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Museum, Thailand

Seventy years ago, Thailand’s tobacco industry was at the height of its social and economic might. By the 21st century, decades of mounting medical evidence and changing social attitudes translated into widespread public smoking bans and a subsequent decline in smoking. For a trio of former tobacco drying barns near the mountainous northern city of Chiang Mai, the changing culture created an opportunity to re-imagine the industrial infrastructure as a cultural — and hospitality — destination.

Museum, Thailand.

Situated at the heart of a lush, verdant erstwhile tobacco plantation — which now sits adjacent to a popular resort — the three vacant barns were transformed into a two-building museum devoted to local tobacco heritage, as well as an elegant café and tea house. Designed by interdisciplinary Bangkok-based practice PAVA, the project combines deep sensitivity to vernacular architecture with a commitment to engaging local artisans and craftspeople — as well as former tobacco workers — throughout the design and construction process.

Museum, Thailand.

Revitalized through a light architectural touch, the architecture of the two museum buildings tells a story in itself. The first structure was completed through a simple yet carefully considered restoration of the reinforced concrete structure, gabled roof, and brick surfaces, as well as the tobacco drying sticks that sit at the heart of the structure. Adorned by simple new seating for visitors, the space fosters an immersive experience, rich in the smells and textures of the building’s almost 70-year history.

Museum, Thailand.

The second museum building required a more complex intervention, with a new foundation to prop up the aging building. Here, a sleek new glass floor is paired with a dark steel plinth, which is topped by wall text that provides a history of the tobacco estate. Perforations in the brick — once used to hang up wooden drying sticks — create an ethereal ambiance within, changing with the moving light.

Museum, Thailand.

Finally, the café is both a contrast and a complement to its neighbours. Dubbed the Komai Tea Barn, the former drying barn was more assertively transformed to create a comfortable hospitality setting. Glass walls now frame the interior space, while the base of the structure was carefully excavated to open up an inviting sunken terrace at the back of the building.

Museum, Thailand.

Inside, a staircase has been installed behind the cafe’s granite counter, leading out to another outdoor seating area. Located directly above the sunken terrace, the upper space does double duty in providing shade to the seating below.

Museum, Thailand.

Taken together, the three structures create a modest yet inviting new destination. The immersive nature of the space owes much to PAVA’s deft, sensitive approach, which maintains the spirit of a facility that dates to 1955. Indeed, even the neighbouring trees — some of which directly abut the buildings — were carefully preserved, thanks to close collaboration with a local arborist. You can almost smell the tobacco.

Museum, Thailand.
In Thailand, a Tobacco Plant Turned Mixed-Use Museum

Bangkok’s PAVA studio transforms a trio of industrial facilities with an exceptionally light architectural touch.

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