It is rare for someone to be so certain of what they want to do when they grow up. For Twitee Vajrabhaya Teparkum of Department of Architecture, becoming an architect was her sole dream from an early age. We meet the architect in the lofty interiors of the new Thailand Creative & Cultural Centre (TCDC) facility at Bangkok’s old Grand Postal Building, one of her many projects and a recipient of a prestigious Blueprint Magazine award in 2017 for Best Interiors.
After graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Virginia Tech, Twitee went on to earn a master’s in architecture from the prestigious Princeton University and then spent a few years gaining professional experience with firms in Chicago and New York. When the 45-year-old eventually returned to Thailand she joined Metric Consulting Engineers & Architects and there met Department of Architecture partner and co-principal, Amata Luphaiboon.
After working on a number of projects for Metrics, in 2004 the two decided to start their own architectural practice. “We both wanted to work on projects of a more varied scale and we knew we worked well together. We like to brainstorm design ideas, create a framework for concepts and then each take on individual components within that framework,” Twitee explains. “You don’t have enough experience after you graduate to start your own firm, so my time in the US and at Metrics learning from experienced architects was very important.”
While the creative process for each designer may vary, Twitee says that rather than designing based on a preconceived form, she first analyses different aspects of the brief. “I try not to visualise anything when I first receive a brief. I start with a blank slate and try to understand the ultimate function of a building or space, the requirements of its users and the context in which the building or space will exist. A deeper understanding of these things helps to focus on the key points of a project. For instance, what made the TCDC project challenging was that there were three different aspects that we had to keep in mind: first we had to define what a creative space is, then we had to work out how to make the best use of the space, and finally we had to reconcile the dialogue between the past and the present, or the building’s historical context and the future implications for the space.”
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Department of Architecture is known for its experimental use of materials and innovative designs. While keeping up to date with the technical tools is important, Twitee notes that one should also take into context the location. “Things differ in Thailand, everything from project budgets to the practicalities of the environment in which we work,” she says. Finding inspiration also helps and Twitee makes a point of looking for ideas outside the architectural field. “Inspiration is accumulated. I love to travel and while I admire different types of design and architecture on my trips, I also love to visit galleries and museums. Art is good because it’s close but at the same removed from arhitecture.” she smiles.
The daughter of esteemed professors Dr Montakan and Dr Thavorn of Chulalongkorn University, Twitee has been invited as a guest jury and lecturer for top universities including the HKU faculty of architecture. Her father was also notably recognised with the Outstanding Scientist award from the Foundation for Promotion of Science and Technology. Aside from her career, Twitee enjoys spending time with her family and husband, deputy CEO of the Thailand Centre of Excellence for Life Sciences, Dr Sirasak Teparkum. She also makes time to keep fit by going to the gym three or four mornings a week.