A scallop-edged brickwork corridor is the enticing first glimpse of the Sala Ayutthaya hotel in Thailand, where Bangkok architect Onion has mixed native craftsmanship and contemporary design
Simply looking at the still, expansive, geometric, muted rooms of the Sala Ayutthaya boutique hotel makes you feel calmer inside. Just reading about its location, in a picturesque site overlooking the Phutthai Sawan Temple on the south bank of the Chao Phraya River in Samphao Lom, Thailand, is almost a meditative exercise. However, Sala Ayutthaya is not all yogic chic.
Designed by young Bangkok-based architecture practice Onion, it has a serious architectural edge, and makes a conscious effort to push contemporary Thai design.
This is most apparent in the entrance area, which Onion has turned into an immersive introduction to their carefully curated world. You leave the street via a heavy iron door in an anonymous wall of brickwork, and passing through reception, enter an outdoor corridor of curved geometric brick walls, shaped and angled to frame the view of the sky above. These beautifully sculpted walls purposefully block the view to the adjacent riverbank, only to reveal a perfectly framed vista further into the hotel.
“We focused our design on the movement of shadow of the brick wall, rather than the wall itself,” says Onion’s co-founder, Siriyot Chaiamnuay. “The curved shadows from either side of the corridor transform the atmosphere of the space at different times of the day. They normally meet on the floor at about 11am.”
Chaiamnuay explains the use of curves and acute angles as an attempt to emanate Thai ornamentation. However, the sinuous outlines at Sala Ayutthaya might also make sense when you know that he formerly worked at Zaha Hadid Architects in London.
Chaiamnuay and Onion’s other co-founder Arisara Chaktranon met while studying architecture at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, before Chaiamnuay went on to complete an architecture masters at London’s Architectural Association, and Chaktranon went to study interdisciplinary design at the Netherlands’ Design Academy, Eindhoven. The two set up Onion together in 2007 and already have an impressive array of office, residential, hotel and restaurant designs to their name.
At Sala Ayutthaya, the outdoor spaces, including the stepped marble pool and riverside bar and restaurant, form the focal points of the project. Although the 26 rooms all share design features – wooden furniture, white tiling, soft lighting – the hotel’s L-shape means that each room has a different ‘hero’ feature, whether that’s direct access to the pool, a window overlooking the river or a bird’s-eye view of the garden courtyard. This variety provides the perfect excuse for guests to keep coming back.
The outdoor spaces show off the locally crafted and sourced brickwork and granite, offset by minimalist white walls. They also connect the hotel to the riverbank, via stepped decks that lead down to water level. Their forms were inspired by the step wells in Rajasthan, India, and are designed to be flooded rather than the water stopping at the boundary, Chaiamnuay explains. It also means that the outdoor spaces change throughout the year depending on the river level.
Bringing contemporary and traditional design together in a serene, unpretentious manner, the hotel’s spaces have been designed to inspire guests just as much as relaxing and unwinding them.