Where old meets new

The area of Banglamphu is typically known as a place where old meets new. Thanks to the numerous temples and museums, the area is steeped in Thai history. Contrast this with the vibrant tourist attractions of Khao San Road and the never-ending offerings of street food and you have a neighbourhood that draws in all walks of life.

The end of June saw the local community and the lighting designers of Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) invite visitors to the Banglamphu: Blossoms in a New Light festival for the chance to see the area in a whole new light. Exhibitions, workshops, performances, and street food were served up as entertainment and when night came, Banglumphu became truly unrecognisable as Phra Sumen Fort was transformed into an illuminated feast for the eyes.

The 18th Century riverfront Phra Sumen Fort was once a part of the old city wall and has been closed to the public for decades. But thanks to City Hall, the fort was opened especially for the Blossoms in a New Light festival, allowing locals and tourists alike to relax in the grounds of the fort, stroll around its boarders, and marvel at the traditional Thai architecture.

Phra Sumen Fort has clean whitewashed walls that, at night, are bathed with a warm temperature of light emitted by high pressure sodium lamps. As a part of the festival, the lighting designers of KMUTT installed a temporary urban lighting exhibition. The aim was to present the octagonal walls of the historic building in a new light and spark first-hand interactions with those that visited the fort. Light projections were cast against the white exterior, they were traditional Thai markings set to a purplish-blue hue, balanced by flickering rechargeable candles that lined the main staircase.

The installation was part of a research project by Dr. Chanyaporn Chuntamara Bstieler, Director of the Lighting Research and Innovation Centre (LRIC). The purpose was for the local community, government agencies, private sectors, and professional lighting design associations to collaborate through lighting design to help promote local identity, history, and culture to visitors in an artistic and creative way. I was a part of the organising team formed by LRIC and was extremely fortunate to have a front row view of the action.

The illumination of Phra Sumen Fort invited sightseers to connect with the building itself through the projections. The concept certainly captured people’s attention and the project unexpectedly took-off. Visitors interacted with the projections in a way that wasn’t anticipated. The installation drew in large crowds who played with the light, interrogated its source, and had photos taken against the walls of the fort as they posed with the dancing silhouettes of the traditional Thai markings.

As a result, the atmosphere of the night was heightened. The project was a real success and not only were the young lighting designers able to experience what it takes to create an urban lighting installation, they were also able to witness the influence of light first-hand. How it can transform an atmosphere and provoke emotion, they saw the residents of Banglamphu interact with the project on such a level that they gained new appreciation for the area they live in, one that’s seeped with history, yet is an epicentre for new culture and innovative thinking.