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Food and Buildings: Kulapat Yantrasast

Thai architect shares his foundations when it comes to useful buildings
Kulapat Yantrasast things cooking and architecture have things in common, including attention to ingredients.
Kulapat Yantrasast things cooking and architecture have things in common, including attention to ingredients.

Yesterday evening I attended a lecture by Kulapat Yantrasast, cofounder and executive director of the wHY architecture and design studio. For the most part, he was talking through recent projects, but he spent some time at the beginning of the talk discussing his background and his interest in food. He's originally from Thailand, which he noted is sandwiched (sort of like sitting in the middle seat in coach) between India and China. If you sit in the middle, he said, you learn to get along, with the result in Thailand's case that the food is about mixing ingredients, mixing influences.

Early in his career, he spent several years living in Japan, studying with Tadao Ando. Japan is also geographically small, like Thailand, but it's not sandwiched. It's more out at the edge of things, left to do its own thing. And there, he observed, the cuisine isn't about mixing, but rather about isolating ingredients, focusing on the purity of the ingredients.

How do you get a sense of a refined architecture, of purity, in a country that is a product of profound cultural intermingling? Yantrasast asked this in passing, wondering about what kind of architecture is needed in the United States.

Also related to food, at least in the way that Yantrasast thinks about architecture, is making things out of local, sustainable materials. And a building is always a study in making something wonderful within the various constraints of terrain, climate, and so on. Architecture is always bounded by limitations.

The thinking about food is, of course, entirely associative. Buildings are, in many respects, the opposite of food. One might equally argue that we are the food that a building requires to alive.

And would someone just looking in the abstract at one of wHY's buildings think "aha, food!" No, I'm pretty sure not. But there's a profound relationship here, nonetheless. Buildings bound and form the spaces we live in and life boils down to fundamentals like food, like warmth in the winter. To think about quality of life is to think about how these fundamental requirements, including the places where we seek our protection, are met.

Robert Richardson is the principle nomad here at the Mode.
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