It looks like a park, a green oasis in the city of more than 8 million inhabitants, and more than 20 if you take the bigger Bangkok Metropolitan area in account; but it is more, it is genius.
The Chulalongkorn Centenary Park (CU Park) seems to be a green square surrounded by small water elements, creating a sublime gateway of the chaotic city life. If you take a look closer, it is more than that, walking around, you should realise that it is only the top of something way bigger that is underneath.
Prepare for Flooding
In fact, the green square is the biggest green roof in Thailand, 5,220 square-meter, which covers the CU Park Museum among others. Moreover, behind the pleasant greenery, the entire infrastructure is made to collect, detain and even treat water, from rain and flooding. Under the green roof and the museum are large tanks of water designed to hold up to 150,000 gallons of runoff water from the roof; another lawn next to the museum can contain more than 105,000 gallons of water. In total, the park is designed to hold up to one million gallons of water.
The Chulalongkorn Centennial Park is located on a major university campus in central Bangkok and constructed to celebrate the one hundred-year anniversary of the University, envisioning the future of the city, and of the Chulalongkorn University as the academic leader to a more resilient city.
Eventually, the green infrastructure serves many different goals, from pure ecological, as an adaptation strategy for the urban heath island effect, and water management; and from a social perspective, as a green, public space, to make the city more liveable.
Venice of the East
The need for water management and the risk of flooding is not an exclusive problem of Bangkok; but of many urban areas, where paved and concrete infrastructure took away the green elements which served as a natural water management system, and buffer for flooding.
In the case of Bangkok, due to the city’s expansion, the previously surrounding agricultural zones would normally absorb the abundant water due to the periodical monsoon rains. Moreover, Bangkok was once known as the Venice of the East thanks to its network of canals, which still mark the city landscape partly; however, a lot of the canals has been closed, turned into paved roads or other grey city infrastructure. This resulted in increasing flooding, a troubled water management, and rising temperatures, which are intensified by the urban heath island effect.
Further on, Bangkok is vulnerable for the rising sea level as well, since the city is constructed at sea level. Additionally, being constructed across the delta of the Chao Phraya River, the city of Bangkok is actually sinking, at a rate of more than one centimetre a year. Hence, its sea level altitude could soon sink below.
Hence, the Centenary Park is more than a pleasant public urban park, it is a necessary measure to cope with the before-mentioned problems; and the ones to come.
Moreover, the park can be seen as a shooting star, of which the tail and enlightening effects go further than the park itself. Pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly roads are constructed as well, leading up to the park out of two different directions. Moreover, the filtration system of the park can treat the water from neighbouring areas.
Interesting to see is how the symbol of the University, the rain tree, summarises the idea of the park: absorbing the water with its roots, underneath the campus, and protecting against heath, with its green roof that mitigates the urban heath island effect.
Standing on the green roof, you have a beautiful view on the city, which is ambivalent, since you have the green oasis under your feet, facing the grey concrete jungle around; knowing that this is but a first step towards a wanted and necessary future. And for several Bangkok urbanists and architectures like Voraakhom, the designer of the CU Park, this will definitely not be the only project of its kind.