Chances are you’ve been to this building for one of two reasons. A) To fulfil your mainstream-rejectionist needs by watching an obscure film at the Bangkok Screening Room. Or B) because you couldn’t resist the beckonings of the downstairs boutique ice cream parlour, Guss Damn Good, on a hot day. If this rings true, you need to revisit. The building, named Woof Pack, has only just started to come into itself as a dynamic creative venue, recently marking a milestone by hosting its first art exhibition. We sat down with Jay Spencer who, along with his wife Ple, is responsible for developing this unique creative hub for the urban community.
What did you think of this location when you first came across it?
I came across this building about three and a half years ago. It was largely empty. This was one of the buildings left over from the crisis of ‘97 and since then the owners never saw fit to invest or do anything with it. When I saw it I thought, “Wow, this is a great location.” It’s right across the park and sitting smack between two train stations. Then I went up to the roof and was blown away. The view is literally like New York. I felt like I was sitting in a New York apartment overlooking Central Park. I saw a lot of potential.
How did the idea for Woof Pack Space come about thereafter?
So I approached the owners and told them I was interested in developing it and asked if I could rent it. While we were clearing it up and laying the foundations, I started asking around for potential tenants. Within three months, the space we rented was completely pre-booked. People liked the fact that it was so central, within the CBD but also overlooking the park. What’s interesting is that all the tenants we attracted were companies with foreigners. The first tenant was Whitespace, which is run by an American. The next was Red Bull Marketing. These are all creative companies and it got me thinking to sell and market this building as a creative space.
At that point, what was your vision for Woof Pack Space? What does a “creative space” entail to you?
After we had our two anchor tenants, we needed to have our own office. We also welcomed Ple’s uncle's printing company, Thamavit Printing, which we thought was a good fit in the mix. Then we have this screening room and this general space for art exhibitions, live music and poetry reading. Of course, you really have to have f&B as well. It serves its purpose. There are three restaurants downstairs, including the ice cream shop. B-Store is both a cafe and a Japanese clothing shop. There's also a 7-Eleven and tents around, which we wanted to keep because we didn’t want to sterilise the place. To me, this building is a living, breathing mass that’s a part of a vibrant ecosystem.
How do you ensure the success of a project like this?
Coming from a property background, you need to have a unique selling point. My wife and I naturally latched onto this creative side. We both met while working at TCDC so we both have an appreciation for design and people who like this kind of lifestyle. We wanted to attract specific tenants, those whose values aligned with ours. And, we wanted to keep the ratio of offices to creative outlets 50-50 because if it’s too office-heavy, I think you lose something. We want officer workers to be able to come down and have a coffee in a nice environment or walk pass an art exhibition. Otherwise, they’ll come to work and go home. We want them to love where they work and also say to their friends “Hey, my workplace is cool. Come and have a drink here.”
So you’ve got a few restaurants downstairs, a few offices upstairs and a screening room and gallery in the middle. Is there anything else coming?
Yes. We’re working on the rooftop. There will be an indoor and outdoor restaurant and another indoor space for screenings, which my wife wants to create a film programme for. We want to keep it as a canteen for office workers and not make it overpriced. One of the things we found is that in this area, especially if it’s a rooftop, everything is priced so high. Meanwhile, just within a 350-metre radius from here, there are about 16,000 office workers. So we thought, let’s make this accessible. Why should every rooftop be ridiculously priced? Let’s make it a place people - creative types and non-creative types - can come after work to enjoy what Bangkok has to offer.
Tell us about “Pod Art”, the exhibition you’re currently hosting here.
This is the first exhibition for us and also the first for P’ Pod (Thanachai Ujjin of Modern Dog). Getting him was a real coup. It was just fortuitous. It was the right time for him and for us. Our curator was separately managing Pod’s work. He told [Pod] that there’s a new space that wants to work with you - why don’t you come and have a look? He came and saw that there was a rawness and edginess to the space, rather than a big and established gallery. Next thing you know, we’re walking hand in hand into the unknown!
Backtracking a little, you were raised in England from when you were nine and starting working there - what made you decide to return and settle in Bangkok?
In my 20s, while I was working, I thought, “I remember Thailand as a child but I want to go back and see what it’s like now.” I got a two-year contract to work here in property and I said to myself, “Okay, two years. Maybe I’ll hate it. Maybe I’ll love it.” It’s been 14 years now and I haven't gone back [to England]. I’ve found coming back that this is home. There’s a pace to life, a connectivity, a vibe here that I like. I love to travel. I love the fact that you can just pick up a bag and go to Samui or to Chiang Mai.I also just fell in love with the people and, of course, my wife. That’s another reason I’m here.
(Jay was also in: Papa Panic: 6 Newbie Dads Share Their Growing Pains)
Woof Pack is a product of collaboration between you and your wife. What’s it like working with your spouse?
Some [couples] can work together, some can’t. I’m of the opinion that fortunately my wife is my best friend. I mean we have our arguments - usually over stupid things - but we keep each other in check. I enjoy working with my wife. I don’t think it has to be this way, but for us, it seems to work.
Lastly, how important do you think it is to have a small community space like Woof Pack?
In cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong or Singapore, you’ll see a huge pace of development. But one of the things I find that one should do is retain small pockets of individuality. Otherwise the city becomes one big shiny structure. Progress is good but you need to have pockets of neighborhoods that have that flair, that feel. I like to go to malls too. I like the convenience of malls, but I also like to have the choice to go see an independent film or an exhibition in a space that isn’t the Guggenheim. If everything is the same, then every city will blend into one. So I think it’s very important to have these sorts of unique creative spaces.
Woof Pack Space, Woof Pack Building, 1/3-9 soi Saladaeng 1, Silom, Bangrak, Bangkok; 089-826-2299; Fb.com/woofpackbangkok