Terminal 21: Mall as Airport

In early November, a new mall opened in Bangkok.  Terminal 21, located adjacent to the Asoke Skytrain station along Sukhumvit Road, is a 9-story mall with 20 stories of serviced apartments and office space above the mall.  What sets this mall apart is that it is themed as an airport.

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By an “airport theme” I mean that there are many airport motifs throughout the complex.  These range from information boards that looks like the digital “arrivals” and “departures” flight information displays you see at an airport, to the escalator signage looking like they indicate the directions to different gates, to each floor being themed after a different international city.

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“Departure for Level 3” reads the sign above the long escalator that ascends from the mezzanine floor to a point halfway up the mall.  Given its fantastic location, the mall has been crowded since its opening several weeks ago, filled mostly with local sightseers, much like the international airport was when it first opened.

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Floors include Tokyo (left), Istanbul, Rome, and Paris (right) with each floor decorated in a manner meant to evoke the feel of the city.  Lots of visitors are stopping to take pictures with these decorative items, leading to the likely chance that you will walk through the frame of someone’s picture at some point or another.  Even the mall security and cleaning staff are uniformed appropriately for the floor on which they work.  Yes, that means that on the Paris floors the staff cleaning the toilets are dressed like French maids.

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The San Francisco floor has a miniature Golden Gate bridge spanning an atrium.  The only shops on this floor are restaurants, which seems appropriate for a city well-known for its food.  I’m not sure that the selection of restaurants would necessarily do the City by the Bay proud, though.

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With its location adjacent to both the Skytrain and subway stations, Terminal 21 is positioned at a literal crossroads of Bangkok, accessible to customers from many corners of the city.  The mall looks like it has targeted the middle of the market: there are many popular stores but no high-end ones and there are also a large number of smaller boutiques featuring local independent businesses.  Compared to other malls in the city, it is not nearly as fancy as Central Childlom or Siam Paragon but is much nicer than Platinum or MBK.  I suspect it will be a winning formula.

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The thing that I find terribly ironic, though, is that in a city with an airport that has been criticized for being too much of a mall (the picture above is of the actual airport, not Terminal 21), we end up having a new mall that has an airport theme.  To compare the two:

Suvarnabhumi Airport

Terminal 21 Mall

High end shopping

Local boutiques

Took 4 years after opening to get rail service, which is expensive and inconvenient

Served by rail service from the first day on both the Skytrain and Subway lines

Easily mispronounced Sanskrit name  

Easily pronounced English name

Confusing signage and endless moving sidewalks  Clear signage and quick escalators
Intolerable waits at immigrationBreeze through metal detector at entrance
Insufficient toilets, often dirtyPlentiful toilets cleaned by women in French maid outfits

 

Terminal 21 Nears Completion

In November 2009 I first wrote about the construction of a new mall at the northwest corner of Sukhumvit and Asoke roads called Terminal 21.  I visited the subject again in February of this year as part of an entry about the profusion of malls being built along Sukhumvit Road.  In the weeks since, I’ve stopped by the site, which is easily visible from the outbound platform of the Asoke BTS Skytrain station, to view the last steps of construction.

Since the mall is literally right next to both the Skytrain station (elevated) and the subway station, it should benefit from easy access.  But, in a city with strong sunlight, heavy rain showers, and lots of traffic, the more convenient and enclosed you can make that connection, the better.

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Because of that, one of the things I’ve been observing and thinking about is how the main entry area (shown above) will connect with the two rail stations.  You can see the long concrete deck that will be the main entry area, wrapped in green construction netting.  One entrance is on the left, outlined in red metal beams, and the other is at the right end where there is a bit of a canopy being constructed.

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On the west end of the deck, I can easily see how a bridge might be built to connect to the Skytrain station, which has blue-covered stairs seen on the left of the picture.  In this picture, taken a few weeks ago, I anticipated the potential bridge with orange lines.

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Sure enough, by last week they were pouring the concrete reinforcements for the bridge and I imagine in another week or so they will be laying the beams for the bridge.  This will lead directly to the entrance of the Skytrain station, which I fear is a bit small to deal with the amount of passengers that may be passing through the space.

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The more uncertain question is what they will do with the other entrance to the mall.  In the picture shown above, taken a few weeks ago, they were demolishing the sales office for the mall and I anticipated (in orange lines) that maybe a bridge would be built connecting to the escalators that descend to the subway.  The escalators are in the building with the bright blue roof that has one red segment.  While some re-jiggering of the wheelchair ramp in that area would be necessary, it seemed to be an easy way to get people directly to the subway, short of a tunnel leading into the station itself.

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After they demolished the former sales office and finished off the edge of the entry deck, it is no more clear what they will be doing.  Certainly it will be some sort of bridge, but how it connects to anything else remains a mystery.  Complicating matters further, there is a narrow alley you see in the photo above.  This space contains a small shrine that belongs to the Asoke fresh market, located in the building with the dingy white-washed wall.  Any bridge connecting to the escalators to the subway would have to cross over this alley.  I guess there is little to do but wait and see. 

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One other thing that caught my eye: there seems to be a “moat” built around the edge of the mall.  The other day there was quite a bit of water flowing down it.  Not sure if this is part of the drainage system and will be covered with grilles or what.

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The other night while waiting for the train after my Thai lesson, I noticed they had the interior lights on for the first time.  It may be a bit hard to tell, but the interior is largely finished.  They are laying the tiles on the main floor and most of the shop entrances are decorated already.  I think they will be open in the next few months.

Central Plaza Rama 9 March 2011

Not that far away from Terminal 21 – in fact, just two subway stops north along Asoke/Ratchadapisek Road – There is another mall being built.  This is Central Plaza Rama 9.  There is an additional development that is supposed to happen behind it – a large four-tower condo complex.  In fact, the developer was floating the idea of building a monorail that would go down Ratchadapisek Road (to the right in the picture above) and connect with the Airport Rail Link terminal at Makkasan. 

The view above is looking east from atop Fortune Town IT Mall, with the Thailand Cultural Center off to the left and Rama IX road following the bridge on the right.  Pardon the inexpert job done stitching three photos together to create this faux fisheye lens effect.

 

New Pedestrian Bridges at Asoke and Thong Lo

For a city of about 8 million people with generally poor mass transit systems, Krungthep (Bangkok) can sometimes surprise you with the usefulness of some of its infrastructure development.  A good example of this are the pedestrian bridges built to connect some of the BTS Skytrain (elevated rail) stations to surrounding buildings.  In a city with lots of traffic congestion, poor air quality, and even poorer footpath quality, an elevated way to get from the station to the buildings is a big incentive to get out of the car and into the mass transit.

Asoke Road

The junction of Asoke and Sukhumvit roads is an example of this bridge building trend.  One of the busiest intersections in the city, crossing at street level has long been a hazardous activity for pedestrians.  Located at the intersection of the MRTA subway and the BTS Skytrain, this junction houses three high-rise offices each with a few floors of retail, two large hotels, and a nine-story mall that is under construction.

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The pedestrian bridge built under the Skytrain viaduct, heading east from the Asoke station.

In the past two years, pedestrian bridges were built to the west of the BTS Skytrain station, connecting the two hotels and one of the three office buildings.  Then a large bridge was built to the east under the Skytrain tracks on Sukhumvit, crossing Asoke in a single cantilevered structure.  On the east side of the junction the pedestrian bridge connected to the building in the southeast corner, but not to the newer building on the northeast corner.

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The northeast corner of the Asoke-Sukhumvit junction. 

Before the pedestrian  bridge opened across Asoke, you had to descend from the Skytrain station to the subway station, cross under Asoke road in the subway station, and then reemerge at the base of this building.  The subway entrance is in the lower left of the photo, near the large umbrellas.  The new pedestrian bridge is on the right that connects directly to the building is on the right.  What follows are some pictures of the connection under construction over the past two months:

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Taken about six weeks ago, you can see in this picture how the new extension of the bridge will connect from the existing pedestrian bridge (shown in the very first picture in this entry) to the third floor of the building.  At this point, just a part of the metal framework has been put into place.

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A few days later, crossbeams have been added and some of the concrete flooring is in place.  You can also see how a stairwell to the street level – a requirement for all the bridges that connect to buildings to allow after-hours access to the pedestrian bridge – fits into the design.

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A few days after that, the columns for the roof structure are mostly in place.  The following week, the roof itself has been added and most of the side panels are installed.

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Finally, about two weeks ago the bridge is finished and is nearly open.  Lighting is working, as you can see.  This will be much more convenient to access the building and its businesses.  Certainly much easier than having to pass through the subway station to get there!  Plus, you can now descend to the street and access businesses along this side of the street more easily.

Thong Lo

A second example of new pedestrian bridges is going up on the west side of the Thong Lo Skytrain station.  This is my neighborhood station and it lies just to the east of the junction of Thong Lo and Sukhumvit Roads, two stops to the east of the Asoke station.

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Looking west from the foot of the Thong Lo Station

The main driver behind this bridge is the Noble Remix condo (the purple building) which will have two floors of retail below about 35 stories of residences.  While the retail floors will get traffic from the residents, there’s no hope of anyone else traipsing over there unless it is convenient, and that means a pedestrian bridge. 

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Looking west from the station’s westbound platform.

Looking from the station platform to the west, you can see the condo on the left and the entrance to my alley on the right, just under the tracks before the first column.  The rationale for needing a pedestrian bridge is that someone walking along the sidewalk has to go along the petrol station and then cross a small but busy alley between the petrol station and the condo.  By building the bridge, it is safer and more convenient for pedestrians. 

At the same time, some stairs will be built on the north (righthand) side of the road in front of the international school – the building that is wrapped in blue construction tarp.  This should be safer for students and their parents to access the Skytrain station.

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Looking back from in front of the international school towards the BTS Skytrain station, you can see the condo to the right and the first columns of the pedestrian bridge.  This is about two months ago.

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As of four weeks ago, box frames were built around the train viaduct’s columns.

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A few weeks later, the bridgework was added to connect each of the support columns.  For the past two weeks, no further work has been done including the connection to the station itself.  I’m curious to see how quickly they will finish this project.  It seems like it should not be difficult but each step has moved quite slowly.  In the end, it won’t benefit me very much but it is another sign of progress in making the Skytrain more accessible to the area surrounding the station and and more user-friendly to potential passengers.

 

Construction Continues Unabated

This week I spent about six hours over the course of two days dealing with the Ministry of Labor, renewing my work permit.  That, about US$100, and the non-immigrant visa I received last summer while in the US, was enough to clear my way for another year of legal residency in Thailand. 

I guess in the big picture this is a small price to pay to live with my husband, but it seems to me that people shouldn’t have to jump through so many hoops on an ongoing basis in order to live with their spouses.  Jumping through hoops initially for immigration purposes, I can understand that.  But every year from now to eternity?  Rubbish.

Anyhow, at least I received a full year on the work permit instead of only ninety days at a time, which is usually the case.  However, with the type of visa I have, I still need to do a border run (leave the country) once every ninety days, despite having a full year visa.  Try to figure that one out.

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One sign that life is back to normal in the City of Angels is that construction continues unabated.  In the picture above, you are looking northwest at the Asoke Road / Sukhumvit Road intersection towards the new Terminal 21 mall.  I wrote about this construction project in November, when they were laying the ground floor after a year of work on the foundation and understories.  Six months later they are on the ninth floor, which is as high as the mall portion will go.

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Another view from the Asoke Road side.  Pretty soon the street will be shaded in the afternoon, once they add just a few more stories.  The back portion of the property will have highrise component which will include a service apartment complex and office space.  Do we need another mall in this city?  Probably not, but at least it is further east than most of the malls, which are in the Siam Square area.  This provides an option for those of us on the Sukhumvit corridor to avoid going all the way into the city.

I’m actually surprised by the amount of construction going on in this city, especially new condos.  A few weeks ago I drove from our house at Sukhumvit 53 to the Nissan dealership at Sukhumvit 101/1.  This is about six stations down the Skytrain line, only three of which are currently operational, the remaining ones scheduled for operation at the end of 2011.  Around every single station, both the current and future ones, there are three or four large construction sites where highrise condos are being built.

Can there be that much demand?  It must represent investors’ confidence in Thailand.

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From highrises to sidewalks, inane utility work continues in Bangkok like it does in much of the world.  Why is it that there never seems to be any coordination among respective agencies?  A new sidewalk is built and neatly paved and then as soon as that is finished, a utility department comes along and digs it up.

The same is true along Asoke at the entrance to Soi Cowboy, where there was a large backhoe parked on the sidewalk for several days (anyone want to walk in the gutter?) as about five meters of the sidewalk was dug up and water mains were repaired.

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I felt bad for these guys, the ones doing the actual work.  What a messy job.  As you can imagine, there’s not much rhyme or reason to the way utilities are laid out in this city.  Sometimes they don’t even bury them, but lay them on top of the existing sidewalk and just spread some asphalt over the top, a snake running along the sidewalk, waiting to trip you.

 

Deconstructing a building

Next to the Asoke Skytrain station, on the north side, sits an empty lot that was the Ford and Mazda dealership until some time last year.  The dealership moved and the buildings were torn down and for the entire rainy season, most of the property became a swamp.  In the southwest corner of the lot, where Sukhumvit Soi 19 connects with the main street, there is a row of four-story shop houses that contained among other things a nice Indian vegetarian restaurant.

It looks like construction on whatever is going to be built there, is going to start soon.  They shop houses are being demolished this week, an interesting process of literally deconstructing, or un-building, them.

Below: From the platform of the Skytrain station, looking towards Sukhumvit Soi 19, you can see workers have already dismantled the top two stories of the building and are now working on the floor between the second and third story.

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Above: Workers use sledgehammers (one worker has only flip-flops on to protect his feet) to break away the concrete, which falls through the re-bar to the floor below.  Notice that they have to balance on the re-bar.

Below: Another worker then uses a welding torch to cut (or at least, weaken) the re-bar so it can be cut into smaller pieces that workers then manually carry out.  I’m curious why he’s not at risk of the re-bar just giving way under him as he cuts.  In the picture below you can see the concrete pieces that have fallen through.

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In other rooms, workers are clearing the concrete and re-bar and a small Caterpillar with a jack hammer is breaking away the interior walls between the load-bearing columns.

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Above: A few days later I passed by again and saw that they were now close enough to the ground that they could tear down the structure using this back hoe.

I’m curious to see what will be built here.  It is a very large property so a complex of several towers could easily be built.  Good place for another mall, right next to the Skytrain station and the Metro subway at the corner of Asoke and Sukhumvit.  Because that’s just what we need – another mall!

Below: Just to the other side of Asoke, on the northeast corner of Sukhumvit, is the under construction Interchange 21 building.  Here’s an update photo of the construction progress from this week:

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As you can see, there is just lots of fun civil engineering stuff going on here in the City of Angels.  There is also a elevated walkway being built that will connect the Skytrain station directly to Interchange 21 and, I would assume, to the Exchange Tower that is on the southeast corner of Asoke and Sukhumvit. 

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Above: In this photo taken from the Skytrain station ticketing platform looking generally east along Sukhumvit towards Asoke, Exchange Tower is visible in the upper center with some just-visible True Fitness purple signs over the ground floor windows.  The elevated walkway will sit underneath the track viaduct and there will be a long span across the Asoke-Sukhumvit intersection.  You can see work progressing on the foundations for the support columns.

Below: Taken a few days after the above photo, the photo below shows the support for the walkway where it will go around the concrete column.  Note that the support structure for the walkway does not connect to the concrete column so the walkway does not impose any additional load on the track viaduct.

In this picture, you can see the Honda Jazz starting to turn right into the Asoke-Sukhumvit intersection.  The steel structure that will span the intersection will connect to the structure you see in place here.  Construction workers will hoist the steel span into place from 1-5 am on December 9th.  I’m thinking about getting up early (or staying up late) to go down and watch that and take some pictures. 

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In the final bit of engineering updates for today, there is a project going on along Asoke Road, which is prone to flooding, to raise the sidewalks by several inches (and centimeters, too).

The construction process involves jack hammering the existing curbs (all done at night – here is a photo of the workers the night they were working just outside our building… all night long), building new curbs, removing the paving stones and raising up the ground level, then pouring a cement sheet and laying new paving stones.

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As of yesterday, much of the block we live on looks like the photo below.  We have noticeably higher curbs but nothing has been filled in yet.  Notice also that the covers to the sewers have been raised and new steel and concrete doors have been poured.  The doors have a space for pavers to be added to them, too, so they match the rest of the sidewalk.

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Hopefully this project will be wrapped up soon as it is a pain to walk on the sidewalk and dangerous to walk in the street.  And that’s this week’s civil engineering report.  Back to you in the studio.