Association Under the Patronage of His Majesty the King Chulalongkorn University Alumni Associations building designed by Jane Sakolthanarak (the architect behind the unique Building 5 of Prasarnmit Hospital)

(Sanam Pao branch) The Bank for the wealthy military families in Ari

Take a guess, who would open an account in TMB Sanam Pao Branch back in the day? If you have no idea, take a walk across the street to Soi Ratchakru and there you’ll see the answer.

As many of you may know, Ari is a neighborhood made up mostly of high-ranking military officers. The branch is located at the center of where the bank’s target group lives. It’s also next to The Royal Chivalry Army (Sanam Pao), the 1st infantry regiment base (where Prayuth lives) and most importantly, it was opposite Soi Ratchakru where Chatchai Choonhavan, former prime minister at that time lived.

The bank’s most important clients all lived just around the corner

ธนาคารทหารไทย สาขาสนามเป้า ออกแบบโดย บริษัท ดีไซน์ 103 จำกัด Thai Military Bank TMB sanam pao
The Thai Military Bank Sanam Pao branch, designed by Design 103 (at the time), was awarded Best Architecture by the Siam Associations of Architects Under Royal Patronage
บริเวณด้านหน้าธนาคาร ที่มีการก่อสร้างอาคาร ธนาคารทหารไทย Thai Military Bank TMB sanam pao
The front of the building where the office construction site is

All photos courtesy of AriAround please contact AriAround for permission to use the photos


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