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Department of Architecture – Zense Restaurant

The office of Thai architecture firm Department of Architecture is a canvas of calm, as shown in Cubes Indesign #63. In contrast, their renovation of Zense Restaurant in Bangkok is dynamic and vibrant. Luo Jingmei reports.

Department of Architecture – Zense Restaurant


September 30th, 2013

In 2010, political riots set the Zen Department Store atrium ablaze. While Zense Restaurant, a premium rooftop F&B destination in the mall was not altogether destroyed there was enough damage to warrant a refurbishment.


“The heat and fumes that went up to the 17th floor where Zense Restaurant is located destroyed all the furniture, original wood floor, all the soft furnishing and a few curtain panels. Only the staircase structure and metal pleated wall were in good shape,” shares Twitee Vajrabhaya, co-founder of Bangkok-based architecture firm Department of Architecture that had designed the original restaurant.


The firm took advantage of the situation to give the restaurant a fresh new look, while at the same time improving functionality. “We had learned from the original [restaurant] that the outdoor [seats] were very popular, thanks to the wonderful Bangkok skyline view. In the original, the proportion of outdoor-indoor seating was 30-70. Since we needed to redo the glass wall, we decided to give more space for the outdoors. The current proportion is 50-50,” shares Vajrabhaya.



Meanwhile, the damaged wood flooring was replaced with wood substitute. “The new material is much more durable, easy to maintain and easy to work on. Since we wanted to change the original colour scheme of the floor to grey, real wood was not necessary,” explains the architect.


Original ‘pleating’ elements inspired by fashion – in the stairs and railing, seating, and roof planes over the show kitchens – were maintained. Now, fashion also inspired the new colour and upholstery scheme, such as the Houndstooth pattern, and magenta, purple, and blue shades. The vibrant colours, Vajrabhaya reflects, was also “not to remind customers about the [regrettable] incident.”


Also new are the zigzagging painted steel square tubes that frame the outdoor floating dining pavilions. These are also applied to the ceiling. While the latter application was initially employed to distract customers from the view of unsightly ducting and piping above, it creates a “dynamic, architectural and futuristic effect to the entire space” as well.


While it seems that interesting ceiling treatments are one of Department of Architecture’s trademarks, Vajrabhaya says that it’s not deliberate. “We happened to be lucky enough to get opportunities to work on spaces with high ceilings in our recent interior design projects. Each project that we decided to do ‘something’ on the ceiling always was our attempt to solve a certain problem of the space.”


For example, the lobby of Hilton Pattaya, another recent project with three-dimensional swirling ceiling patterns, “was our desire to draw our guests to move towards the sea view,” explains Vajrabhaya. She adds, “However, I must admit that the ceiling is always neglected by designers. It has huge potential since it is usually a big plane that has no furniture to cover it.” Here in Zense Restaurant, it has another role – its dynamism can also be interpreted as symbolising optimism and growth in Bangkok’s cityscape.

Department of Architecture

Read about the office of Department of Architecture in Cubes Indesign #63

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