A year and a half ago, Time magazine included Bangkok-based landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom on its list of 15 women leading the fight against climate change, lauding her large-scale “green interventions” for tackling the food and water scarcity, among other eco-threats, facing Southeast Asia’s megacities.
One of the most stunning of those interventions, in terms of both scope and ingenuity, is the Thammasat Urban Rooftop Farm, a.k.a. TURF. Completed by Voraakhom’s 10-year-old practice, Landprocess, in late 2019, the project repurposes some 22,000 square metres of “wasted space” at Thammasat University’s campus on the northern outskirts of Bangkok into the largest organic rooftop farm in Asia. Interspersed among the crops are a host of new public spaces (including a large amphitheatre), power-generation measures (such as solar panels able to produce up to 500,000 watts per hour) and low-tech yet effective water-management strategies.
That last feature is key in overbuilt Bangkok, which endures both drought and flooding. At TURF, rainwater is now absorbed by the terraced earthworks installed by Landprocess atop the four sloping arms of the H-shaped university building. Water that isn’t absorbed cascades gently into four ground-level retention pools on each side of the complex, where it’s stored for use during dry spells. The plantings channel runoff, according to the firm, up to 20 times more efficiently than a conventional concrete roof.
What takes TURF into Edenic territory, however, is how human activity has been seamlessly incorporated. At the entrance, a grassy outdoor amphitheatre providing universal access to the upper part of the building welcomes students and visitors alike. On the roof itself, zigzagging staircases link small circular terraces offering areas for socializing or contemplation; they also facilitate access to the crops. After all, the space is first and foremost a working farm whose produce ends up in the school’s canteens, even as its benefits — and example — resonate more widely.
Wasted space in northern Bangkok becomes the Thammasat Urban Rooftop Farm thanks to a deft intervention by Kotchakorn Voraakhom.