Co-founder and design director of the dynamic BUG Studio, Winai Chairakpong is a busy man but he finds time to have a chat with us about his career and work-life philosophy. “Unlike regular architectural firms, our studio is multi-disciplinary,” he says. “In addition to architecture, our work also spans branding, interior design, commercial advertising and much more.” The idea, he says, is to create a framework that will enable more complete solutions for disciplines so as to better accomplish each project. “Such an inter-connected approach makes work much more fun,” he adds with a smile.
Growing up, Winai’s keen interest in the artistic side of life blossomed at an early stage. “I have always detested the idea of having to sit through an exam,” he says. “I was more drawn to subjects that didn’t require an examination to test one’s know-how.” But it wasn’t just the arts that he preferred. As a primary school student, he already knew he wanted to become an architect and he has an essay that he wrote at the time to prove it.
Naturally, the obvious next step was a bachelor’s degree in architecture at Rangsit University, after which he headed to Chicago to pursue a master’s degree in the same field. “I attended courses at the Illinois Institute of Technology,” he says. “Mies van der Rohne designed the university’s infrastructure, which contributed to me going there.” Enthralled in the subject and eager to keep learning, Winai was not ready to come home even after having accomplished his tertiary education. “My family thought I was pursuing doctorate studies but I actually moved to New York and attained a second master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University,” he says with a laugh. “I did this simply because I wanted to further expand my knowledge, particularly from talented architects who, at the time, were also professors in New York.” A stint at Meltzer&Mandl Architects followed before he returned to Bangkok.
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It has been almost 20 years since Winai founded BUG Studio. Over that time the business has earned several local and international awards through a number of high-profile projects. “We love projects that we can sink our teeth into, something that will challenge us and let us improve on our weaker points,” he explains. The studio aside, Winai has also had the opportunity to share his knowledge through lecturing on architecture at ABAC and other institutions. Throw in upwards of seven business trips a year and the man is clearly kept busy. “I travel a great deal for work,” he says. “Luckily my family and friends have become used to it.”
One of the biggest challenges for bachelor Winai is striking a work-life balance. “It’s important to find the equilibrium between what you do as a job and what you love to do in your time off,” he shares. “When you have to do something every day it can be hard to find the balance between business and passion.” What about hobbies? “I would love to have one,” he laughs. “I really like vintage watches and cars so I would love to have more time to get books and learn more about them.” He might not have the time to pick up a hobby but he’s a stickler for movies. “My real relaxation is when I am enjoying a movie,” he says. “I am constantly absorbed in the architectural world, so it’s good to step away from it sometimes. No matter how late I get home, I have to watch something before heading to bed.” And his definition of success? “Success doesn’t have to entail something lavish or grand. I think it’s important to set daily goals for yourself and try to achieve them. I do—and when I have been able to complete those tasks, I come home with a smile on my face.”
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