TYIN in Thailand

Trondheim's TYIN Tegnestue are one of the youngest practices specializing in social and humanitarian projects. As part of the new Fourth Door Review's focus on humanitarian practice, TYIN's Andreas Gjertsen writes in this taster piece about working on their award winning Northern Thai - Burma border and Bangkok projects

The two first years of TYIN tegnestue have been hectic and intense. We started off as a pair of restless students looking for bigger challenges. We wanted alternatives to the average education, more meaning and direction. We wanted to meet real challenges and get out of our comfort zones. When we decided to go to Thailand to take part in the building of the orphanage, we had a specific goal to reach for. It all came in a natural order, and one challenge gives reason to the work you do. To be able to build in Thailand we needed funding. To be able to get funding, we had to be able to communicate our ideas. This way, making a studio-profile and making this accessible through media was the obvious way to proceed. These were all preparations to get to where we wanted to be: using our skills and energy to make useful and beautiful architecture.

The Soe Ker Tie Houses

about fourth door Obviously living in the jungle areas at the border of Burma is a fantastic experience, and being able to study and build architecture in this situation is even more amazing. But the reality is rarely how you imagine it. We prepared for months, but all our notions were broken within a short week in Thailand. Not one single part of the story checked out. This is naturally a hard blow for planners. We were used to being on top of the situation, and now we were drowning in it.

The Soe Ker Tie Houses was built through a very turbulent process, with challenges steadily growing in number as each new day arrived. Cultures, beliefs and ideas collided in a hectic building period, and we couldn't have prepared for half of the issues we encountered; which meant we found ourselves questioning our own roles. What were we doing there? Who were benefitting from our efforts?

The basic design for the Soe Ker Tie Houses was created over a worn-out white-board in a shabby hotel in Mae Sot in a couple of hours. Most of the crucial decisions were made on-site and in a fluent dialogue with the workers, the materials and the situation. The concept was never connected directly to the physical structures. We had a mindset to guide us where the main concern was to provide a home for children, where social interaction is a part of the daily life. The rest were solving practical issues.

In many ways this is the most valuable part of a project for us. We invest energy and enthusiasm, and our reward is experience. Before, during and not least after, a challenge, we are assessing and adjusting to the situation we are exposed to. We believe in activating our minds and bodies directly in the design and building. This way the synergy between the physical and the mental helps us to learn intuitively and naturally.

Hands-on learning

During January 2009 we arranged a workshop for students from our university in Trondheim, NTNU, having invited the architect Sami Rintala and professor Hans Skotte from NTNU to guide the students through the project.

The students were confronted with the task of designing and building a library for the Safe Haven Orphanage in ten days. We provided the site and materials needed and after a short three day design-competition, one project was selected and realized. In collaboration with workers from the Soe Ker Tie Houses and children from the orphanage the students started building the selected design.

When students are involved in these kind of processes, especially by bulding their own design, they feel a natural sense of ownership. What they design suddenly becomes real and meaningful. Architecture becomes tangible, and one realizes that your decisions have real consequences for real people, which leads to an understanding of how important architecture is, and what a great responsibility we have.

This intense two weeks involved hours of labour both from us and local workers and not least the children of Safe Haven Orphanage. The value of being physically and mentally joined with the materials, the site and the client is probably greater than we can imagine. As a learning experience, there is few more effective ways to develop as an architect. The students return with both new experiences and what they've learnt, which then flow into being used actively, though also unconsciously, in future projects. In the end, the project becomes a tiny part of the global architectural consciousness.

Local Connection

Our increased understanding of the value of local professional connections has led to a crucial change in our working methods. Through Sami Rintala we got in touch with Patama Roonrakwit at CASE Studio Architects in Bangkok. CASE has worked with communities in the urban areas around Bangkok the last decade, and we were able to join in on one of their ongoing projects. 

The Min Buri Old Market Library evolved through a fluent process between our contact Kasama Yamtree from CASE, TYIN tegnestue and the people from Min Buri Community. We could never have predicted the outcome of this project, and would never have been able to fully design it on our own. Partly luck, some vigilance and lots of hard work left the community with a lively library building in the middle of what was a declining slum area of Bangkok.

Min Buri was in many ways ideal for this kind of project. It has been visited by CASE since 2005 and has also been noticed by the local government because of the rising land prices. For us it was just a matter of bringing enthusiasm and enough implementation force to support the social processes than already were there to achieve positive change.

By involving the local community in both the design and building process, we are able to ensure more viable and sustainable projects. We're able to exchange valuable knowledge - they are teaching us local building techniques, we are trying to implement new concepts for more durable and effective designs. Through such participation and the following feeling of ownership by the local community is the main thing that can secure the projects long-term survival. We strive to work by methods that can create positive ripple effects both immediate and in the long run.

We will continue working with similar projects as long as we are able to, and we really hope that our work can inspire other architects to do the same. As one of our inspiration sources Juhani Pallasma states that, "Architecture is about the understanding of the world and turning it into a more meaningful and humane place."